Restoring the aspen parkland of Riding Mountain National Park

What’s the issue?

Portrait of ten people in protective gear standing in a parkland landscape.
Parks Canada fire crew at an aspen parkland grassland, owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (Manitoba), assist in implementing prescribed fire as part of a partnering agreement to restore this habitat. Photo: © Tim Gompf /© NCC

Riding Mountain aspen parkland is a unique ecological landscape – a prairie region where northern, western and eastern species all converge. The area’s prairie wildflowers transition to aspen parkland, highland evergreens and lowland eastern hardwood forest. However, decades of fire suppression has had a negative effect on this ecoregion by reducing the extent and quality of its rough fescue grasslands and by causing its aspen forests to age with little new growth. The area’s elk have less habitat as a result; elk are also threatened by bovine tuberculosis, a deadly infectious disease. The presence of white spruce plantations, invasive species and park developments are causing further issues.

What’s our approach?

  • Use prescribed fire, plantation logging and site restoration (tilling soil, seeding of native grasses, invasive species management) to renew aspen forests and rough fescue grasslands.
  • Work with Indigenous partners, neighbouring regions and other stakeholders to test for bovine tuberculosis and prevent its spread so that the disease is ultimately eradicated.
  • Redesign the bison display with a wildlife-permeable fence to allow movement of other ungulates and predators such as bears and wolves.
  • Raise public awareness of aspen parkland restoration through media and partnership opportunities.

What’s been accomplished?

  • Restored 1,250 hectares of aspen parklands using prescribed fire, and 40 hectares of rough fescue grassland by logging white spruce plantations, preparing the site and grass seeding.
  • Worked with Keeseekowenin First Nation on wildlife health and monitoring programs, plantation removal, bison management and wildlife fencing projects.
  • Detected no cases of bovine tuberculosis (since 2014) and maintained the elk population.
  • Installed 4 km of wildlife-permeable fencing to permit the movement of predators.
  • Showcased restoration efforts via Aspen Parkland travelling exhibits at the Manitoba Museum and Assiniboine Park Zoo.