Mid-Continental Canadian forests

Content Cover Image

Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, Canada. Source: C. Wallis

The Mid-continental Canadian forests ecoregion extends from southern Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada to encompass most of northeastern Alberta, central Saskatchewan and portions of west-central Manitoba. The ecoregion is considered an element of the Boreal/Taiga Forests Biome.

This ecoregion, within the Nearctic Realm, is classified as having a subhumid mid-boreal ecoclimate. It is characterised by short, cool-to-warm summers and long, cold winters. The mean annual temperature ranges from -2°C to 1°Celsius (C); the mean summer temperature ranges from 13°C to 15.5°C; and the mean winter temperature ranges from -17.5°C to -13.5°C. Mean annual precipitation ranges from 300 millimetres (mm) to 625 mm, with the wettest areas being in the southeastern portions of the Mid-Boreal Lowland.

caption WWF This ecoregion consists of both lowland and upland areas which may be grouped into three regions: the Slave River Lowland in northeastern Alberta; the Mid-Boreal Lowland, which comprises the northern section of the Manitoba Plain; and the Mid-Boreal Uplands, which occur as a group of upland areas south of the Canadian Shield stretching from north-central Alberta to southwestern Manitoba. The lowland areas are underlain by relatively flat, low-relief Palaeozoic carbonates forming undulating sandy plains, or flat-lying Paleozoic limestone bedrock covered by level to ridged glacial till, lacustrine silts and clays, and extensive peat deposits. The upland areas, for the most part, consist of Cretaceous shales, and are covered entirely by kettled to dissected, deep, loamy to clayey-textured glacial till, lacustrine deposits, and inclusions of coarse, fluvoglacial deposits.

Elevations in the uplands range from about 400 to over 800 metres above sea level. Both upland and lowland areas have sporadic, discontinuous permafrost with low water content, but the occurrence of permafrost is much rarer in the upland regions and is found only in peatlands. Wetlands and peatlands are prevalent in this ecoregion, especially in the lowland areas, while small lakes, ponds, and sloughs fill numerous shallow depressions associated with rougher moraine deposits in the upland regions.

Biological distinctiveness

caption Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), Canada. (Photograph by Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences & [1])

The ecoregion forms part of the continuous mid-boreal mixed coniferous and deciduous forest extending from northwestern Ontario to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The mixed coniferous and deciduous forest is characterized by medium to tall closed stands of Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) with White and Black spruce (Picea glauca and P. mariana), and Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) occurring in late successional stages. Many cold and poorly drained fens and bogs are covered with Tamarack (Larix laricina) and black spruce, and may also include ericaceous shrubs (Ericaceae) and mosses. Deciduous stands in the uplands have a diverse understory of shrubs and herbs; while coniferous stands tend to promote feathermoss. Fire, drainage, and topography are probably the most significant factors influencing species assemblages.


Characteristic mammalian species include Moose (Alces alces), Black bear (Ursus americanus), Wolf (Canis lupus), Lynx (Lynx canadensis), White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Elk (Cervus elaphus), Beaver (Castor canadensis), Muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) and Snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). The Interlake Plain to the south is home to Moose, Coyote (Canis latrans), and Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) as well. Wood Buffalo National Park-within the Slave River Lowland-is populated by the world's largest Bison (Bison bison) herd.

This ecoregion also has a rich diversity of large ungulate species: bison (Bison bison), elk, woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandua ssp. caribou), Moose and Deer. In addition, the northern-most bat hibernacula in North America are located within this ecoregion.


There are several reptilan taxa within the ecoregion, including the Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and the Painted turtle Chrysemys picta).


There are only five anuranAn amphibian that has limbs but no tail (includes all frogs and toads) species within this ecoregion representing the amphibians: Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus); the Near Threatened Western toad (Anaxyrus boreas), the Canadian toad (Anaxyrus hemiophrys), Boreal chorus frog (Pseudacris maculata) and the Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens).


Ducks, geese, American pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), Common loon (Gavia immer) and many other bird species are known to this ecoregion.

The principal breeding range for Whooping cranes (Grus americana) in North America is found within this ecoregion. The wetlands found here are of hemispheric significance to waterfowl migration, including many staging sites. The Cumberland Delta, a very large wetland complex, is one such example. This inland delta was formed in post-glacial times on a prehistoric lake that no longer exists.

