Canadian Forest Service Publications

Impacts and prognosis of natural resource development on aquatic biodiversity in Canada's boreal zone. 2013. Kreutzweiser, D. ; Beall, F.; Webster, K.; Thompson, D.; Creed, I. Environmental Reviews. 21(4):227-259.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35314

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/er-2013-0044

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Conservation efforts to sustain water resources and aquatic biodiversity in boreal watersheds will require reliable information on the recent status of various indicator species and an improved understanding of the risks to aquatic biodiversity posed by resource development activities. We reviewed the recent state of knowledge on the responses of aquatic biodiversity to forest management, pulp and paper mill effluents, hydroelectric impoundments, mining of minerals and metals, oil sands extractions, and peat mining and offer a prognosis for aquatic biodiversity under each of these environmental stressors. Despite the prevalence of natural resource development in Canada’s largest forest ecosystem, there was a limited amount of published literature on the effects of many of the disturbance types on various indicators of aquatic biodiversity, making it difficult to produce a current and reliable status assessment. Across most of the boreal zone, there is a lack of coordinated, consistent data collection for many of the bioindicators and disturbance types discussed in this review. Forecasting the future state of aquatic biodiversity across the boreal zone is challenged by increasing natural resource development and its interactions with other stressors, especially climate change. The cumulative effects of multiple stressors coupled with resource development activities in boreal watersheds remain largely unknown. More importantly, the ecological thresholds for these cumulative effects (that is, the point at which aquatic ecosystems and their biodiversity cannot recover to a desired state within a reasonable time frame) are also unknown and remain gaps in our knowledge. The recent literature identifies a number of risks to aquatic biodiversity at local (tens of square kilometres) to regional (hundreds of square kilometres) scales associated with natural resource development. There are indications that many of these risks can be minimized by “greener” technologies for resource development and reclamation, practical conservation planning and regulation, and increased stewardship in watershed management, although the effectiveness of many of these measures cannot yet be assessed from the published literature.

Plain Language Summary

We reviewed and summarized scientific literature on recent and current impacts of natural resource development on organisms living in lakes, streams, ponds, and wetlands across boreal Canada. Based on this, we offered a prognosis for risks, impacts, and mitigation strategies in the face of expanding development and uncertainties associated with climate change. Resource development considered were forest management, pulp and paper production, metal and mineral mining, hydroelectric generation, oil and gas development, and peat mining. Several activities continue to pose risks of harm to aquatic organisms by habitat alterations and contamination of water bodies from sediments, effluents, toxic seepages, and emissions. This is particularly true for some pulp mills, older and abandoned metal mines, large hydroelectric installations, continuing emission-related acidification, and oil sands development. To the extent that development increases and expands into previously undeveloped areas of boreal Canada, these risks are expected to increase accordingly. It appears that many of these risks can be reduced by the use of new “greener” technologies and conservation regulations. However, most newer technologies and regulations are in development and their effectiveness cannot yet be evaluated from the published literature. Other important information gaps include cumulative impacts of development in conjunction with climate change.