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Nestled far in northwestern Alberta, Hay-Zama is a distinctive landscape of wetlands and boreal forests that boasts high biological diversity while simultaneously providing vital ecological services for surrounding communities.

AWA believes that this complex of wetlands and forests requires increased protection and no new industrial development in order to sustain its natural integrity.

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    Hay-Zama’s lowlands are home to many wildlife species, and are critical in maintaining the traditions and rights to local First Nations.

    AWA’s Hay-Zama Area of Concern is a lowland situated in the far northwest corner Alberta that boasts a tremendous amount of biodiversity, and a rich First Nations cultural history. Directly north of Rainbow Lake, Hay-Zama is a landscape characterized by a patchwork of forests, marshes, eutrophic freshwater lakes, and floodplain woodlands that have extreme seasonal and annual water level fluctuations. This region is internationally significant as it provides critical breeding and staging habitat for many bird species, in addition to providing vital habitat for at risk species such as wood bison, and woodland caribou.






    AWA’s Hay-Zama  Area of Concern. MAP © AWA: JPG | PDF

    Hay-Zama is nestled within Alberta’s Boreal Forest Natural Region, northwest of the town of High Level. This wilderness begins west of Wood Buffalo National Park, and is bordered by a number of First Nations reserves such as the Zama Lake Reserve, the Amber River Reserve, in addition to the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park. Hay-Zama is a northern wilderness that has an extensive history of landscape degradation in relation to industrial developments, logging, and off-road motorized vehicle activity.


    AWA’s Hay-Zama Area of Concern is one of 1,069 sites on a global scale that has been designated under the Ramsar Wetlands Convention on Wetlands of International Significance. Although this designation confers Hay-Zama’s importance for a waterfowl and shorebird staging and nesting, it does not entail any protective status. Currently, the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park is the only protected area within AWA’s Hay-Zama Area of Concern, with surrounding landscapes being subjected to multiple land uses including oil and gas, forestry and motorized recreation that are inappropriate given the sensitive nature of this ecosystem.


    Land-Use Framework
    Currently, there is no formal management framework for Hay-Zama, but once completed, this area will fall under the Lower Peace Land-use Framework. Through the Land-use Framework, the Government of Alberta has committed to “addressing cumulative impacts on the environment and to managing social, economic and environmental realities and priorities in a holistic manner” (Alberta Parks 2018).
    Protected Areas

    Prior to the park’s designation in 1999, the Hay-Zama area was managed by the Hay-Zama Committee, a cohort of representatives from the Dene Tha’ First Nation, Government of Alberta, oil and gas industry, and conservation groups including Alberta Wilderness Association. The Hay -Zama Committee stewards the Hay-Zama area, monitoring and managing issues pertaining to land-uses and conservation of this distinctive landscape. The Hay-Zama Committee uses a transparent “bottom-up” process with consensual decision making, and its work is based on the concept that economic activities, environmental sensitivities, and cultural priorities can co-exist. By helping the diverse participants work toward resolution through constructive discussion, the Committee has avoided the necessity for an EUB hearing, and has successfully phased out most of industrial development within the area.

    The Hay-Zama Committee process has helped guide the phase-out of “non-conforming” uses and AWA believes this process is an important management model for other proposed and existing protected areas in Alberta.
    The Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park, a total of 486km2, is the sole protected area within Hay-Zama, and is managed under the Provincial Parks Act, with intentions to “preserve natural heritage of provincial significance or higher, while supporting outdoor recreation, heritage tourism, and natural heritage appreciation activities that depend upon and are compatible with environmental protection” (Alberta Parks 2001).

    Bison Management
    Wood bison are classified as Threatened under the Species At Risk Act, with the Hay-Zama herd being listed as Endangered under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. “Free-roaming wood bison found in northwestern Alberta’s Bison Protection Area are considered to be wildlife, and receive protection under the Wildlife Act. It is illegal to hunt, harm, or traffic in the bison within this area without a licence”.(Government of Alberta 2018)
    The Hay-Zama wilderness is situated within the Alberta’s Bison Protection Area, which was designated in 1995, and spans an area of 40,000km2. This protected area includes AWA’s Hay-Zama, Cameron Hills, and Bistcho Areas of Concern in addition to the northern portion of AWA’s Chinchaga Area of Concern; it extends from the far northwest corner of the province down south until the Chinchaga River. The Government of Alberta carefully monitors and controls the free-roaming bison herds found in and around Wood Buffalo National Park as to protect the Hay-Zama herd from contracting tuberculosis and brucellosis.

