North America’s Largest Inland Delta

By June 1, 2015Blog

Seen from the vantage of a helicopter, it appears that thousands of watery veins meander their course as the lifeblood of the landscape. The sheer magnitude of this wetland is surprising but even more surprising is that this unique and significant area is unknown to most Canadians.

You’ve likely heard of the Mississippi and the Peace-Athabasca Delta. But the Saskatchewan River Delta, spanning 10,000 square kilometres and two provinces remains largely under unknown.

The Saskatchewan Regional Working Group (SK RWG) of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) and the communities of Cumberland House and Cumberland House Cree Nation are extolling the ecological and cultural values of the Delta and the Mossy River watershed.

As occupants of the oldest occupied settlement in western Canada, Cumberland House residents have seen and experienced much change. Most, if not all, of that change is either directly or indirectly linked to changes in the Delta.

Historically, aquatic highways converging on Cumberland House made it an important stopping point for east-bound fur brigades and west-bound trade goods. More recently the major economic interest affecting the Delta is the generation of hydroelectric power at upstream dams and the erratic water flows that have resulted. What has remained consistent is the local peoples’ intimate relationship and identification with the Delta as a way of life and their desire to preserve its integrity.

As the largest active inland delta in North America, it has been one of Canada’s richest regions for wildlife abundance and diversity. A third of all boreal fish species can be found in these waters and half of all boreal bird species. It serves as a critical staging ground for migrating waterfowl including ducks, geese and swans. At one time, some of the highest concentrations of moose and muskrat in the country existed here. Now these two species are at low ebb. Local consensus attributes this to alterations to the natural functioning of the delta caused by hydroelectric development but many other factors may be involved.

From a bird’s eye view, the interrelatedness that exists in this landscape becomes clear. Recognizing the importance of conserving this, the CBFA’s SK RWG is working with government, Aboriginal peoples and stakeholders to develop a proposal for a benchmark sized protected area centered on the Mossy River watershed.

A special thank-you to our hosts this week – the ‘Keepers of the Delta’ in Cumberland House.

John Daisley, Planning Coordinator and Environmental Manager at Weyerhaeuser Hudson Bay Timberlands, is a member of the CBFA’s Saskatchewan Regional Working Group