December 2, 2022
The continuous hilltops and slopes of Goose-Wallace offer an unmatched ensemble of habitats in addition to boasting an incredible number of rare plant species.
AWA believes the protection Goose-Wallace is a necessity for protecting an integral piece of the Foothills Natural Region and Alberta’s biodiversity.PHOTO: © AWA FILES
Located in east-central Alberta, Goose-Wallace is a critical piece of the Upper Foothills Natural Subregion. Just south of Lesser Slave Lake and west of the town of Swan Hills, AWA’s Goose-Wallace Area of Concern is a 371 km2 piece of Alberta public lands that includes the boundaries of the Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve. It is characterized by shurblands and muskegs that intertwine between plateaus that quickly transition to steep slopes. These hills are a sanctuary for many large mammals, and display an incredible array of rare plant species. Unprotected portions of Goose-Wallace and surrounding lands have been heavily disturbed and resemble a patchwork quilt of cutblocks, oil and gas wells, and roads. With minimal protection from industrial development and no science-based management of the surrounding area, the wilderness of Goose-Wallace is at risk of disappearing. Protecting the Goose-Wallace would conserve the ecological integrity of the area and contribute to increased representation of the Foothills Natural Region within Alberta’s protected areas network.
AWA’s Goose-Wallace Area of Concern consists of mostly unprotected public lands, with the exception of a small ecological reserve, Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve, which is approximately 13 km2 in size and was established in 1974.
Goose-Wallace currently has no management framework to formally delegate land uses, but once completed, this wilderness will be included in the Upper Athabasca Regional Plan under the 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).
Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve is the only formally protected area within AWA’s Goose-Wallace Area of Concern, and is managed under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act with the intention to “To preserve and protect natural heritage in an undisturbed state for scientific research or education.”
The entirety of Goose-Wallace 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 generally has minimal public settlements, and contains dispositions of industrial and forestry developments. Agricultural activities are generally excluded from the Green Area with the exception of grazing leases. Management and administration of public lands within Alberta is largely overseen by provincial regulatory bodies such as the Alberta Energy Regulator and departments including Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Energy, and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Public land dispositions are generally regulated under 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)
AWA believes that Goose-Wallace merits protection in order to conserve its high biological diversity. In order to achieve this, we must:
AWA’s Goose-Wallace Area of Concern is located in central Alberta, directly south of Lesser Slave Lake. Goose-Wallace is approximately 371 km2 and can be accessed via the Mountain Fire Tower road heading northeast from Swan Hills.
The Goose-Wallace wilderness is located in the Athabasca River Basin with notable water bodies such as Freeman Lake, Driftpile River, East Prairie River and Wallace Creek running through its boundaries.
The Goose-Wallace area is an erosional remnant which is defined as, “a feature of the landscape standing above the general level to which erosion has reduced its surroundings.” This area is underlain with bedrock of the Cretaceous period ( 65-136 million years old) including shales, non-marine sandstones and coals in addition to gravels, shales, clays and sandstones from the Tertiary period (1.5-65 million years ago). It is speculated that the area had been glaciated at least twice with evidence of the ice sheets moving southwestward. Most of the upland soils are luvisolic soils (orthic gray luvisol) which have developed on various fine-textured Tertiary deposits and glacial till. In the lower areas because of restricted water drainage, the soils are gleyols which are low in organic matter and are generally associated with fens and lowland shrubs.
The occurrence of rare plant species and the ecological value of the old growth forest stands are the natural features that have rendered the majority of the Goose-Wallace as provincially significant.
Old Growth Forests
Old growth forests stands are predominant within the vegetation composition of Goose-Wallace. These stands are considered environmentally significant due to the variety of ecological values they offer which include genetic diversity, the capacity to efficiently to tie up nutrients in comparison to other vegetative communities, and supporting high biological diversity in terms of animals and other plant species. Due to their stability and a relative equilibrium with the local environment, old growth forests can serve as an indicator for climate change.
The Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve
Information sourced from the Alberta Government
The Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve is 13km2 in size, and is characterized by Flat-topped to steeply-sloping hills which rise 600 meters above the surrounding lowlands. An impressive north-facing escarpment is dissected by pronounced gullies found near the southern boundary with the most extensive vegetation type being coniferous forests containing some rare plant species.
The Goose-Wallace is contained within the Lower Foothills Natural Subregion.
Lower Foothills: White spruce and aspen mixed forests dominate this area, with some areas supporting lodgepole pine stands. Treed or open fens are also common, with muskegs forests of black spruce in poorly drained areas. Common shrubs species include twining honeysuckle, Labrador tea, cranberry and cloudberry. Herbaceous communities consist of bunchberry, horsetail, miterwort, and coltsfoot. Lichens are generally confined to green dog lichen and green reindeer lichen with feather mosses such as splendid feather moss and red-stemmed feathermoss.
Goose-Wallace wilderness is acclaimed for the presence many rare plant species some of which include:
Goose-Wallace foothills and watershed provide important habitat for many of Alberta’s wildlife species.
Birds: The landscapes of AWA’s Goose-Wallace Area of Concern provide habitat for a variety of bird species which includes spruce grouse, red-tailed hawk, mallard duck, and blue-winged teal.
Mammals: Large predators such as grizzly bears, black bears and wolves roam Otauwau’s landscapes along with foxes, lynx, and coyotes. This area also has a large population of ungulates including moose and deer. Shrews and bats are also common to the Otauwau wilderness.
Fish: The watercourses of AWA’s Otauwau Area of Concern have fish species such as perch, northern pike and whitefish.
Due to the sensitivity of the Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve, public use is restricted to foot access only. The surrounding Goose-Wallace area may be compatible with other low-impact recreational activities such as camping, fishing, trapping and canoeing.
AWA believes that Goose-Wallace requires increased protection in order to maintain the high biodiversity of both plant and animal species observed within this wilderness. Conservation efforts should also include science-based management to aid in reducing the cumulative effects from industrial activities. Thoughtful management of Goose-Wallace involves establishing surface disturbance thresholds on surrounding landscapes as well that will confer the conservation objectives for the Goose-Wallace wilderness.
A significant proportion of the Goose-Wallace and surrounding areas have been extensively explored and developed for Alberta’s oil and gas industry, with some legacy seismic lines already regenerating. Goose-Wallace wilderness does not have the capacity to tolerate any new explorations or industry infrastructure, as continuous industrial impacts would ultimately sacrifice the unique biodiversity that defines this area. Restricting any new leases or surface disturbance is imperative to conserving what remains of this irreplaceable wilderness. In addition, effort must be allocated to supporting the rehabilitation of previously disturbed areas to ensure the highest level of habitat connectivity within Goose-Wallace. This would also include establishing a buffer zone and industrial disturbance thresholds for the surrounding landscapes that would help attain the conservation objectives for Goose-Wallace.
In conjunction with petroleum development, industrial clearcut logging in some areas of Goose-Wallace has contributed to habitat loss which further imperils the biological diversity of this wilderness. With a considerable portion of the vegetation existing as old growth stands, and the low frequency of natural forest fires, logging these mature forests could potentially eliminate this ecological hotspot within central Alberta therefore reduce the overall level of biodiversity found in central Alberta.
On January 29, the Goose Mountain area is proposed as a major Ecological Reserve by the Alberta Consulting Panel of the Canadian IBP/CT Subcommittee.
On January 4, after a series of changes to compensate timber licenses, the boundaries for the Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve are approved.