    Public Lands

    AWA’s Hay-Zama Area of Concern is situated within the Green Zone of Alberta (forested portion), where public land is managed for recreation, natural resources, and ecological goods and services. This area has minimal public settlements and permits industrial and forestry developments. Agricultural activities are generally excluded from the Green Area with the exception of grazing leases located within certain parts of the Foothills Natural Region. Management and administration of public lands within Alberta is largely overseen by provincial regulatory bodies such as the Alberta Energy Regulator and the departments of Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Energy Regulator and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Public land dispositions are regulated under multiple pieces of legislation that includes, but is not limited to, the Public Lands Act, Public Lands Administration Regulation, Recreational Access Regulations, and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (Alberta 2014).

    Wetland conservation
    In 1968, the Dene Tha’ band council passed a resolution to cooperate with Ducks Unlimited in the management of the wetland. According to Environment Canada, “There is no active management practiced specifically for waterfowl at present, but future management may include the control of water levels.”


    AWA believes that:

    1. Hay-Zama should have increased protection that prioritizes connectivity with surrounding landscapes, habitat conservation, and prevents the contamination of the local watershed from any further surface and subsurface disturbances.
    2.  Thoughtful and effective management of the Hay-Zama wilderness needs co-management with First Nations. AWA believes that First Nations should be consulted and given resources that enable them to develop and implement management strategies that have an ecosystem-based ethic and supports the traditions and rights of local First Nations.



    Beginning west of Wood Buffalo National Park, AWA’s Hay-Zama Area of Concern is approximately 628 km2 of Alberta’s Boreal Forest Natural Region. This wilderness can be accessed from either Highway 58 directly north of the Town of Rainbow Lake, or west of the town of High Level via Highway 35. With the exception of a few industrial roads, there are no formal roads leading into Hay-Zama from the highway.






    AWA’s Hay-Zama Area of Concern. MAP © AWA: JPG | PDF


    Hay-Zama is an amalgamation of wet meadows, rivers, open water and floodplain woodlands that, when combined, form over 50,000 hectares of wetlands. This landscape undergoes extreme seasonal and annual water level fluctuations which can affect the size and depths of lakes. The largest watercourse within Hay-Zama is the Hay River which transects the area and flows west towards British Columbia. The lowlands of Hay-Zama have a dense watershed network that includes Sousa Creek, Amber River, Zama River, Moody Creek, Hay Lake and Duck Lake. There are also numerous unnamed sloughs that make up the remainder of Hay-Zama’s watershed.


    Hay-Zama is located within the Shaftesbury Formation of the mid-Cretaceous period in Alberta. This formation is characterized by friable, dark marine shale with a band of fish scale bearing silts, thin bentonitic streaks and ironstones. During the last glaciation , the Keewatin ice sheet covered the entire area, and is mostly likely to have attributed to the creation of Hay-Zama’s lakes by melt waters during the glacier’s recession.

    Environmentally Significant Areas

    Hay-Zama’s wetlands provide habitat for many waterfowl and shorebird species, which renders this wilderness its international significance, and designation under the Ramsar Wetlands Convention. The Hay-Zama wilderness is located in three of the four major North American migration flyways, and annually hosts numerous species of birds during spring and fall migrations. Shorebirds and waterfowl use this patchwork of wetlands as important staging areas in addition to some species utilizing this landscape as year-round habitat. Additionally, the Canadian Nature Federation and Bird Studies Canada designated Hay-Zama as an Important Bird Area (IBA).

    Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
    The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands. This designation obliges “wise use” of a site and brings increased publicity and international prestige for the designated wetland. “Wise use” is defined as sustainable use for the benefit of humankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem.

    Contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention (i.e., member countries, of which Canada is one) commit themselves to the following:

    • Designate at least one wetland that meets the criteria for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance (“Ramsar List”) and ensure the maintenance of its ecological character. Listed sites do not necessarily require protected area legal status, provided their ecological character is maintained through a wise use approach.
    • Promote the wise use of all wetlands within their territory through their national land-use planning, including wetland conservation and management.
    • Promote training in wetland research, management, and wise use.
    • Consult with other parties about the implementation of the Convention, especially with regard to transfrontier wetlands, shared water systems, shared species, and development projects that may affect wetlands.

    Nationally, each contracting party designates an Administrative Authority as its focal point for implementation of the Convention. Countries are encouraged to establish National Wetland Committees, involving all government institutions dealing with water resources, development planning, protected areas, biodiversity, tourism, education, development assistance, and the participation by NGOs and civil society is also encouraged.

    The Ramsar guidelines strongly urge parties to develop National Wetland Policies or Strategies, or identifiable parts devoted to wetlands in national environmental or biodiversity strategies, in addition to outlining a broad-based multi-sectoral consultative process for policy development to resolve conflicting interests and share ownership in the policy amongst all stakeholders.

    Contracting parties are also urged to recognize the value of the knowledge and skills of local and First Nations in relation to wetland management, making special efforts to encourage and facilitate their participation in the development and implementation of wetland policies and programs.

    Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park

    Information sourced from the Government of Alberta and AWA Files

    The Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park was designated in 1999 under the provincial government’s Special Areas process. This wildland park, which is 486 km2 in size, is also regarded as a “wetland of international significance” under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Canadian Nature Federation and Bird Studies Canada. The Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial is a mosaic of lakes, flood plains and deltas providing habitat for many bird species, as well as wood bison. In 2008, the park was twinned with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China. The twinning of the park came with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) expressing a commitment to building capacity through information exchange in the areas of participatory approaches to nature protection and community development, protected area management, including cooperative management with local communities, and ecotourism, including sharing of benefits within local communities.






    Hay-Zama Environmentally Significant Areas. MAP © AWA: JPG | PDF

    Natural Region

    The wetland and forest complex of Hay-Zama is located within the Boreal Forest Natural Region of Alberta. The entire area consists of Central Mixedwood Natural Subregion with many large zones of extensive vegetation with limited zones of deep water.






    Natural Subregions of Hay-Zama MAP © AWA: JPG | PDF


    The vegetation residing within Hay-Zama is related to the hydrology of the wetland, and must be able to withstand a significant amount of flooding. In areas with consistent higher water levels, bulrush beds and cattails are permanent vegetative features. Areas that experience frequent flooding support a variety of grasses and sedges, while areas with minimal flooding support more willow and shrub species.

    Central Mixedwood: This Subregion is mostly comprised of a mix of deciduous tree stands containing aspen and aspen/white spruce forests, and white spruce and jack pine in higher elevations. Balsam popular grow along the river banks, with aspen trees are commonly found on higher levees which rarely flood. Canadian buffaloberry, low brush cranberry, and prickly rose are common to the understory. A mix of wild sarsaparilla, hairy wild rye, and tall lungwort are featured in herb communities as well as feathermosses.


    The forested wetland complex of Hay-Zama support an incredible diversity of biology, with many wildlife ranges being unique to this landscape.


    The vegetative communities of Hay-Zama are vital for waterfowl and shorebird species during their spring and fall migrations as important staging and nesting habitat, in addition to providing year-round habitat for other bird species. Several species of raptors such as bald eagles and golden eagles have also been documented in the area. Some common bird species include:

    • Swans,
    • Gadwall,
    • Mallard,
    • Blue-wing teal,
    • Northern pintail,
    • Green-wing teal,
    • Goldeneye,
    • American widgeon,
    • Scaup,
    • Redhead,
    • Bufflehead,
    • Grebes,
    • White-wing scoter,
    • Canvasback, and
    • Northern Shoveler.

    Given the diversity of bird species alone, Hay-Zama has warranted the designation of an Important Bird Area (IBA) by The Canadian Nature Federation and Bird Studies Canada, as well as “wetland of international significance” under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.


    AWA’s Hay-Zama area of concern is home to many ungulate species such as deer and moose in addition to at risk wood bison. Mid to large predators such as black bears, coyotes, wolves, and foxes wander these landscapes. Wetlands and open forested areas are generally home to a variety of fur-bearing animals such as otters, muskrats and beavers. Historically, Woodland caribou have been observed to use the Hay- Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park as a movement corridor.


    The water bodies of Hay-Zama contain fish populations of northern pike and walleye.

    Wood Bison

    In 2003, wood bison were listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), in addition to being listed as Endangered under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. In 2013, COSEWIC re-examined the status of wood bison, assessing their federal status as Special Concern as numbers increased nationwide to nearly 10,000 individuals. To date, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change has not accepted the downlisting of wood bison to Special Concern under SARA.

    Commencing in 1983, the wood bison reintroduction program was an effort to establish healthy and free-roaming populations of wood bison within the northwest of Alberta, in addition to other western provinces including British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. This program was a collaboration between the Canadian Wildlife Services, the Government of Alberta, and the Dene Tha’ First Nation.

    The distribution and population numbers of reintroduced wood bison have changed since their original release into the Bison Protection Area in 1994, which overlaps AWA’s Hay- Zama Area of Concern. Designated as endangered and protected under the Wildlife Act, the original 42 individuals released set the foundation for re-establishing disease free and free roaming wood bison within Alberta.

    As the Hay-Zama herd grew, thriving on the available winter forage provided by Hay- Zama’s wetland grasses and sedges,  particular concerns were raised over range expansion when population numbers peaked in 2008 to a total of 652 individuals. This population shift resulted in a highly regulated hunting season of the Hay- Zama herd initiated by the Government of Alberta to prevent the eastward expansion past Highway 35 towards Wood Buffalo National Park. The hunt of the Hay-Zama herd was implemented to maintain population numbers between 400-600 individuals, reducing the risk of expanded distribution and potential contraction of brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis from resident WBNP herds. The hunt of the Hay-Zama herd also enabled an increase in disease testing, and improved public safety concerns for the communities of Chateh and Zama with regards to an increased rate in animal-vehicle collisions.

