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Minimizing Your Industrial Footprint When Working in Wetlands

Wetlands, Muskeg and Swamp Mats

If you are from Grande Prairie, you are likely familiar with the term muskeg. For those of you who are not, muskeg – literally meaning foam bog – is an acidic soil type which is commonly found in Arctic and boreal areas. The term muskeg is commonly used in Western Canada and Alaska as a result of the Cree origin; maskek, meaning low-lying marsh. In the other parts of Canada and the more Northern Regions of the world, these wetlands are commonly known as bogs, fens or peatlands.

What is a muskeg wetland?

Muskegs are ecosystems characterized by short and sometimes sporadic grasses, decomposing organic matter, carpets of sphagnum moss, and an array stunted or dead conifers. Formed as a result of permafrost, clay or bedrock which prevented water drainage, muskegs tend to have high water tables. As a result, the spongy, waterlogged landscape makes it difficult to walk through and virtually impossible for motorized transportation to bypass.

Why are muskeg wetlands important?

Muskeg and other wetlands are among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems in the world and are therefore extremely valuable parts of our environment. Often referred to as nature’s kidneys as they help protect the quality and quantity of the water. Another invaluable function of wetlands is their ability to act as carbon and greenhouse gas sinks, meaning they are able to store carbon-containing chemical compounds from the atmosphere for an indefinite period of time.

Why should you care?

Canada is home to 28% of the world’s boreal zone, that’s 552 million hectares. Within this area are thousands of lakes, rivers and wetlands. It is estimated that 12.95 million hectares of the boreal zone is muskeg. Translation: as Canadians we have a huge area of extremely valuable ecosystem, which if properly taken care of will contribute to carbon reduction and the overall environmental health of not just our country, but the world.

What is being done to minimize industrial impacts?

In the past, there was a common view that wetlands are wastelands and as a result, tens of thousands of acres have been lost to development and resources access roads for a variety of industries. As people are starting to recognize the ecological, social and economic importance of these areas, this view is starting to change. Over the years, provincial policies and agreements have resulted in a much more regulated system for building resource access roads, making it more difficult for developers.

How can industry continue to build and develop without impacting wetland ecosystems?

Northern Mat & Bridge offers an environmentally friendly, temporary access solution as an alternative to building resource access roads. They are called access mats; however people often refer to them as swamp mats due to the fact you use them to bypass a swamp. Swamp mats are 8 x 14 foot, 3-ply wooden mats that join together in a Lego-like way to build a temporary road.

In normal muskeg situations, which we commonly encounter around the Grande Prairie area, swamp mats need to be layered two to three thick to ensure that the surface is sitting well above the water level. This is very important to ensure safety of the access. As safety is the number one priority at Northern Mat & Bridge, we have developed a specialized swamp mat installation process which is designed to provide maximum stability and minimize the wear and tear of the mats.

In areas such as Fort Nelson, British Columbia, where deep water or extreme muskeg seems unavoidable, it is not uncommon to have to layer swamp mats eight deep. We have worked in muskeg areas so deep that it required 14 mats to get to the water surface.

For more information

If you are interested in knowing more about how swamp mats can help your industrial projects which pass through wetland areas, call 780-538-4135 in the Grande Prairie area or toll free at 1-800-354-4144 and ask to speak to a superintendent.

Muskeg in The Canadian Encyclopedia

Tar Sands Solutions Network

Wetlands in Alberta (PDF)

Water Management Techniques for Resource Roads in Wetlands (PDF)

Wetlands, Muskeg and Swamp Mats
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