IBA Bearhills Lake
Wetaskiwin, Alberta
Site Summary
AB038 Latitude
52.937° N
113.617° W
785 - 810 m
21.18 km²
deciduous woods (temperate), scrub/shrub, native grassland, freshwater lake, freshwater marsh, arable & cultivated lands
Land Use:
Agriculture, Rangeland/pastureland, Tourism/recreation
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Disturbance, Drought, Extraction industry, Grazing, Industrial pollution, Recreation/tourism
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Waterfowl Concentrations
Conservation status:
Restricted access for IBA coordinators
Login name: Password:


View in mobile

Site Description
Bearhills Lake is located 13 km west of the town of Wetaskiwin in central Alberta. Louis Bull and Ermineskin Indian Reserves are to the south. Bearhills Lake is a shallow lake, with a maximum depth of 15 to 20 feet, and has a small buffer of aspen around the perimeter. The site includes some grassland, shrubland and sandhill areas in the surrounding uplands. The adjacent uplands are quite extensive since the basin for Bearhills Lake is one of the largest in the region. The old shoreline is up to 1.2 km from the present, so most of the backshore areas are fairly low with a high water table. The majority of the shoreline areas consist of bulrushes and cattails. The lake is fed by Maskwa Creek at the south end, and is drained by Bigstone Creek at the north end.
Bearhills Lake is an important site for staging ducks during fall migration. Well over 100,000 ducks were recorded here in November, 1980, while 40,000 waterfowl (mainly ducks) were counted in late September, 1981. Annual fall staging duck numbers are consistently over 20,000, and consist of several species. Ducks Unlimited therefore considers the lake to be a critical moulting and staging area for waterfowl.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Waterbirds 1980 - 1985 FA 20,000 - 100,000
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Rangeland and pasture for livestock in the surrounding uplands, and recreation on the lake are the two primary land uses for Bearhills Lake. Threats to the lake are many. The proximity to Highways 2 and 13 degrade the productivity of the wetlands. Recreational power boats on the lake swamp and destroy many duck and shorebird nests near the edge of the lake. Cattle are also grazing right to the lakes edge and are destroying nesting cover for ducks. Drought years cause problematic water level fluctuations, but this has been largely controlled by a weir built on Bigstone Creek in 1974 by Ducks Unlimited (this lake is a licensed Ducks Unlimited Canada project). Finally, the lake overlies a coal field which, if developed, could have a major impact on ground water levels. County management plans indicate that the lake has low recreational value so will be managed for waterfowl, although some upland areas will be allowed to be developed into subdivisions.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
   © Birds Canada