    A survey completed in late February of 2018 indicated a count of 316 individuals within the Hay-Zama herd, which was a significant decline from 477 in 2017. As a result, the Government of Alberta suspended the 2018-2019 hunting season for Hay-Zama wood bison. In past years, 2013-2014, government officials have suspended the hunt attributing population declines to poor winter survival, but restated the hunting season for the Hay-Zama herd in 2014-2015.

    AWA continues to press for a management plan for the Hay-Zama herd that incorporates traditional knowledge from local First Nations, and has a multistakeholder perspective. Establishing healthy and free roaming populations of wood bison in northern Alberta is incredibly important in maintaining thriving boreal forest ecosystems, in addition to supporting the treaty and harvesting rights for First Nations.



    Hay-Zama is traditional territory for the Dene Tha’, an Athapaskan speaking First Nation which lived in northwest Alberta to northeast British Columbia, in addition to the Northwest Territories. The Dene Tha’ had a nomadic way of life creating only small settlements in the 1900’s, but eventually moved to Habay, a unincorporated community located just on the periphery of Hay-Zama, in the 1950’s. In 1962, a devastating flood destroyed the community of Habay, for the Dene Tha ’ First Nation created a new main settlement for at Chateh, which is located directly south of Hay-Zama. The Dene Tha’ First Nation have long recognized the ecological importance of Hay-Zama, and have actively advocated for its protection for many decades. Currently, the Dene Tha’ are divided into three separate communities within the surrounding landscapes of Hay-Zama : Bushe River, Meander River, and Chateh.


    Hay-Zama’s terrain proves to be fairly difficult to navigate, which prevents a significant amount of recreational traffic. Fishing, hunting, backcountry camping and hiking, canoeing/kayaking, birding, and wildlife viewing are permitted activities within the area. Motorized watercraft and off-highway vehicle use is permitted within the Wildland Park, however recreationists are encouraged to minimize their impact on wildlife species and their habitat.



    Motorized Recreation

    Hay-Zama’s industrial activities have created linear disturbances, such as roads and cutlines that have allowed for an increase in human access into previously inaccessible areas. Motorized vehicles have been used by the Dene Tha’ First Nation for a significant amount of time, in addition to being permitted within the Wildland Provincial Park on designated trails. AWA supports motorized recreation on designated trails that are designed for recreational enjoyment that help to avoid the disturbance of sensitive areas within landscapes .Some landscapes are not suitable for motorized recreation as they cannot sustain high impact activities. AWA believes that land managers should consider the impacts and cumulative effects of all potential land uses, and consistently re-evaluate if linear features or trails require rehabilitation or removal entirely.

    Oil and Gas

    The Hay-Zama wilderness resides above a large oil and gas reserve which has been actively exploited since the 1960’s, by producers such as Nav Energy Trust (formerly Navigo Energy),Pengrowth Energy Trust (formerly Crispin Energy), and NuVista Energy. The Hay-Zama Committee negotiated an agreement with oil and gas companies which guided the phasing out of oil and gas developments on the landscape within a fixed time frame. Oil and gas activity is no longer occurring in the Park, and, remediation efforts are ongoing.
    The Ramsar agreement, Interim Directive ID96-1, the Management Plan (completed and endorsed by all concerned parties in 2001), and various Memoranda of Understanding were key tools in negotiating and managing oil and gas developments in the Park.

    No additional oil and gas developments within the Wildland Provincial Park are slated, however, development in the surrounding landscapes of Hay-Zama is still ongoing. Oil and gas activities on surrounding landscapes have been shown to have negative encroaching effects on undisturbed nearby lands by displacing species because of habitat loss, or diminishing the ecological integrity and functioning of connected natural systems. The loss of wetlands also has considerable consequences for climate change initiatives as these areas store a significant amount of carbon and methane gases. AWA believes that no new oil and gas developments should be entertained within Hay-Zama Area of Concern or on the surrounding landscapes. AWA is committed to seeing increased protection and the development and implementation of science-based management plan for Hay-Zama in order to mitigate the loss and further degradation of these landscapes.

    Petroleum well and associated infrastructure in Hay-Zama wetlands. PHOTO © AWA FILES.





