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Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Boreal Watershed Management Strategy, established in 2011, is a five-year study to assess and maintain the ecological integrity of Saskatchewan’s northern watersheds, or in other words, to protect the health of the watersheds. Led by the Ministry of Environment (the ministry), the project brings together government, industry and communities to evaluate current conditions, protect the environment and enable development and growth of northern resources.

Also known as the Eastern Athabasca Regional Monitoring Program (EARMP), the study addresses seven priority areas: water quality, aquatic ecosystem health, air quality, soil quality, terrestrial ecosystem health, terrestrial biodiversity, and traditional land use and knowledge.

The ministry has been working with industrial partners, government ministries, crown corporations, universities, colleges, schools, and Aboriginal and northern communities to establish baseline conditions, monitor change, and identify potential environmental concerns and sustainable management practices in the region. Inventories of historical monitoring and assessment data are captured to help the ministry and stakeholders make science-based decisions for the northern region. First Nations and Métis expertise assists in data collection and identification of important traditional knowledge and information.

Program highlights in 2013-14 include:

Water Quality

  • Monitoring of 250 boreal lakes for indication of acid rain.
  • Investigation of a change in sediment conditions in boreal lakes.

Aquatic Ecosystem Health

  • Studies conducted in three locations, two in the northeast and one in the northwest regions, to determine the health of the water column (from the surface of the water to the bottom).
  • Identification of specific heavy metals in otters collected through a partnership with the Saskatchewan Trappers Association to help determine the water quality.
  • Using dragonflies and damselflies as a means of determining the health of northern water bodies, providing an early warning indicator of water quality.

Air Quality

  • Modelling regionally to identify hot spots and potential acid deposition locations.
  • Snowpack sample program to identify air deposition across the northwest.
  • Air quality investigated using tree cores to identify historical air quality.

Soil Quality

  • Soil sampled and analyzed at 200 locations to determine the effect of acid deposition on soils and the length of time it takes before the soil becomes acidified.

Terrestrial Ecosystem Health

  • Established scientific baseline data on forest age-class, structure and locations within the boreal forest region.
  • Preparation of a fire footprint map to determine burnt and unburnt areas in the boreal region.
  • Preparation of footprint maps that contain extensive information on potential impacts to the boreal region, including communities, industry, forestry, roads/trails (linear developments).

Terrestrial Biodiversity

  • EARMP has two monitoring programs – a community program, which focuses on traditional food (country foods) and a technical program, which focuses on water quality, sediment quality (benthic community), fish chemistry, and berry chemistry.
  • Continued work on satellite remote sensing tools for enhanced monitoring of habitat mapping, water quality, air quality, and traditional land use and knowledge.
  • Continued effort to digitize and map historical information to help identify potential gaps in knowledge and potential trends in the data gathered.

Traditional Knowledge

  • Education and Outreach – working with five northern schools in Ile a la Crosse, La Ronge, Beauval, La Loche, and Buffalo Narrows to undertake environmental sampling and knowledge of caribou and its habitat.
  • Working with Building Environmental Aboriginal Human Resources (BEAHR) program to conduct environmental monitoring and sampling training.
  • Continue to involve communities in the various programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Boreal Watershed Management Strategy?

The Boreal Watershed Management Strategy was established in 2011-12 to assess and maintain the ecological integrity of Saskatchewan's northern watersheds; in particular, the health of the watersheds. The Ministry of Environment has been working with partners to address potential environmental concerns and to identify sustainable management practices in the region. Significant amounts of historical information have been gathered and reviewed to help identify potential gaps in knowledge about the watersheds in the Boreal region.

2. Why is the boreal region being studied?

Canada’s boreal forest, including northern Saskatchewan, contains some of the largest and highest-quality freshwater resources on earth. The quality of these resources is largely dependent upon the ecological integrity of the watersheds in which they reside.

3. What does the Ministry of Environment hope to find?

The monitoring program has been broken into seven priority areas: water quality, aquatic ecosystem health, air quality, soil quality, terrestrial ecosystem health, terrestrial biodiversity and traditional knowledge.

During its first two years, the project focused on baseline studies (gathering information) in strategic or sensitive areas, and the development of tools that will help to sustain monitoring of this vast landscape. Efforts in the third year focused on assessing the health of the watersheds and terrestrial/aquatic ecosystems in the boreal region.

When completed the study should identify regions of heavily stressed (high risk) areas within the boreal region that may require more attention under future developments. The study will also identify areas of low risk, which can handle a higher threshold of activities (human or natural) and potential development.

4. What kind of information is being gathered?

This ranges from historical information used to assess conditions from several decades ago, to the current collection of water, soil, air, and biological samples for analysis and interpretation of potential environmental trends. Additional data is gathered by interviewing northern people to identify areas of concern or where more information is needed.

5. Who is leading this project?

The Ministry of Environment is leading the project with the participation of the partners

6. Who else is involved in this project?

The Ministry of Environment has engaged a wide range of partners including the federal government, the Province of Alberta, universities, colleges, school divisions, northern communities, and non-government organizations. The partnerships allow the ministry to maximize resources and collaboration, and deliver a program that is diverse and beneficial to Saskatchewan’s Boreal region.

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