Background Information

In 1992 the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of the
Environment signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a National
Wildlife Area on a portion of the Canadian Forces Base Suffield near
Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Establishment of this NWA was intended to contribute to DND and EC’s
environmental objectives and reflect the federal government’s commitment
to environmental stewardship. The area within the NWA has been
out-of-bounds to military training since 1972 and was precluded from deep
rights access for petroleum development by the DND-Alberta Deep Rights
agreement of 1999. Public access is prohibited. Although the core area of
the base has been zoned for military training, both DND and EC have
recognized the environmental sensitivity and importance of the NWA and
have been active in its management since 1971.

In March 2003 the Suffield NWA was officially declared and responsibility
for its management and protection was delegated by Environment Canada to
DND, the first case where the delegation of responsibility for an NWA was
transferred.

Ecological Significance

The national significance of this area as a northern refugium for endemic
prairie wildlife has been substantiated by recent wildlife studies on
invertebrates, birds and mammals, reptiles and amphibians. As one of the
few extant large blocks of unaltered Dry Mixed-grass Prairie, the CFB
Suffield NWA hosts over 1,100 catalogued species including 244
vertebrate, 462 plant, and 436 invertebrate species. Of this rich species
assemblage, 14 are listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered
Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as species at risk and 78 species of animals
and plants are listed in the Status of Alberta Wildlife 2000 as ” at risk
” or otherwise”sensitive” because of their declining abundance.

Natural grasslands are among the most endangered ecosystems in prairie
Canada. Development by urbanization, livestock grazing, and rangeland
conversion to croplands continue to threatened the survival of the
prairie ecosystem. As a result it is estimated that only 6% of this
important sub-region of the Grassland Natural Region remains unaltered by
human disturbances. In western Canada, NWA Suffield is one of the last
remaining large blocks of intact prairie grassland where the ecological
integrity remains relatively unimpaired and where the diversity and
abundance of native plant and animal species has not precipitously
declined.

Suffield NWA is 458 km2 of unploughed prairie grassland blanketing rare
landscapes of national significance including sand hills, ancient glacial
coulees, and the riverbank and breaks along the South Saskatchewan River
valley. This is a result of three factors unique to the area: its
location near the northern limit of the mid-continental grasslands, the
eolian grasslands contained therein, and its relatively unaltered
vegetation.

The protection of key prairie habitat this NWA provides for migratory
birds and other species is an important contribution towards Canada’s
international agreements, including the Migratory Birds Convention, the
North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the North American Bird
Conservation Initiative, and the United Nations Convention on Biological
Diversity.

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