Alberta Wetlands: From Classification to Policy

Course Syllabus


Module 1 - Wetland Theory, Classification and Riparian Functions

This module is the quintessential primer of wetland ecology with emphasis on classification systems and how they are applied to wetlands in Alberta. The ecosystem roles and functions of wetlands and riparian areas are addressed, including flood attenuation, water quality and quantity, climate impacts, biodiversity and stormwater management. 

Topics Covered:

  • Views of wetlands including a review of wetlands in popular culture and literature.
  • Review of the global distribution of the world’s wetlands with a focus on where wetlands are situated        in Canada and Alberta.
  • Wetland hydrology and succession of prairie wetlands.
  • Examination of peatlands; what they are and how they are formed through the processes of terrestrialization and paludification.
  • Introduction to the three wetland classification systems used in Canada; Cowardin et al., the Canadian Wetland Classification System, and the Stewart and Kantrud Classification system. By the end of this module you will know the types and classes of wetlands defined by each system and where each system is appropriately applied.
  • Introduction to riparian areas and how to recognize riparian areas and their extents. Review of healthy vs. unhealthy riparian zones.
  • Review the importance and functions of wetlands and riparian spaces including water quality, flood control and storage, bank stabilization, aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and peatland carbon storage.
  • The future of wetlands including an overview of wetland losses worldwide and current threats to wetlands in Alberta.

Module 2 - Policies Affecting Wetlands in Alberta

This module addresses federal, provincial and municipal policies affecting wetlands in Alberta, particularly the new Alberta Wetland Policy (released September 11, 2013). Regulations, Legislation and Codes of Practice are reviewed at a provincial scale. Wetland Avoidance, Mitigation, and Compensation/Replacement guidelines and economic valuation of wetlands will also be addressed.

Topics Covered:

  •  An overview of the history of legislation that affects wetlands in Canada and Alberta.
  • Federal legislation and policy governing fisheries in Canada.
  • Comprehensive review of all policies and legislations that effect wetlands in Alberta including the Alberta Water Act (1999), the Public Lands Act (2000) and municipal legislation.
  • Review how federal and provincial legislation apply to water bodies and riparian areas in Alberta; examine ownership and administration of the beds and banks of a wetland.
  • Examples of legislation enforcement in Alberta and the consequences for breaking laws that protect wetlands.
  • Examine the implications of the Responsible Energy Development Act (2013) and the establishment of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).
  • Overview of the Codes of Practise in Alberta including the establishment of Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).
  • Introduction to the Water Act Codes of Practice and the definitions for Qualified Aquatic Environmental Specialist (QAES) and Qualified Wetland Aquatic Environment Specialist (QWAES). Gain an understanding of what QAES’s and QWAES’s are and when they are needed.
  • Overview of the history of wetland policy in Alberta and a comprehensive review of the new Alberta Wetland Policy released in September 2013. Emphasis is placed on the mitigation and compensation process for impacting wetlands.
  • Introduction to international wetland policies and conventions aimed at protecting and enhancing wetlands around the world.


Session 2: Introduction to the Assessment of Wetland Functions and Benefits Workshop

Under the new Alberta Wetland Policy, wetland management in the Province of Alberta is moving towards a values-based approach, where the purpose of wetland mitigation is to maintain wetland functions and benefits rather than just total wetland area.  This module will introduce participants to the assessment of wetlands functions, values, and ecosystem services.  It will include information on the various wetland functions and benefits to be considered for protection under the old and new policies.  It will also provide an introduction to some of the tools used for assessing wetland functions and benefits, including the US Environmental Protection Agency's Wetland Ecosystem Services Protocol for the United States (WESPUS) tool.

Module 3: Applied Wetland Skills (session dependent)

Session 1: Wetland Airphoto Interpretation Workshop

Alberta has a detailed airphoto inventory of the province dating back to the 1940s. This hands-on module will teach you how to identify, delineate, and classify wetlands in the landscape using black/white airphotos using the Canadian Wetland Classification System. Time-series analyses will allow you to examine the same wetland complex over time to gain an appreciation of their dynamic nature in relation to environmental factors. This module can be especially useful for municipalities seeking to develop their own wetland management policies, as a demonstration of the distribution and abundance of wetlands on the landscape.