    In January 2022, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced that the Dene Tha’ First Nation (DTFN) were awarded funding through their Indigenous Habitat Participation Program (IHPP). AWA aided DTFN in the development of their proposal for DFO, and we are excited to participate in this project over the summer of 2022. The goals of the project are to establish a baseline monitoring system for fish, fish habitat, and water within a region of Alberta which is currently considered data-poor. In the process of establishing the monitoring system, DTFN is planning to develop community-led tools and community engagement processes for both elders and youth, educators, school students, and other invited groups. AWA is thrilled to see this project proceeding, and we are looking forward to supporting DTFN in their efforts to better understand and protect fish and fish habitat on their traditional territory.


    Support for the co-management of the wildland park with the Dene Tha’ First Nation and for the Government of Alberta to honour its commitments to the Dalai Lakes Nature Reserve continues, and AWA promotes the Hay-Zama Committee’s consensus-based, collaborative process as a model for phasing out industrial activities within protected areas because it has effectively demonstrated that economic activities, environmental sensitivities, and cultural priorities can coexist. AWA participates in the multistakeholder Bistcho caribou subregional Task Force.


    Reclamation efforts are still ongoing within the Hay-Zama wilderness, with AWA still actively participating and working with the Committee to ensure that remediation proceeds on schedule despite encountering financial challenges. A multistakeholder Bistcho caribou subregional Task Force is launched by the Alberta government in November.


    The Hay Zama committee continues to meet, and is primarily focused on completing the reclamation of oil and gas activities within Hay-Zama.


    On February 3, an investigation of nine pipeline spill locations in northwest Alberta’s Hay River Basin has found that the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is failing in its responsibility to protect the environment, Treaty rights and the public interest. AWA calls on the Alberta government and AER to strengthen pipeline spill transparency and oversight based on these findings.


    NuVista Energy 2016 ends all oil and gas production and begins to decommission all infrastructure and associated equipment. Reclamation efforts are scheduled to begin in 2017.


    In the last few years, the provincial government’s ability to be partners in co-managing Hay-Zama has been compromised due to a lack of staff for the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park. AWA hopes that Alberta will find the resources or develop local capacity to have staff on the ground in Hay-Zama Wildland Provincial Park so that this cooperation between government officials, local First Nations and ENGOS can continue in its fullest form.

    In August, AWA writes to the Premier Redford on the announcement of their pending tour to China to bring attention to the partnership Alberta has with the twinning of these two significant Ramsar sites.

    On June 13, the recent pipeline spill of over 9.5 million litres of industrial waste water north of Zama City raises disturbing questions regarding the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) timeliness when informing the public about this kind of incident. Despite the fact that the spill was first reported to the Government of Alberta by Apache Canada Ltd. on June 1st, it wasanother ten days before this knowledge became public. Even then, it was only after the spill was reported to a television station that any government announcement was forthcoming.

    AWA believes that it is in the public interest to have immediate and full disclosure of such spills as soon as they occur.


    In August, as an active member of the Hay-Zama Committee (which includes representatives from the Dene Tha’ First Nations community, government, Ducks Unlimited, and the energy industry), AWA continues to work with this Committee and is pleased to see resource extraction winding down. AWA promotes the Hay-Zama Committee’s consensus-based, collaborative process as a model for phasing out industrial activities within protected areas and had opportunities during 2012 to promote this model in other areas of the province. AWA continued pressing the government to honour its commitments to the Dalai Lakes nature Reserve. Staffing issues related to remoteness of this Alberta treasure have made continuity in support and communications with our Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) colleagues difficult.


    In August, the Hay-Zama model was used as a model for a Conservation Leadership Program full day workshop taught by AWA staff and directors for 30 international students learning about activism and strategic models for working on difficult issues.


    In accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), concerning the twinning Hay-Zama lakes with Dalai Lakes Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, a staff person from the Dalai Lakes Reserve is in Alberta for a two month work-study program. While here, his time is spent learning about parks and protected areas management strategies and practice, working relationships with First Nations peoples, learning how ENGOs operate in Alberta, and cooperate with First Nations and government departments. AWA is integrally involved in creating this successful work experience.


    From August 30 to September 14, a delegate from Alberta travels to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) for a study tour and biodiversity workshop sponsored by AWA. AWA’s president and executive director join the delegate and travel to IMAR.

    In August, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is signed in Alberta in May of 2008 twinning the when we twinned Hay-Zama Wildland Provincial Park was twinned with Dalai Lake Nature Reserve. Both parties, the Alberta government and IMAR government, commit to help each other protect these two internationally significant protected areas; both parties enjoy Ramsar site status under the Convention on Wetlands signed in Ramsar, Iran, 1971.

    On September 28, AWA wins a place in the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) biodiversity Handbook for Hay-Zama, Dalai Lakes. Notification reads as the following:

    Congratulations! Your case study/best practice was selected in the Pan-Canadian Biodiversity Handbook Contest! Your submission will be included in a handbook that will be posted on the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) website and distributed to Environment Canada and the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.


