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Management Plan for Multiple Species of the Athabasca Sand Dunes in Canada [Proposed] – 2013

Species at Risk Act
Management Plan Series

Large-headed Woolly Yarrow
Athabasca Thrift
Mackenzie Hairgrass
Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow
Felt-leaf Willow
Turnor’s Willow
Floccose Tansy

Photo: Athabasca Sand Dunes

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Document Information

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2013. Management Plan for Multiple Species of the Athabasca Sand Dunes in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. iv + 34 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry.

Cover illustration: Floccose Tansy (the gray plant) on an active dune. The green plant is the associated species Sand Stitchwort (photo credit Rob Wright).

Également disponible en français sous le titre
« Plan de gestion plurispécifique visant les espèces des dunes de l’Athabasca, au Canada [Proposition] »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2013. All rights reserved.
ISBN
Catalogue no.

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

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Preface

The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c. 29) (SARA), the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of management plans for listed special concern species and are required to report on progress within five years.

The Minister of the Environment is the competent minister for the management of seven species of special concern found in the Athabasca Sand Dunes of northern Saskatchewan. This management plan was developed in accordance with section 65 of SARA in cooperation with the Government of Saskatchewan, under subsection 66(1) of SARA.

Success in the management of these species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment Canada, or any other jurisdiction alone. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the seven species of special concern in the Athabasca Sand Dunes and Canadian society as a whole. Implementation of the plan is subject to the appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.

Note: There are some questions regarding the taxonomy of three of the species in this management plan. The Flora of North America recognizes Large-headed Woolly Yarrow (Achillea millefolium var. megacephala) as an eco-morphotype adapted to the Athabasca Sand Dunes, but only recognizes Achillea millefolium as a valid taxon (Trock 2006). The term “eco-morphotype” implies that the plants have a distinctive appearance when they are growing in a particular habitat, but they are not separate enough genetically to be considered a different variety. The taxonomic distinctiveness of Mackenzie Hairgrass (Deschampsia mackenzieana) from the widespread Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa) has been questioned in a recent morphological and molecular analysis (Chiapella et al. 2011, but see Purdy and Bayer 1995b); it was considered as a synonym (i.e. the same plant by a different name) of the widespread and common Tufted Hairgrass in a taxonomic treatment (NatureServe 2011, Kartesz 1999). The Flora of North America mentions the Floccose Tansy (Tanacetum huronense var. floccosum) as occurring in dune habitats on the shore of Lake Athabasca, Saskatchewan, but includes the variety, along with numerous other subspecies and varieties, under Lake Huron Tansy (Tanacetum bipinnatum), which has a widespread distribution from the Yukon to New Brunswick and into the United States (Watson 2006). Because these three species are currently listed under the federal SARA they will be included in this management plan; however, the next COSEWIC status updates may no longer recognize them as distinct varieties and may group them with more widespread species that are not considered to be at risk. Should this occur, the management plan will be updated once these species are removed from Schedule 1 of SARA.

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Acknowledgments

This report was written by Jeff Thorpe and Bob Godwin (Saskatchewan Research Council). The initial draft was coordinated by Darcy Henderson (Environment Canada), while revisions were coordinated by Candace Neufeld (Environment Canada). Doug Campbell, Jeannette Pepper, and Gigi Pittoello (Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment), Eric Lamb (University of Saskatchewan), Rob Wright (Saskatchewan Tourism Parks, Culture and Sport) and Mark Wayland and Wendy Dunford (Environment Canada) contributed information, review, and/or ideas. Thanks also to Rob Wright for his photographs.

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Executive Summary

This management plan addresses a group of seven plants which are listed as species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and which are found in the Athabasca Sand Dunes of northern Saskatchewan: Large-headed Woolly Yarrow, Athabasca Thrift, Mackenzie Hairgrass, Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow, Felt-leaf Willow, Turnor’s Willow, and Floccose Tansy. The Athabasca Sand Dunes is a complex of active and stabilized dunes on the south shore of Lake Athabasca, in the 1925 km² Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park which is located in the northwest corner of Saskatchewan. These plants are endemic (i.e. found nowhere else) to the dune complex, with the exception of one reported location of Felt-leaf Willow in Nunavut, one reported location of Mackenzie Hairgrass in the Northwest Territories (both under review), and a few observations near to the dunes on the shores of Lake Athabasca.

All seven species occur mainly on sparsely vegetated surfaces within the dune complex. Six species are found mainly on active dunes and moist inter-dune slacks, while Athabasca Thrift is found mainly on gravel pavements. Within these habitats, several of these species are relatively common (Mackenzie Hairgrass, Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow, Felt-leaf Willow), others less common (Turnor’s Willow, Floccose Tansy), while some are uncommon (Large-headed Woolly Yarrow, Athabasca Thrift).

