St. Denis National Wildlife Area

The St. Denis National Wildlife Area (NWA) lies at the boundary between Aspen Parkland and Moist Mixed Grass eco-regions. The NWA is about 40 kilometres (km) east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


St. Denis NWA was established in 1967. It is unique among the network of NWAs. It was established primarily for research on the effects of agricultural practices on waterfowl habitat in the prairie pothole region. Prairie potholes are a unique type of closed basin wetland. This occurs in high densities where the northern Great Plains were formerly glaciated. Prairie potholes are of continental importance to populations of many waterfowl species. The St. Denis site is near the Northern Wildlife Research Center on the University of Saskatchewan campus. This was another important factor in the selection of the NWA. Since 1967, more than 100 research articles, and more than 25 student thesis have been published based on work at the NWA.

Landscape habitat of St. Denis NWA
St. Denis NWA

St. Denis NWA habitats include:

  • patches of natural fescue prairie
  • Aspen forests
  • 200 wetland basins scattered amongst cultivated or formerly cultivated lands

Initially in 1968, 60% of the 383 hectares (ha) were agricultural lands cultivated for annual crops. Over time, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has gradually taken more land out of production. ECCC reseeded lands to perennial grasses. Now only 11% of the area is cultivated for annual crops. Wetland habitats fluctuate with regional cycles of dry and wet weather. Water can cover as little as 1% or up to 22% of St. Denis National Research Area in a given year. In the absence of wildfire, patches of trees and shrubs have expanded. Since 1968, the area of fescue prairie has been reduced. Reduction is due to a combination of the expansion and invasion of alien plants. Fescue prairie is a unique and increasingly rare natural habitat in Canada.

Tree Swallow perched on a post
Tree Swallow

Find more information on St. Denis NWA in the summary table below.


Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all other activities are prohibited in all NWAs. However, some activities may be authorized through Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWA Management and Activities section.

The management of St. Denis NWA focuses upon the regulation of research and agricultural activities, as well as on-going enhancement or restoration of habitats on the property. All activities allowed must be permitted through issuance of research permits. These permits are subject to a screening under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. In addition, to ensure new research is complimentary to long-term monitoring and on-going habitat management activities, the informal St. Denis Management Advisory Committee provides a forum for researchers to communicate and cooperate in research and monitoring. The Committee also advises ECCC on the direction of habitat enhancements and restoration activities. Some activities are permitted in the NWA as per the management plan conservation goals. These currently include cultivating lands by local landowners under a Wildlife Area Regulations permit.

All researchers are subject to strict requirements for:

  • access
  • sampling
  • experimental manipulations

Any authorized activities are listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations; signage is also posted at access points to protect the integrity of research infrastructure and habitat management experimental treatments. There are no facilities to accommodate public visitation. Access is only given to holders of valid permits.

More information on access and permitting for St. Denis NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the area

Map of the St. Denis NWA
Map of St. Denis NWA
Long description

This map shows the boundaries of the St. Denis National Wildlife Area, in Saskatchewan. Highway 671 divides the NWA into two sections. The larger of the two sections is located to the east of the highway with the smaller located on the west. Both sections cover land and multiple small bodies of water. The scale on the map is in kilometers. Permanent water, intermittent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset situates the NWA’s location in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

Summary table of St. Denis NWA
Category Information
Protected Area designation National Wildlife Area
Province/Territory Saskatchewan
Latitude/Longitude 52°12' North / 106°5' West
Size 361 ha
Reason for creation of protected area For research on waterfowl production on agricultural lands
Date created (Gazetted) 1967 – Legal Description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Habitat/Species Management Area – (IV)
Additional designations None
Keystone or flagship species
Main habitat type
  • Wetland (22%)
  • Grassland (59%)
  • Cultivated land (11%)
  • Woodland (6%)
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None Recorded
Invasive species
  • smooth brome
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • sweet clover
  • reed canary grass
  • purple loosetrife
  • giant reed grass (Phragmites australis)
Main threats and challenges
  • Agricultural land uses that reduce nesting cover, or affect water quantity and quality in the recipient marshes
  • Rural residential development in the surrounding landscape leading to site security and disruption of wildlife and research
  • Alien invasive species altering the structure of upland cover may reduce the abundance of some wildlife
  • Cumulative effects of research and agricultural manipulations on site
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage

No public access without a permit. Research and agricultural activities are allowed with permits

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

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Program
115 Perimeter Road
Saskatoon, SK
S7N 0X4

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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