    On May 28, Representatives of three governments – Alberta, the Dene Tha’First Nation, and China – meet in the northern Alberta community of Chateh to celebrate the official dedication of Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park. The event also celebrates the official twinning of Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China. The twinning was initiated and brought to completion by AWA’s Director who attended the event along with AWA Executive Director.

    On May 15, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) announces that a special management hunt for bison is planned for 2008-2009 in northwestern Alberta “to manage the province’s only free-range, disease-free wood bison population…. A long-term plan to re-establish wood bison across northern Alberta is being developed” (Government of Alberta News Release).

    On May 2, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) releases “Bison Surveys in the Hay-Zama Lowlands. The survey reports that the 29 bison originally brought into the Hay-Zama area from Elk Island National Park in 1983 has prospered and expanded to close to 700 individuals.

    Through the efforts of the Hay-Zama Committee, Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park is twinned with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China, another Ramsar site. For the last several years, AWA President  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.


    In September, 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.

    On July 4, Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture writes to the Hay-Zama Committee, informing them that the Government of Alberta will not compensate Sound Energy Trust with regard to cessation of production from two wells (4-23 and 7-11) in Hay-Zama.

    Two men are fined a total of $17,000 in provincial court in relation to the poaching of a bison calf in the Hay-Zama area.

    On February 22, the Hay-Zama Committee writes to Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture asking for government compensation to Sound Energy Trust with regard to cessation of production from two wells (4-23 and 7-11) in Hay-Zama.


    In December, Alberta Community Development informs Sound Energy and the Hay-Zama Committee that the Ministry continues to support the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sound Energy, with the expectation that Sound Energy will honor its commitment set out in the MOU and cease production from the two wells specified by December 31, 2006 (4-23 and 7-11). Sound Energy responds to Alberta Community Development by requesting clarity from all parties involved (Alberta Energy, EUB, Dene Thá First Nation) on several issues, including “the mechanism for compensation for early cessation of production.”

    On March 26, a leak occurred at a Navigo Energy site in the Hay-Zama Complex (1-33-112-06 W6) releasing approximately 1 m3 of oil and 0.5 m3 of freshwater onto the site. Navigo followed normal cleanup procedures.

    Crispin Energy, which has been operating in the Hay-Zama Complex, has been bought out by Pengrowth, and Navigo Energy is merging with Clear Energy. These changes present challenges as the new companies are initiated to the Hay-Zama Committee process. When a company changes hands, it is assumed that the new company is a signatory to the Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) that have been established previously. At the last Committee meeting, Pengrowth wanted to extend their deadline (currently December 31, 2006) for leaving a medium-risk area, “but they came with nothing for the land,” says AWA’s president. “We had to tell them that’s not how we work.”


    In September, AWA’s president drafts a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation between the Hay-Zama Lake Wildland Provincial Park and the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve, Inner Mongolia, China. The MOU expresses a commitment to building capacity through information exchange in the areas of participatory approaches to nature protection and community development, protected area management, including cooperative management with local communities, and ecotourism, including sharing of benefits within local communities.

    On May 12, AWA’s president writes to Community Development Minister requesting assistance in coordinating intergovernmental affairs and other relevant government departments to formalize the twinning of Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China. The Minister replies with a promise to contact Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations to see how similar relationships have been accomplished in the past.

    The winter of 2005/06 is the last winter in which industry can start new projects in the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park.


    On October 25, in a letter to Community Development Minister, AWA’s president requests endorsement and facilitation of the twinning of the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China. The Minister responds (18 November) with a promise to explore the parameters of such a proposal.

    In fall, the Hay-Zama Committee unanimously supports pursuing development of a collegial, “twinning” relationship between Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park and the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China, another Ramsar wetland. The purpose is to provide a forum for a formal exchange of information on research, management, local environment, and people.

    On March 25, a diesel fuel spill occurs at a Navigo site in the Hay-Zama complex. According to Navigo, approximately 3 m3 of diesel spilled, with 2 m3 recovered and with 1 m3 having soaked into the surrounding soil. Runoff from the “soil island” carries a hydrocarbon sheen onto the surrounding water. Navigo immediately responds by installing an oil spill boom, absorbent pads, and by excavating and bagging contaminated soil.


    On November 27, Navigo Energy signs Addendum 2 of the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the Hay-Zama Committee. The document describes the drilling program for the 2003/04 season. It also defines that the last drilling program in the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park and the overlap of the I.R. 209 will take place during the winter of 2005/2006.

    On June 11, Devlan Energy and the Hay-Zama Committee sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to reduce the time frame that oil and gas operations are conducted in the Park and to improve environmental performance for those operations. The MOU is reached in consultation with the public, government, industry, and Dene Tha’ First Nation. The Committee has now signed agreements with all operators in the Park (Enviroline 30 June 2003).

