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Southern Prairies Priority Area

Map of Southern Prairies Priority Area. See text that follows.
Southern Prairies Priority Area

Situated in the Prairies Ecozone, the Southern Prairies priority area spans three provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Southern Prairies priority area contains seven fish species and one mussel species that have been listed under the Species at Risk Act or assessed as at-risk by The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Watersheds within the Southern Prairies priority area are impacted by a range of human activities that have resulted in habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation and reduced water quality and quantity. Invasive species, such as the Zebra Mussel and Asian Carp, are also a threat to native species in the Southern Prairies. A threat specific to the Milk River are changes in water levels resulting from a water management regime imposed by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States, which can create unsuitable conditions for native species in the Milk River System. Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk (CNFASAR) is supporting projects led by local stakeholders to address some of these threats within the Southern Prairies priority area.

Conservation efforts currently underway

The presence of water control structures, such as weirs and dykes, in the Southern Prairies priority area has fragmented the habitat of species at risk. To address this issue, Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency has initiated a project in the Qu’Appelle, Battle, Frenchman and Morgan Creek watersheds to restore fish passage and increase habitat connectivity by removing select non-functioning water control structures throughout the watersheds. The project is also creating habitat by removing barriers to allow fish to access 800,000 m2 of new wetland habitat in the Qu’Appelle River basin and by installing riffles at key points throughout the watersheds. This project is helping to restore watersheds in these priority areas to more natural conditions, which will have long-term benefits for aquatic species at risk and their habitats.

Given the importance of agriculture in the Prairies, it is important to engage with farmers and ranchers on solutions to protect aquatic species at risk and their habitat. A project by ALUS Canada is engaging with farmers and ranchers to implement best management practices (BMPs) on land that is adjacent to waterbodies to restore or enhance aquatic habitat. Specific project BMPs include the establishment of riparian buffers, wetland construction and the installation of control structures to reduce agricultural runoff and sedimentation. As a result of this project, recovery actions will be implemented in over 5,358 km2 of habitat in the Southern Prairies priority area.

As invasive species threaten waterbodies across the Southern Prairies priority area, collaboration between provinces is necessary to have a united management strategy. A project led by the Invasive Species Centre is fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing across the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and providing additional resources and capacity to support provincial invasive species management programs. This project will help establish a coordinated approach to manage the spread of invasive species throughout the priority area and beyond.

In order to inform effective recovery actions for vulnerable aquatic species, research must be conducted to gather updated information on the population status and habitat requirements of the species. Manitoba Sustainable Development is conducting a project to assess the population viability and habitat needs for two vulnerable fish species: Bigmouth Buffalo and Lake Sturgeon. The project is using fish movement tracking, genetic assessment and habitat evaluation to determine the needs of these populations and inform potential future recovery actions. The outcomes of this project will provide valuable information to help prevent the decline of vulnerable species within the Southern Prairies priority area.

The CNFASAR-funded projects throughout the Southern Prairies priority area are supporting aquatic species at risk through habitat restoration, stewardship, invasive species management and research. The outcomes of these projects will not only benefit aquatic species that are currently at risk, but help prevent additional species and habitats from becoming vulnerable. Through mitigating threats such as habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation and invasive species, these projects are contributing to the protection and recovery of aquatic species at risk and their habitats within the Southern Prairies priority area.

Learn more about projects in this area

Engaging farmers and ranchers to improve ecosystems for aquatic species at risk in the Southern Prairies

Engaging farmers and ranchers to improve ecosystems for aquatic species at risk in the Southern Prairies

Recipient: ALUS Canada

Project goal: The objective of this four-year project is to increase stewardship and recovery actions for aquatic species at risk in the Southern Prairies Priority Area, within the South Saskatchewan River and the Assiniboine River watershed basins. The project aims to partner with farmers and ranchers where the agricultural landscape intersects with key freshwater aquatic habitats for aquatic species at risk.