Conservation status

Habitat loss and degradation

It is estimated that fifty percent of the ecoregion remains as intactThe condition of an ecological habitat being an undisturbed or natural environment habitat. Most of the remaining habitat is considered as altered, with only a very small percentage classified as heavily altered. Most habitat disturbance has resulted from large scale forestry operations, oil and gas development in western Saskatchewan, and localized areas of mining activity.

Remaining blocks of intact habitat

  • Wood Buffalo National Park: northern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories
  • Cold Lake/Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range: eastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan
  • Prince Albert National Park: central Saskatchewan
  • Dore-Smoothstone Lakes: central Saskatchewan
  • Northern half of Cumberland Delta: eastern Saskatchewan
  • Riding Mountain National Park: southwestern Manitoba
  • Porcupine Hills: western Manitoba
  • Duck Mountain: western Manitoba

Degree of fragmentation

Habitat fragmentation is occurring primarily due to extensive forestry activity across the landscape. Large tracts of boreal forest are under forest licences. Logging roads and clearcuts are significant in parts of the ecoregion.

Degree of protection

  • Wood Buffalo National Park - northern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories - 31,364.9 kilometers squared (km2)
  • Prince Albert National Park - central Saskatchewan - 3,874.64 km2
  • Riding Mountain National Park - southwestern Manitoba - 2,950.7 km2
  • Clearwater River Provincial Park - Saskatchewan - 2,240.35 km2
  • Meadow Lake Provincial Park - western Saskatchewan - 1,653.75 km2
  • Narrow Hills Provincial Park - central Saskatchewan - 536.13 km2
  • Duck Mountain Provincial Park (Backcountry zones) - western Manitoba - 480 km2
  • Duck Mountain Provincial Park - eastern Saskatchewan - 261.59 km2
  • Wildcat Hill Provincial Park - eastern Saskatchewan - 217.72 km2
  • Greenwater Lake Provincial Park - eastern Saskatchewan - 207.2 km2

Types and Severity of Threats

Existing and proposed logging throughout the ecoregion are a significant ecological  threat. In some areas, the potential for increased oil and gas development is also an issue.

Suite of priority activities to enhance biodiversity conservation

It is recommended that protected areas be established and maintained in the following locations:

  • Cold Lake/Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range, Alberta/Saskatchewan
  • Cumberland Delta, Saskatchewan
  • Dore-Smoothstone Lakes Wilderness Area, Saskatchewan
  • Manitoba Lowlands National Park, Manitoba
  • Protection standard upgrades to Saskeram and Tom Lamb Wildlife Management Areas in Manitoba
  • Restore the flood regime to the Peace-Athabasca Rivers in Alberta, which is currently being regulated by the Bennet Dam in British Columbia. There are floodplain communities of international significance along these rivers that are subject to ongoing degradation as a result of flood control.
  • Protect area where wood bison are being reintroduced in the Chitek Lake watershed in Manitoba.
  • Release an improved conservation and management plan for Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba.
  • Establish protected areas in Manitoba Provincial Forests.
  • Implement recommended actions in Manitoba with respect to this ecoregion according to the schedule established in the 1996-1998 Action Plan.

Neighbouring ecoregions

The following ecoregions have some tangency to the subject ecoregion, which is given the ecocode NA0608 by the World Wildlife Fund:

  • Lake Chad flooded savanna, disjunctive elements at the extreme north and at the southeast
  • Northern Canadian shield taiga, to the north-northeast
  • Midwestern Canadian shield forests, to the northeast
  • Canadian aspen forests and parklands, to the south
  • Alberta-British Columbia foothills forests, to the southwest

Conservation partners

  • Alberta Wilderness Association
  • Canadian Nature Federation
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Calgary/Banff Chapter
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Edmonton Chapter
  • Ducks Unlimited Canada, Saskatchewan
  • Endangered Spaces Campaign, Manitoba
  • Endangered Spaces Campaign, Saskatchewan
  • Federation of Alberta Naturalists
  • Friends of Prince Albert National Park
  • Manitoba Future Forest Alliance
  • Manitoba Naturalists Society
  • The Nature Conservancy, Alberta
  • The Nature Conservancy, Manitoba
  • Nature Saskatchewan
  • Resource Conservation Manitoba
  • TREE - Time to Respect the Earth's Ecosystems
  • Watchdogs for Wildlife
  • World Wildlife Fund Canada


Disclaimer: This article contains some information that was originally published by the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.






Fund, W. (2014). Mid-Continental Canadian forests. Retrieved from


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