    In March, AWA President reports that oil development has been completely phased out of the Hay-Zama complex, except for one small area in Duck Lake, which is a closed system that isn’t connected with the rest of the complex. Gas development will end completely by 2017 at the latest. AWA hopes the Hay-Zama Committee process will serve as a model to guide the phase-out of “non-conforming” uses from other proposed and existing protected areas in Alberta. “The government is at the table but they don’t run the process,” says AWA’s President. (Enviroline 31 March 2003).

    In February, After consultation with environmental groups, Dene Tha’ First Nation and Alberta Community Development (Parks and Protected Areas), Navigo Energy agrees to abandon two more oil wells in the Hay-Zama complex and to surrender some subsurface leases that it recently acquired. The Hay-Zama Committee recommends allowing additional surface access for seismic so that Navigo can gather information that will assist in the orderly phase-out of energy production activities in the complex.

    The Hay-Zama Committee forms a tourism subcommittee comprised of representatives from the Dene Tha’, the Municipal District of Mackenzie, Alberta Parks, forestry, and the oil and gas industry. The purpose is to see whether tourism is the best alternative for the band in managing the land after the oil and gas industry leaves the area. A study is planned to explore the social aspects, the environmental factors, and the current state of the land.


    In October, Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) are signed by Crispin Energy and the Hay-Zama Committee.

    On May 21, Ventus Energy detects a minor sheen on open water in the Hay-Zama complex. The spill volume is approximated to be less than 5 litres, and the source of the spill is undetermined.

    In February, following oppositions from the Hay-Zama Committee and AWA, Castle River Resources decides to move the site of its proposed oil well completely outside of Area 1, the most environmentally sensitive area of Hay-Zama. The Committee is reviewing a new oil pipeline proposal by Crispin Energy that would cross part of the Wildland Provincial Park (Wild Lands Advocate 16 February 2002).


    On December 31, Ventus Energy reports a pipeline leak in the Hay-Zama complex. Spilled fluid is recovered by vacuum truck.

    On October 15, in a letter to Community Development Minister, the Hay-Zama Committee requests the addition to Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park of a half section of Crown land outside the western boundary of the Hay Lake I.R.

    On October 11, the Hay-Zama Committee endorses the Hay Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park Management Plan which incorporates all the agreements reached by the Committee and recommends a system of cooperative management for the Wildland Provincial Park between the Dene Tha’ First Nation and Alberta Parks and Protected Areas. Key elements of the Plan include the following:
    • Allowing natural processes to function largely unimpeded by human activities,
    • Permitting continued Dene Tha’ traditional uses,
    • A commitment to further negotiate cooperative management by the Dene Tha’ and the Department of Parks and Protected Areas,
    • Encouragement of scientific research and interpretation of the area’s natural and cultural heritage,
    • Restrictions on oil and gas activities as defined by previous agreements, and
    • Continuation of the role of the Hay-Zama Committee in advising on research, management, and oil and gas activities in the Park.

    In August, the Department of Community Development presents the Draft Management Plan to the Dene Tha’ council.

    On June 26, an Open House is held at the Dene Tha’ community of Chateh to consult on the Management Plan for Hay-Zama.

    On June 23, Barrington Petroleum ignites an uncontrolled sour gas well west of the Zama Lake oilfield. The well, unproductive since 1984, was reported to be spewing gas on June 11, 2001.

    In March, AWA does an inspection tour of the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park and confirms the first abandonment and dismantling of oil wells in the extreme risk open water areas of Zama Lake, three years ahead of schedule.

    Recognizing the long-standing relationship of the Dene Tha’ to the Hay-Zama complex, the Hay-Zama Committee creates a third co-chair; government, industry and Dene Tha’ now share chair responsibilities. The management plan process is initiated by Parks and Protected Areas and the Hay-Zama Committee.


    On October 12, Addendum 1 to the September 1999 Memoranda of Understand (MOU) is signed by the Hay-Zama Committee and Ventus Energy. The addendum further accelerates the removal of high-risk oil wells in open water areas, but with an unprecedented trade-off that will allow new pads to develop low-risk natural gas wells in a less sensitive corner of the complex. While uncomfortable with the trade off, AWA is pleased that it will result in no higher-risk oil activity in any open water area of Zama Lake.


    On September 27, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is signed by Ventus and the Hay-Zama Committee. The MOU includes the concept of time limitation and an exit strategy for the energy industry from the complex.

    One May 5, through the work of the Hay-Zama Committee and Alberta Parks and Protected Areas, Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Provincial Park is established. Designation as a Wildland Park provides legislated protection to an important wetland and wildlife habitat.


