Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area

Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA.
Photo: Todd Kemper © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area

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Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA) was established in 2003. It is 45,836 ha in area and is located within the CFB Suffield. CFB Suffield is one of the largest blocks of predominantly uncultivated grassland remaining in Prairie Canada - roughly half the size of Prince Edward Island. Due to its large size, expanse of undisturbed native prairie, and concentration of species at risk, CFB Suffield NWA is unique and nationally significant. It is the only NWA specifically affording protection at a scale large enough to achieve the survival and recovery of prairie grassland species that have been identified as species at risk. The establishment of the NWA recognized that native prairie grasslands were continuing to disappear at an alarming rate and that it was imperative to set aside a large block of habitat for local and regional benefit.

The Suffield NWA has long been recognized as ecologically unique and fragile by the military: the portion of CFB Suffield that constitutes the NWA has been environmentally protected since the Base was established in 1971 and is relatively undisturbed by military training activities. No ground training occurs within the NWA in order to protect the integrity of native grasslands and wildlife habitat. However, nearby military training, combined with past management strategies, have resulted in some changes in the fire regime in portions of the NWA.

Habitats within the NWA include rolling native grasslands, extensive sand hills and sand dunes, deeply incised coulees, and the steep valley slopes carved by the South Saskatchewan River. Riparian sage flats and cottonwood forests occur in the valley bottom, and small wetlands and occasional springs are scattered throughout the NWA.

The large size, diverse habitats, extensive sand deposits, and position of the NWA near the northern edge of the dry mixed-grasslands make the area a refuge for a host of prairie wildlife. A diverse assemblage of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects - many of which have declined or completely disappeared elsewhere across the prairies in Canada, can be found in Suffield NWA. CFB Suffield is home to more than 1,100 known species, 20 of which are listed as species at risk in Canada.

Many of Suffield's species at risk are emblematic prairie species, such as the Burrowing Owl, the Ferruginous Hawk, and the Sprague's Pipit, that evoke images of vast expanses of unbroken native grasslands grazed by free-ranging herds of Bison. Others, like Small-flowered Sand-verbena and Ord's Kangaroo Rat are habitat specialists that require the open habitats and coarse soils of sand dunes and sand hills that are uncommon and found in very few places across the prairies. Specific climatic and fire regime conditions are required to maintain such habitats.

The large size of CFB Suffield NWA provides a rare opportunity to protect populations of unique and endangered prairie wildlife at a scale that is large enough to promote their recovery and ongoing persistence. Some, such as the prairie subspecies of Western Harvest Mouse, are not know to have viable populations elsewhere in the Canadian Prairies.

More information on CFB Suffield NWA is provided in the summary table below.


CFB Suffield NWA is managed under Delegation of Authority from Environment and Climate Change Canada by the Department of National Defence as part of the CFB Suffield. This unprecedented arrangement represented an exciting new method of protecting nationally significant wildlife habitat on Federal Lands in Canada. The Department of National Defence is working to develop a sustainability plan (Suffield Sustainability Management Plan) for all of CFB Suffield, including the NWA.

CFB Suffield NWA is protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act as well as the National Defence Act. The Wildlife Area Regulations outline specific prohibited activities (such as hunting, fishing, damaging or removing plants, agricultural and recreational activities, etc.) unless notices permitting specific activities are posted or a person has obtained a permit. For more information on authorizations and prohibited activities in NWAs, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.


Like the Plains Bison, the dominant predators of the grassland ecosystem, the Prairie Grizzly Bear (extirpated) and the Grey Wolf (essentially eradicated) are no longer present in the ecosystem and the predator-prey dynamic is in an unnatural state. The absence of the single keystone herbivore and the dominant large predators has resulted in significant changes to the grazing regime, with unknown consequences.

The management of habitats to promote the recovery and enduring survival of Canada's species at risk is the primary management focus of the CFB Suffield NWA. For example, cattle grazing takes place on portions of the NWA as an important tool for management of native grasslands and wildlife that evolved in parallel with a keystone herbivore, the now extirpated Plains Bison. In areas of the NWA that are not grazed by cattle, ungulates such as Pronghorn, Mule Deer, and Elk are the dominant herbivores. Elk were intentionally reintroduced to CFB Suffield in 1997 and 1998 to partially fulfill the role of extirpated bison in the grassland ecosystem. Since the introductions, the population of elk has increased dramatically in the absence of predation; this population increase has led to some concerns for adjacent landowners and ranchers who suffer fence damage and feed losses from Elk that range beyond the Base. The Elk herd at CFB Suffield is managed as a provincial resource by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development in conjunction with the Department of National Defence.

