The Hay-Zama complex is a large lowland wetland region comprising marshes, eutrophic freshwater lakes, willow swamps, river deltas, floodplain woodlands, and wet meadows. The area is located in the far northwest corner of Alberta, 50 km northeast of Rainbow Lake, and constitutes one of the most extensive sedge wetlands in western North America. It is characterized by extreme seasonal and annual water level fluctuations. The sizes and depths of the lakes vary according to the seasonally fluctuating inflow from the Hay River. The complex and surrounding area host a variety of user groups with significant interests in the wetland’s resources.
The complex is located on three of four major North American migration routes. As an internationally significant area, it is one of 1,069 sites globally that are designated under the Ramsar Wetlands Convention on Wetlands of International Significance; it has Ramsar designation for its importance as a waterfowl production / staging and moulting site, although the designation confers no practical protective status.
The region is especially important for ducks and geese. The Canadian Nature Federation and Bird Studies Canada has designated this area an IBA (Important Bird Area). It stands, however, as an ecological island in a highly degraded landscape; it sits above a productive oil and gas reserve that has been tapped since the 1960s.
The Hay-Zama wetland complex is the only site in the province selected for reintroduction of wood bison, a species listed as “At Risk” in Alberta. The bison herd has thrived in the area, as the wetland sedges and grasses provide critical winter forage.
Through the efforts of the Hay-Zama Committee, Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park is being twinned with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China, another Ramsar site. For the last several years, AWA Past-President Cliff Wallis has been building capacity in Inner Mongolia in nature reserve management. The Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve is grassland, lake, and wetland habitat, and is part of the most extensive remaining temperate grassland in the world – the Daurian Steppe. Both Hay-Zama and Dalai Lake affect minority populations – Mongolians in China and the Dene Tha’ in Canada.
- The Hay-Zama Lakes Complex is protected as a Wildland Provincial Park (1999)
- September 2007 – Sound Energy Trust is taken over by Advantage Energy Income Fund. Advantage agrees to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as interpreted by the Government of Alberta: the two wells in question will remain closed without compensation.