sowreport2The landscape of the South Saskatchewan River Sub-basin (SSRSB) has changed in the last 150 years. Natural grasslands and parkland forests have given way to agricultural development, foothills forests have been disturbed by oils and gas exploration, and wetlands have been drained. Expansion of urban centres and growth of transportation networks to support those centres continue to transform the natural landscape.

Landscape changes also affect the hydrologic regime of the basin, through changes in storage of surface and groundwater, and in modifications to flow patterns. Physical and hydrological changes lead to biological change, through changes in aquatic, riparian and terrestrial habitat.

Wetlands are critically important to the lifecycle of ducks, geese, swans, and other waterbirds. They also provide food and habitat for fish, shorebirds and mammals. Wetlands modify effects of hydrologic events, recharge or receive groundwater, and filter sediments and contaminants. Wetlands make up a significant portion of the land surface of the prairie and boreal lands of the basin. Landscape changes threaten the wetlands of the plains and of the boreal forest. Wetlands conservation programs are aimed at protecting critical wetlands, mapping other wetlands and related upland habitat, and identifying best management practices for resource development.

Riparian areas adjacent to wetlands, lakes and streams provide unique ecosystems and are important to landscape health. Riparian health can be affected, not only by human activity, but also by natural phenomena such as floods and droughts. Many human influences have been identified, and more work is needed to present a thorough assessment of riparian health.

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Modifications to Riverbanks and Floodplains
ssask3About 23% of the bank length of the South Saskatchewan River has been altered by human causes. Only one area had more than 50% of the riverbank altered by human causes, severely impacting riparian health. The three main causes that alter the South Saskatchewan River banks are livestock activity, recreation and pipeline crossings. These are not the only reasons for riverbank alteration. Bare ground causes a minor impact on riparian health since invasive plants species, for example, spread quicker than native plants on bare ground.

Human- caused bare ground occurs in all areas, but the majority of sites have less than 5% of the riparian area impacted. Two of eight sites have received moderate and three of eight sites have received heavy pressure from livestock activities.

The majority of human-caused bare ground is a result of livestock activity and recreation. However, livestock activity and recreation are not the only reasons for human caused bare ground; there are several minor reasons. Three of eight sites have excellent riverbank root mass protection with deep-rooted vegetation covering more than 85% of the bank length. Two other sites in the research area have 65-85% riverbank root mass protection with 35-65% of the bank covered with deep- rooted vegetation. One last research area has less than 35% of riverbank root mass protection.

 

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Read more… about the risks and pressures to the landscape from Agriculture.

Read more… about the risks and pressures to the landscape from Urban Development.