UNESCO World Heritage Site #275: Wood Buffalo National Park

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #275: Wood Buffalo National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #275: Wood Buffalo National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

Situated on the Northern Boreal Plains in the north-central region of Canada, Wood Buffalo comprises a vast wilderness area (44,807 km2 ) which is home to North America’s largest population of wild bison. It is also the natural nesting place of the whooping crane. Another of the park’s attractions is the world’s largest inland delta, located at the mouth of the Peace and Athabasca rivers.

The park has four main landscape featues: a glacially eroded plateau; glaciated plains; a major freshwater delta formed by three major rivers; and alluvial river lowlands. The lowlands and floodplains of Peace, Athabasca and Slave rivers and the delta in Lake Athabasca exhibit classic fluvial landforms, with a complex series of meander scars, oxbow lakes and former river terraces, and good examples of birds-foot delta development. During dry periods, the mudflats of one plain are dominated by mineral salts. These salt plains are unique in Canada.

Vegetation is typical of the boreal forest zone with white spruce, black spruce, jack pine and tamarack predominant. Many watercourses have stands of balsam poplar and some upland has almost pure stands of aspen. Extensive stands of white spruce forests cover the banks of Peace, Athabasca and Birch rivers. The upper surface of the plateau is about 1,500 m above the rest of the park and supports a spruce-willow-birch upland tundra community. Some areas of prairie occur.

Shrublands of willow and alder occur where wet marsh soils meet drier forest soils. There is also extensive muskeg in the west and north of the park, an association of black spruce, sphagnum moss and northern heath plants.

The park contains the largest undisturbed grass and sedge meadows in North America. The park was created specifically to protect North American bison, one of the largest free-roaming, self-regulating herds in existence, and consisting of a cross between ‘wood’ bison and ‘plains’ bison.

This is one of a few sites where the predator-prey relationship between wolves and bison still exists. A total of 46 other mammal species have been recorded including black bear, woodland caribou, Arctic fox, moose, grey wolf, lynx, snowshoe hare, muskrat, beaver and mink. Occasionally animals more common to southern Canada are seen, such as red fox, porcupine and white-tailed deer. The caves of karstlands provide essential hibernation sites for bats.

Wood Buffalo is a park of superlatives. Lying approximately 2/3 in the province of Alberta and 1/3 in the Northwest Territories, the park is the largest national park in North America and the 2nd largest national park in the world. It is home to the largest population of bison, the largest animal in the Americas. It is also the nesting ground for the whooping crane, the largest bird in North America. It is also home to the world’s largest beaver dam. It is also the world’s largest dark sky preserve.

Because of its location and lack of mountains, Wood Buffalo often is overlooked for parks such as Banff and Jasper which are more accessible and have more dramatic scenery. Yet Wood Buffalo might be one of the most important wilderness areas in North America. Its bison and wolf populations are probably the most healthy in the world. The endangered whooping crane, of which there are only 500 in the world, nests here.

Animals aside, the geology of the park makes it highly interesting. There are many karst formations and sinkholes scattered throughout the park and it is also home to the only salt plain in Canada (which can be seen in the photo above).

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