Muskwa-Slave Lake Boreal Forests

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Jasper National Park, Patricia Lake, Canada.
© WWF / Wilfried D. SCHURIG

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 2 terrestrial ecoregions: Muskwa-Slave Lake forests; and Northern Cordillera forests.

The Muskwa-Slave Lake forests are named after the large Slave Lake in the south central Northwest Territories. Encompassing a series of plains and mountains, including portions of the Mackenzie River plain and Caribou mountains, the Muskwa-Slave lake boreal forests experience cool summers and very cold winters characterized by low precipitation. The resulting habitats, which are forests dominated by spruce and fir trees, support one of North America's most diverse and intact large mammal systems.

The northern Cordillera forests extend across northern British Columbia, southern Yukon Territory, and cover a minute area in the Northwest Territories. It represents a combination of alpine, subalpine and boreal mid-Cordilleran habitats across much of northern British Columbia and southeastern Yukon.

Size:
525,000 sq. km (203,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Boreal Forests/Taiga

Geographic Location:
Canada

Conservation Status:
Relatively Stable/Intact

Local Species
The vegetation is characterized by Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), White spruce (Picea glauca), Balsam fir (Abies balsamea), Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), and Black spruce (Picea mariana).

A large and relatively intact predator-prey system is distinctive and unique, including wolves (Canis lupus), grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), caribou (Rangifer tarandus), and moose (Alces alces). Other animals include muskrat (Ondatra zibethica), ptarmigan (Lagopus spp.), and snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca).
 / ©: WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT
Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis).
© WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT

Featured species

A common muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) resembles a large house rat with its tail flattened on either side; its hind feet are partially webbed between the toes. Its outer fur is shiny brown, and it has a dense undercoat. Its body length is 25-35 cm (10-14 in). A solitary dweller, it may live in a burrow in a steep bank or a reed hut built in marshy shallows.

Muskrats do not build dams or fell trees as do beavers; their burrows are constructed above water level and are connected to an underwater entrance by a tunnel. They swim by paddling with the hind feet, using the tail as a rudder. Musk secretions are used with droppings and urine to mark out territories.

They feed on vegetation and aquatic animals; their chief enemy is the mink. Mating occurs in spring and summer. The gestation period is about 30 days and the female bears several litters of 2 to 6 young each season.

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Threats
Most of the ecoregion is intact but logging has heavily impacted some local watersheds, especially in the riparian habitats. Highway construction and oil pipelines pose additional threats. Timber harvesting is heaviest in riparian spruce and poplar areas, and upland lodgepole pine areas. Wildlife exploitation is now considered high in southeastern Yukon and moderate in the British Columbia portion of the ecoregion.
WWF’s work
The Endangered Species Recovery Fund (ESRF) is a collaborative effort led by Environment Canada and WWF to save Canada's wildlife at risk. The ESRF sponsors high-priority conservation projects to assist the recovery and protection of endangered Canadian wildlife and their natural habitats.

Currently, 500 Canadian species are listed as being ‘at risk’ by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The ESRF combines public, private and non-profit sector support with the efforts of scientists, conservation groups, and landowners. This multi-sector approach is critical for the long-term survival of Canada's wildlife.

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