Guest Blog: Beaver Hills Designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Written By: Ian Montgomerie

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A celebration of the designation of the Beaver Hills Moraine as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve was held on September 8, 2017. As a founding partner in the Beaver Hills Initiative, the organization that led the challenging task of seeking the designation, the Edmonton and Area Land Trust (EALT) was recognized in the designation ceremonies.  

Let there be no doubt. This is a very big deal!

The celebration event held at the Strathcona Wilderness Centre included dignitaries from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Orgainzation (UNESCO) in Paris, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO in Ottawa, Parks Canada, First Nations, Métis, Alberta Environment and Parks, and Mayors and Councillors from the five counties that border on the Beaver Hills.  They enjoyed Indigenous music and dance, bannock and other treats, and a full day of activities including a guided tour of the Beaver Hills, presentations and a range of fun events.

So what makes this such a big deal?

First, What is the Beaver Hills Moraine?  

The moraine is located 20 minutes east of Edmonton, covering the majority of Strathcona County and bordering on significant portions of Leduc, Beaver, Camrose and Lamont Counties.  It includes Elk Island National Park, Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreational Area, the Ukrainian Cultural Village, Ministik Lake International Game Bird Sanctuary, and the Strathcona Wilderness Centre, and it covers over 1,600 km2.  

The retreat of glacial ice left behind this isolated moraine with distinctive, hummocky ‘knob-and-kettle” terrain surrounded by beautiful aspen parkland. This moraine, unique in the region, supports boreal mixedwood forest, wetlands, lakes, streams and a diverse range of plants and animals.  It is an important ecological link between the northern boreal forests and the southern prairie parklands and a critical source of both surface and ground water in the moraine and surrounding areas.

Next, What is a Biosphere Reserve?

The Beaver Hills joins a global network of over 600 Biospheres around the world, 18 across Canada, and the second in Alberta along with the Waterton Biosphere. The designation confers no additional powers or land use planning tools. Its purpose is to provide an international platform that celebrates sustainable land use, and demonstrates excellence in the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development practices at a regional scale.  Biospheres answer the question, how do we maintain the health of natural systems while meeting the needs of growing communities?  The designation of the Beaver Hills Moraine recognizes the meaningful collaboration of the five municipal jurisdictions, federal and provincial government agencies, land owners and land trusts including EALT, Indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, and academia, to inform regional decision making on healthy communities and a healthy environment.

And finally, How does EALT benefit and support the Beaver Hills Biosphere?

EALT has 3 properties within the boundaries of the Biosphere - Ministik, Hicks, and Golden Ranches, with additional properties currently in the securement process.  EALT, along with other land trusts, have an important role to play in conserving natural spaces, promoting the Biosphere, and contributing to and benefiting from the educational, research, capacity building, and pride of place as a key land owner in the Beaver Hills Biosphere.

It really is a pretty big deal!

First two photos (fall colours) are of Hicks and were taken by Alex Nagy. The next one is of Ministik and then the last three are of Golden Ranches, all from EALT.