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Wetland Symposium

Thunder Creek Heritage Marsh System


LYLE W. SAIGEON AND BRIAN D. HEPWORTH

Ducks Unlimited Canada, P.O. Box 4465, 1606 4th Avenue, Regina, SK, S4P 3W7 Canada

Thunder Creek is situated within the prairie region of south-central Saskatchewan, Canada. Thunder Creek Marshes are being constructed under the auspices of the large marsh component of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). The $8 million project will provide approximately 4,800 ha of wetland and 1,200 ha of protected grassland habitat. The system is characterized by 80 km of intermittent creek channel that meanders across the floodplain of a post-glacial meltwater channel. Historically, during years of above-average run-off, the creek flowed and primarily created ephemeral or temporary wetlands. The typical wetland vegetation cover-type was Hordeum jubatum or Distichlis stricta with isolated stands of Eleocharis palustris occupying seasonal depressions. Some semipermanent and permanent channel wetlands were contained within Thunder Creek, however these areas formed a minor component of the system. Favorable water conditions provided breeding habitat for prairie waterfowl but drought claimed most wetlands early in the season, causing a shortage of brood water.

Through a cooperative effort of Heritage Marsh partner agencies and the NAWMP, Ducks Unlimited Canada has accessed irrigation water from Lake Diefenbaker. Construction of a series of containment dikes and water control structures has created permanent wetlands throughout the system to better accommodate waterfowl production. Several large marshes will continue to serve primarily as staging and molting areas. Construction was initiated in 1991 and all wetland enhancement work will be complete by the autumn of 1993.

Wetlands are being managed for specific wetland vegetation cover types. Permanent wetland habitat has been created to provide brood water in association with a number of parcels of managed upland nesting cover. Waterfowl will benefit directly, however the protection and enhancement of habitat will serve a variety of resident wildlife species and other migrant species such as shorebirds and whooping cranes. Pelican Lake, the terminal wetland within the Thunder Creek system, is recognized as having "National" importance for migrating shorebirds and is recommended as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site. Special management considerations have been designed into the Pelican Lake project to ensure suitable shorebird habitat is maintained. Agricultural benefits include a joint pasture management project between Ducks Unlimited Canada and a private landowner on 540 ha of key nesting area, five access points for irrigation pivots, improved stock watering, and a 90-ha pasture backflood attractive to breeding ducks. Local tourism will benefit over the long-term through increased opportunity for hunters and observers of wildlife.

American funding for this venture is provided by Ducks Unlimited Inc., and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Wetland Conservation Act. Canadian Funds were provided by Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The Saskatchewan Wetland Conservation Corporation will assist with the transfer of Crown land.


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