    On January 16, Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (later AEUB) issues Interim Directive ID96-1 regulating oil and gas operations in the Hay-Zama complex. This significantly improves environmental performance and puts limits on new development. ID 96-1 adopts new boundaries for the complex based on the work of the Hay-Zama Committee and on biological and hydrological criteria (rather than on the more arbitrary township/range coordinates of the previous boundaries). The key objective of ID96-1 is to encourage the safe and rapid depletion of oil and gas reserves and to prohibit surface development on mineral leases acquired within the complex after 16 January 1996. ID96-1 later becomes part of the Management Plan for the Park.

    An Emerald Award is given to Pat Cabezas, one of the co-chairs of the Hay-Zama Committee, in recognition of the work of the Committee in getting ID96-1 in place.


    A large portion of northwestern Alberta is designated a Bison Management Area to provide regulatory authority for managing the Hay-Zama wood bison herd.


    The Hay-Zama Committee is reactivated at the request of the energy industry. It includes representatives from the Dene Tha’ First Nation, Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, Governments of Canada and Alberta, Ducks Unlimited, AWA, and the energy industry. It is committed to accelerating the winding down of activities that have a high potential to negatively impact the Complex.


    On December 11, AWA requests that the UN World Heritage Committee consider eight sites in Alberta, including Zama Lake, for World Heritage Site designation.


    The Hay-Zama Committee is created through the Alberta Resources Conservation Board Interim Directive ID85-4 to address cultural, environmental, and economic concerns related to oil and gas activities in the Hay-Zama complex.

    Hay-Zama is selected as one of 20 key provincial wetlands for active management in the joint Ducks Unlimited/Alberta government “Wetlands for Tomorrow” initiative.


    Twenty-nine wood bison are reintroduced to the Hay-Zama area from Elk Island National Park.


    On May 24, the Hay-Zama complex receives international recognition through its designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The term originated in 1971 from the Ramsar Iran Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. The Convention’s mission is the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means of achieving sustainable development throughout the world.


    In October, the provincial Health Minister notes that conservationists are calling for a shutdown of the oil industry in the Rainbow-Zama Lake oilfield, “belatedly recognized as a primary staging route for migratory ducks and geese.” He states that the increasing wave of concern for pollution has seen more fiction than fact presented through the news media, which tends to sensationalize issues. He contends that Alberta’s record in pollution control and environmental conservation is second to none in North America.


    On July 3, the Alberta Oil and Gas Conservation Board issues Interim Directive ID69-3. The ID acknowledges the importance of the Zama Lake complex and draws up special requirements for the drilling and production of wells in this area “in order to accommodate the search for oil and gas in this area and to ensure the breeding ground and staging area would not be endangered.”


    The Hay-Zama wetland complex becomes a focus for the oil and gas industry and offshore developments of these reserves are pursued within the complex.


    Indigenous Peoples have inhabited the area since the retreat of the glaciers, 10,000 years ago. Hay-Zama is traditional territory for the Dene Tha’, an Athapaskan speaking First Nation which lived in northwest Alberta to northeast British Columbia, in addition to the Northwest Territories.

    February 22, 2021

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    June 3, 2020

    Joint Letter: Alberta Suspends Energy Industry Monitoring Requirements

    In response to Alberta suspending many environmental monitoring obligations of oil sands, oil and gas…

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    February 3, 2017

    AWA News Release: Alberta’s Hay River Basin at Risk: New Pollution Research

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    August 1, 2016

    Hunting a Threatened Species: Why the Hay-Zama Hunt is Good for Bison and People

    August 2016 Wildlands Advocate article, by Andrea Johancsik. Do you want to hunt bison in Hay-Zama? It…

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    March 4, 2014

    Losing the Boreal: A View of How Climate Change Could Shift Alberta’s Ecosystems

    Wild Lands Advocate article, February 2014, by Carolyn Campbell. University of Alberta biologist Rick Schneider…

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    December 17, 2013

    Alberta’s New Energy Regulator and Pipeline Breaches: Will We See Better Disclosure?

    Wild Lands Advocate update, October 2013, by Sean Nichols. The information regarding a pipeline spill…

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    June 13, 2013

    Zama City Pipeline Spill Raises Questions about Disclosure

    The recent pipeline spill of over 9.5 million litres of industrial waste water north of…

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    June 13, 2013

    Zama City Pipeline Spill Raises Questions about Disclosure

    The recent pipeline spill of over 9.5 million litres of industrial waste water north of…

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    September 28, 2009

    RCEN Biodiversity Best Practice/Case Study Handbook Template

    AWA won a place in the RCEN biodiversity Handbook for Hay-Zama, Dalai Lakes. Project Write-Up…

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    June 1, 2008

    Three Nations Celebrate Twinning of Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park with Chinese Nature Reserve

    Wild Lands Advocate article, June 2008, by Christyann Olson 200806_AR13.pdf

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