Northeast SwaleSaskatoon, SK
What is the Northeast Swale?
The Northeast Swale is an important natural area on ancient river beds located to the northeast of Saskatoon. There are actually two swales (Northeast Swale and Small Swale) running parallel, both connecting to riparian areas at either end. The Swales represent an ecological corridor for many native and often rare species.
The Swales offer a variety of habitat, including wetlands, riparian areas, and rare native prairie grassland. Undulating topography provides micro-habitats for regionally scarce plant communities, which differ from Meewasin’s other grassland properties and are part of a broader, albeit fragmented, transitional grassland landscape. (Saskatoon is in a transition zone between the Moist Mixed Grassland and Aspen Parkland ecoregions. Transition zones offer a variety of habitat niches and are important for maintaining biodiversity.)
Underlying geology means that some of the wetlands are connected to the aquifer that feeds Peturrson’s Ravine, a marl fen with federally rare species. Some wetlands in the Swales are already, or will become, part of the storm water management system to reduce flood risks in surrounding neighbourhoods. In some cases, the wetlands are a result of sand and gravel extraction from the Swales (and also at Peturrson’s Ravine).
Northeast Swale by numbers
How big is it?
- Greater swale (entire Northeast Swale): 26 km long, about 2800 ha
- Small Swale: core still being delineated
- The southern 4-5 km (about 300 ha) of the greater swale is within Saskatoon city limits
- Could be one of the largest urban grassland “reserves” in Canada (Vegetation Survey of the University Chemical Landfill Remediation Site and Adjacent City of Saskatoon Buffer Lands, March 2004, Meewasin Valley Authority)
- 200+ species of plants, including rare crowfoot violet, rare plains rough fescue, and other culturally significant species
- 100+ species of birds, including threatened and at risk species, short-eared owl, common night hawk, Sprague’s pipit, loggerhead shrike
- Mammals, including deer, coyotes, jackrabbits, weasels, ground squirrels, and more!
- Amphibians, including rare northern leopard frog, vulnerable western tiger salamander
- Sharp-tailed grouse lek (breeding ground)
- Lots of insects
- Diversity of habitat and an ecological corridor
What are the threats?
- The most immediate threat is the planned Saskatoon Freeway — four lanes of high-speed traffic that will cut though the sensitive habitat of both Swales
- Urban development causing isolation and fragmentation
- Encroachment and chemical runoff from agriculture
- Invasive species
Roadways and development are pressuring the Northeast Swale (and adjacent Small Swale) ecosystem and wildlife. As the city of Saskatoon grows in and around the Swales, not only is fragmentation an issue, but isolation from other natural areas. Together, these effects lead to a higher risk of biodiversity loss.
One of the most important aspects of the Swales is the ecological connectivity that the area provides, functioning as a corridor for animals and plants to move and disperse.
But the concern is not just for the wildlife. The City of Saskatoon and region need a variety of healthy and intact ecological corridors to support biodiversity and provide crucial ecosystem services, such as pollination, carbon sequestration, and water management.
Due to the risk of unavoidable and negative impacts to the ecological integrity of the Northeast and Small Swales, many scientists, naturalists, and citizens firmly believe that the Saskatoon Freeway should not be built so that it runs through the Swales.
The Swales must be protected from further fragmentation and isolation in order to conserve precious habitat and species.
- Not appropriately designated for protection; protection as habitat under provincial legislation not an option due to status as “municipal” and not “Crown” land
- No definitive, legal protection of the Swales from provincial-level development, and only procedural forms of protection for municipal development
- No environmental assessment prior to the freeway routing; no baseline data to measure the impacts of new or proposed roadways and neighbourhood or industrial development
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