The Athabasca endemics have low populations mainly because the area of their habitat is small, although more research is needed on limiting factors within this habitat. There is no evidence that their population size or area of occupancy have declined. However, a number of threats have been identified, including acid deposition, climate change, recreational activities and other human disturbance, invasive alien species, seed collection, and altered hydrology.

The management objective is to maintain the current population density and current area of occupancy for each of these species. Broad strategies needed to attain the management objective include:

  1. Develop a monitoring strategy to detect future changes in area of occupancy, population size, and threats from human disturbance and invasive alien species.
  2. Fill in the information gaps to broaden our knowledge of the ecology of these species, the biophysical features and geographic extent of their habitats, and the severity and causal certainty posed by var.ous threats.
  3. Manage Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park to maintain habitat for, and to protect, the seven species of special concern.
  4. Communicate acid deposition and climate change threats to policy-makers.
  5. Conduct public outreach with local residents, visitor groups, and the general public regarding these species of special concern.

Conservation measures are described to address these broad strategies.

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1. COSEWIC Species Assessment Information

Date of Assessment: May2000
Common Name (population): Large-headed Woolly Yarrow
Scientific Name: Achillea millefolium var. megacephala
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Reason for Designation: Endemic restricted to two areas in the western region of the Athabasca Sand Dunes.
Canadian Occurrence: SK
COSEWIC Status History: Designated Special Concern in May, 2000.

 

Date of Assessment: May 2002
Common Name (population): Athabasca Thrift
Scientific Name: Armeria maritima ssp. interior
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Reason for Designation: A Canadian endemic occurring sparsely within a unique sand dune ecosystem of limited geographical extent supporting at least 10 endemic plant species with var.ous threats indicated.
Canadian Occurrence: SK
COSEWIC Status History: Designated Threatened in April 1981. Status re-examined and designated Special Concern in April 1999. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2002.

 

Date of Assessment: November 2001
Common Name (population): Mackenzie Hairgrass
Scientific Name: Deschampsia mackenzieana
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Reason for Designation: An endemic restricted to the Athabasca Sand Dunes.
Canadian Occurrence: SK
COSEWIC Status History: Designated Special Concern in April 1999. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2001.

 

Date of Assessment: May 2000
Common Name (population): Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow
Scientific Name: Salix brachycarpa var. psammophila
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Reason for Designation: Endemic occurring as individual plants or small patches in only five areas of the Athabasca Sand Dunes.
Canadian Occurrence: SK
COSEWIC Status History: Designated Special Concern in May 2000.

 

Date of Assessment: May 2000
Common Name (population): Felt-leaf Willow
Scientific Name: Salix silicicola
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Reason for Designation: Endemic restricted almost exclusively to the Athabasca Sand Dunes of Saskatchewan, an ecosystem supporting at least 10 plant endemics.
Canadian Occurrence: NU, SK
COSEWIC Status History: Designated Special Concern in May 2000.

 

Date of Assessment: May 2000
Common Name (population): Turnor’s Willow
Scientific Name: Salix turnorii
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Reason for Designation: Endemic of the Athabasca Sand Dunes found in low abundance throughout this restricted habitat type.
Canadian Occurrence: SK
COSEWIC Status History: Designated Special Concern in May 2000.

 

Date of Assessment: May 2000
Common Name (population): Floccose Tansy
Scientific Name: Tanacetum huronense var. floccosum
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Reason for Designation: Endemic to the Athabasca Sand Dunes where it occurs mainly in small clusters of scattered plants.
Canadian Occurrence: SK
COSEWIC Status History: Designated Special Concern in May 2000.

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2. Species Status Information

The range of these species, subspecies or varieties occur entirely in Canada (here after referred to as ‘species’). All seven species are listed as species of special concern on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). NatureServe (2011) and the Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre (2011) have ranked the species of special concern as follows in Table 1.

Table 1. NatureServe global, national and provincial rankingsa.
Species NameGlobal RankingNational RankingProvincial Ranking
Large-headed Woolly YarrowG5T1N1S1
Athabasca ThriftG5T1T2N1N2S1S2
Mackenzie HairgrassG2QN2S2
Sand-dune Short-capsuled WillowG5T2T3N2N3S2S3
Felt-leaf WillowG2G3N2N3S2S3
Turnor’s WillowG1G2N1N2S1S2
Floccose TansyG5T1T3QN1N3S2S3

a NatureServe assessment: G=global, N = national, S = subnational (provincial/territorial); T= status of a subspecies or variety below the level of the more common or widespread species represented by G, Q= questionable taxonomy that may reduce conservation priority, 1= critically imperiled, 2 = imperiled, 3 = vulnerable, 4 = apparently secure, and 5 is secure. Two rankings side by side (e.g., S1S2) indicates a range of uncertainty about the status (NatureServe 2011).

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