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Hay and Zama Lakes (AB059)


Hay and Zama Lakes (AB059)

Rainbow Lake, Alberta

Latitude 58.774°N
Longitude 119.023°W
Altitude 325 - 350m
Area 607.56km²

Site Description

The Hay and Zama Lakes area is a remote complex of lakes in northwestern Alberta. The nearest population centre is Rainbow Lake, 25 km to the southwest. The site is a large lowland wetland complex which includes a series of eutrophic freshwater lakes, floodplains and river deltas. The size and depth of the lakes vary according to the seasonally fluctuating inflow from Hay River. The surrounding forests are dominated by spruce, trembling aspen, and balsam poplar. The site is a movement corridor for ungulates, and has good habitat for Woodland Caribou and Wood Bison (one of few wild populations).


This wetland complex is globally significant for its huge concentrations of geese and ducks in spring and fall migration. Ducks of various species gather in both seasons in numbers as high as 200,000. Lesser Snow Geese of the Western Central Flyway population are regularly recorded here with peak numbers reaching 130,000 birds (2.6% of the global Snow Goose population). Canada Geese of the Short-grass Prairie population migrate through the area with counts as high as 47,000, which is just over 1% of the global Canada Goose population. Ducks Unlimited have estimated that, under ideal conditions, as many as 1,000,000 waterfowl utilize this lake complex during the whole of the fall migration. The site is also provincially significant for breeding ducks and locally significant for moulting ducks.

Colonial nesting birds include Franklins, Herring, Bonapartes and Ring-billed gulls, and Common Terns. Ten species of raptors have been documented at this site to date.

Conservation Issues

The site could be considered an ecological island within a highly degraded landscape. There are considerable amounts of oil and gas activity around the lakes (roughly 43 wellsites and large numbers of seismic lines). The surrounding forests are highly fragmented by these seismic lines and cutlines, as well as by All-Terrain Vehicle trails and logging activity. While some consider that the oil and gas activity can be managed carefully to avoid causing serious harm to wetlands, others feel that the wetland is threatened by these activities. Avian botulism is also a threat with outbreaks in 1989 (6,022 dead birds), 1990, and 1998 (1,000 dead birds).

The site is an internationally recognized Ramsar wetland, although this confers no practical protective status. The Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park, constituting 48,035 hectares, was designated on May 5, 1999, as an Alberta Special Place.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Snow Goose
Number Year Season
Greater White-fronted Goose
Number Year Season
Number Year Season
Canada Goose
Number Year Season