Wetland Classification Systems

Alberta is an ecologically and physically diverse province, with vast expanses of boreal forests to the north, majestic mountains to the west, and grasslands to the south. Alberta is characterized by six Natural Regions, which are defined geographically on the basis of landscape patterns, primarily including vegetation, soils and physiographic features. The combined influence of climate, topography and geology is reflected by the distribution of these features. The degree to which climate, physiography, vegetation and soils define a particular Natural Region depends on its geographic location. For example, soils and climate tend to be most important in the southeastern plains, while elevation, topography and vegetation are most important along the foothills and mountains, and latitude, physiography and vegetation are most important in the northern plains and forests. Natural Subregions are subdivisions of a Natural Region, generally characterized by vegetation, climate, elevation, and latitudinal or physiographic differences within a given Region (Alberta has 21 Subregions).

Following the last Ice Age, about 8,000-10,000 years ago, climatic conditions were favourable for the formation of wetlands in Alberta. As a result of varying physiographic and climatological conditions across the province, these wetlands are characterized by a diverse array of form and function. This diversity requires a specialized set of skills to properly identify and delineate wetlands in the landscape. Currently, the most widely used wetland classification systems in Alberta are the Canadian Wetland Classification System (National Wetlands Working Group, 1997), which is used in the Green Area of Alberta, and the Stewart and Kantrud Wetland Classification System (Stewart and Kantrud, 1971), which is used in the White Area of Alberta. The Alberta Wetland Policy released in September 2013 outlines a new classification system, the Alberta Wetland Classification System (Government of Alberta 2013) which must be used to classify wetlands in Alberta as of June 1, 2015.