Public access to the NWA is strictly prohibited by authority of the National Defence Act. However, management of the NWA allows for some permitted research and habitat management activities in accordance with the conservation objectives of the NWA management plan. No hunting is permitted on the Base for public safety reasons. For more information on permitting for CFB Suffield NWA, contact the Department of Defence, CFB Suffield, Range Sustainability Section

Natural Gas

When the CFB Suffield NWA was formally established more than 1100 shallow gas wells, along with an associated pipeline network and other infrastructure, were already present within the NWA. The Province of Alberta owns the mineral rights underlying the NWA, while the federal government owns the surface rights. Agreements between Canada and Alberta to provide access to natural gas beneath Suffield were established in 1975 but as of 2012 have not yet been updated since the creation of the NWA or the passage of new legislation including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species at Risk Act or the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

A proposal to install an additional 1275 shallow gas wells within the NWA was filed by the EnCana Corporation in 2005. The proposal was referred to a Joint Review Panel under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) due to the potential for significant environmental impact and a high level of public concern about the project. The recommendations of the Joint Review Panel relative to this proposal are available through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry.

On November 30th, 2012, Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that the Shallow Gas Infill Development Project proposed by Cenovus Energy at Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA in Alberta will not be granted federal approval to proceed. The Government has decided that the significant adverse environmental effects that would be caused by the project are not justified in the circumstances. Today, the Government is issuing the first decision statement under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012.

For more information, please visit the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Website.

Map of the Area

  • Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA boundaries.
Long description for the Map

Map showing an area in southeastern Alberta. The boundaries of the Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA are indicated. The wildlife area is separated into two pieces, both of which border on the South Saskatchewan River. The protected area is located to the west of Hilda, the north and west of Red Deer Lake and to the north-east of Ralston Suffield. The scale on the map is in tens of kms. Permanent water, intermittent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

Summary Table

Summary Table for CFB Suffield NWA
Category Information
Protected Area designation NWA
Province/territory Alberta
Latitude/longitude 50°30' North / 110°28'35 West
Size 45,836 ha
Reason for Creation of protected area To protect and conserve native prairie grasslands and wildlife, including species at risk.
Date created (Gazetted) 2003 - Legal Description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category IV - Habitat/Species Management Area
Additional designations Includes three Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs) (Alberta ESA #292, #286, #287) rated as Nationally Significant.
Keystone or flagship species Ord's Kangaroo Rat, Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Prairie Rattlesnake.
Main habitat type Dry mixed-grasslands, sand hills, riparian corridor.
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) 20 species are listed as species at risk in Canada, including: Ord's Kangaroo Rat, Western Harvest Mouse, Burrowing Owl, Small-flowered Sand-verbena, Tiny Cryptantha, Dusky Dune Moth, Gold-edged Gem, Common Nighthawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike, Sprague's Pipit, Slender Mouse-ear-cress, Smooth Goosefoot, Short-eared Owl, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and Horned Grebe.
Invasive species Numerous invasive and agronomic species including, but not limited to: Crested Wheat Grass, Smooth Brome, Japanese Brome, Downy Brome, Intermediate Wheat Grass, Alfalfa, White Sweet-clover, Yellow Sweet-clover, Absinthe Wormwood, Canada Thistle, Narrow-leaved Hawksbeard, Perennial Sow-thistle, Dalmatian Toadflax, Leafy Spurge, Shepherd's Purse, Flixweed, Russian Thistle, and Mexican Fireweed.
Main threats and challenges Shallow gas development, altered grazing & fire regimes, non-native and agronomic invasive species.
Management Agency Department of National Defence - CFB Suffield , Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage Public access to this area is strictly prohibited by the National Defence Act..

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship Unit
Eastgate Offices
9250 - 49th Street NW
Edmonton, Alberta
T6B 1K5
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: Canadian Forces Base Suffield
Range Sustainability Section
NWA Coordinator
P.O. Box 6000, Station Main
Medicine Hat, Alberta
T1A 8K8
Telephone: 403-544-4011 ext 5184
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