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What are wetlands?

Wetlands are natural areas where water is the dominant factor determining soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living there. Types of wetlands vary widely given local differences in soils, climate, hydrology, and other factors. To learn more about wetlands in Alberta, visit Wetlands Alberta.

Photo source: Ducks Unlimited Canada

Why are wetlands important?

Wetlands are among the richest ecosystems on earth. They are home to a huge variety of plant and animal species such as dragonflies, ducks, and elk, and are vital to protecting biodiversity. In addition, wetlands behave as natural filters. They trap sediment and pollutants like heavy metals and excess nutrients in runoff. A healthy wetland can reduce nitrate and phosphorus levels by up to 80 per cent and 94 per cent respectively. This makes them extremely important to protecting drinking water supplies.

Wetlands also act as a water storage system, which makes them very useful in mitigating floods and droughts. Protecting wetlands as a flood mitigation mechanism can also save municipalities valuable resources that would otherwise need to be spent on flood infrastructure. For more information on wetlands and flood mitigation, click here.

In addition to these environmental benefits, wetlands also make social and economic contributions to our society. They provide opportunities for tourism, boating, bird watching, photography, hunting and fishing. They also have a major positive impact on property values by contributing to aesthetic appeal and amenities.

Unfortunately, over the past 100 years, more than 60 percent of Alberta’s wetlands have been destroyed, and we continue to lose wetlands at a rate of 0.5 percent per year.


Graphic source: 2005: WaterScape Bowen Island, Turner R.J.W. et al, Geological Survey of Canada Miscellaneous Report 88

AUMA policy on wetlands

In an effort to reduce wetland losses, the Government of Alberta developed and released a wetlands policy in 2013. The goal of the provincial wetlands policy is to “conserve, restore, protect and manage Alberta’s wetlands to sustain the benefits they provide to the environment, society and the economy.” To learn more watch a recording of To Conserve and Protect: Implementing Alberta's Wetland Policy.

The province is currently developing tools and resources to support implementation of the policy.

Development of the provincial wetland policy provided AUMA with an opportunity to develop policies of our own. AUMA’s wetlands policies reflect extensive discussion with our members and are being used to guide our input to implementation of the provincial policy.  View the AUMA Municipal Water Policies on Wetlands

Resources and municipal examples of wetland management

A new Guide to making wetlands work in your municipality provides municipalities with information, case studies and tools to support wetland conservation. The Alberta North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) led development of the guide with input from AUMA, AAMDC, the province and individual municipalities.

Government of Alberta - The Government of Alberta began implementing a new Alberta Wetland Policy in 2014, which was developed with input from AUMA. The new Policy is aimed to conserve, restore, protect, and manage Alberta’s wetlands to sustain the benefits they provide to the environment, society, and economy. It provides the direction and tools required for wetland management across the province.

University of Alberta - Alberta’s Living Laboratory Wetlands Project. The Alberta Land Institute at the University of Alberta is currently undergoing a multi-year, interdisciplinary research project examining the science and economics of wetlands restoration in Alberta. Findings of this project will help inform policymakers and developers as they work with Alberta’s new Wetlands Policy.