Why the Suffield National Wildlife Area Matters

Image of Asma Hassan

Asma Hassan, Guest Blogger

This blog is written by Asma Hassan.

The Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA) was created in 2003 as a sanctuary for endangered prairie wildlife. Located in Alberta, the area is approximately 458 km2 and consists of several types of habitats including grasslands and sand dunes. The site has been the topic of debate in the recent past due to proposals to drill for oil and gas in the NWA. Nature Canada proposes that this NWA should be expanded to protect 410 km2  of adjacent community pastures that also include important grasslands habitat.

What is so special about the Suffield NWA?

The Suffield NWA is a unique protected area in terms of its management, the diverse habitats it provides and the wildlife that resides there. Some of the species living in the Suffield NWA are either endangered or threatened in the prairies generally, but are present at Suffield on account of its various habitats, some of which are rare. There are currently 20 at-risk wildlife species such as  Ord’s Kangaroo Rat, Western Harvest Mouse and Burrowing Owl living in this particular NWA. In addition to being an important habitat for at-risk wildlife, the Suffield NWA is also home to at-risk plant species.Image of ord's kangaroo rat

Who manages this NWA?

This is where it gets a bit unusual. The management of the Suffield NWA has been delegated to the Department of National Defence by Environment and Climate Change Canada. To further explain this, we will need to go back in time a little bit. The land has been under environmental protection since the Canadian Forces Base Suffield was established in 1971. Apart from authorized research, the public are not permitted to visit this NWA. This measure has been taken to ensure that this fragile ecosystem is not disturbed.

What are all the debates about?

Development may be authorized in the Suffield NWA under the Canada Wildlife Act despite its status as a protected area. In 2009, EnCana proposed the construction of 1,275 natural gas wells in the area. The project was turned down by then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice in accordance with the recommendations of a Joint Review Panel due to the adverse effects the project would have had on wildlife, The Panel’s recommendations still allow for proposals of a similar nature to be brought forward in future.

Why does this matter?

Due to its size, the Suffield NWA is able to support numerous at-risk prairie species and potentially aid in their recovery. The expansion of this area is imperative because it would further benefit these species on a scale that is both impressive and rare. Conversely, any action to build potentially harmful infrastructures could have a significant negative impact on Canada’s increasingly threatened grasslands ecosystems.

To learn more about the areas that are proposed to be protected, click here.

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