The project involves partnering with farmers to promote restoration or enhancement of waterbodies and waterways. This includes the establishment of riparian buffers and the construction of wetland areas.

Project activities are reducing agricultural runoff and sedimentation thereby improving aquatic habitat downstream and immediately adjacent to project actions. Project actions are enabling an entire suite of ecosystem services, including additional wildlife habitat, clean water and carbon sequestration.

Educational resources are being developed through collaboration with community Partnership Advisory Committees and technical advisory groups. The resources emphasize the impacts of agriculture and need to apply Beneficial Management Practices to reduce and reverse the adverse effects of agriculture on aquatic species at risk.

Fund Allocation: $983,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Media announcement:

The Government of Canada Takes Action to Protect Aquatic Species at Risk in the Southern Prairie

Bridging research and management to reduce invasive species threats to aquatic species at risk

Bridging research and management to reduce invasive species threats to aquatic species at risk

Recipient: Invasive Species Centre

Project goal:This four-year project supports invasive species prevention and management activities in the Southern Prairies Priority Area across the three Prairie provincial partners, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, that will benefit aquatic species at risk. Activities include (1) working to identify needs and opportunities in invasive species risk assessment, management, and communications with a view to aligning with species at risk recovery actions; (2) providing risk assessment and analysis, impact assessment, screening level risk assessment and socio-economic analysis support to inform management approaches for priority species at risk; (3) supporting invasive species prevention and monitoring programs to increase frequency of sampling and program capacity; and (4) reviewing communications to enhance messaging effectiveness and increase outreach.

As the project progresses and needs are further identified by the participating Provinces, new tools will be developed and existing tools will be enhanced. These will include consideration of (1) support for training and communications on freshwater mussel identification, species at risk identification, invasive species identification, mussel control methods, reporting and mapping tools, citizen science and invasive species prevention; (2) liaisons that provide most recent, relevant evidence-based information to partners; and (3) support for dissemination of a toolkit of templates, instructions and tools for future use beyond the 4 year scope of this project.

Fund Allocation: $983,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Media announcement:

The Government of Canada Takes Action to Protect Aquatic Species at Risk in the Southern Prairie

Assessment of two listed species in the Upper Assiniboine and lower Qu’Appelle Rivers

Assessment of two listed species in the Upper Assiniboine and lower Qu’Appelle Rivers

Recipient: Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development

Project goal:This four-year project is examining how select species at risk use the Assiniboine and Lower Qu’Appelle rivers. This information will guide the recovery of these species as well as inform the management of these two river systems.

The project is built on three basic areas of work including: 1) animal movement tracking to help understand how these large fish are using the environment; 2) genetic assessment using tissue samples from resident fish to describe genetic (dis)similarity between the sample groups; and 3) habitat features evaluations and working to better understand habitat use by the studied species.

This information will contribute to and inform the protection and recovery associated with human induced changes to the river systems and its impact on two species of fish. The project will thus inform decision making for development of protection and recovery documents for these species at risk.

Fund Allocation: $365,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Habitat restoration and enhanced fish passage within Frenchman River, Qu’Appelle River, and Morgan Creek Watersheds

Habitat restoration and enhanced fish passage within Frenchman River, Qu’Appelle River, and Morgan Creek Watersheds

Recipient: Water Security Agency

Project goal:This four-year project is focused on restoring and creating suitable habitat for multiple aquatic species at risk found within the Southern Prairies Priority Area. This project is creating wetland habitats, improving fish passage and reducing of sediment in targeted river systems.

A comprehensive analysis and document detailing and prioritizing barriers to fish passage for rehabilitation is being developed and includes new information on species distribution and habitat suitability for the targeted species at risk.

Additionally, the project is facilitating the development of recovery plans through the detailed study, assessment and survey of aquatic species at risk within the Qu’Appelle, Battle, Frenchman, and Morgan Creek Watersheds.

Fund Allocation: $1,787,052

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Media announcement:

The Government of Canada Takes Action to Protect Aquatic Species at Risk in the Southern Prairie

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