One of the first national parks in Canada, Riding Mountain’s forests are home to diverse flora and fauna such as moose, black bear, elk and bison. Its 260 bird species include great grey owls.
On this 2,978 square kilometre island of forest you can find plants and animals from three distinct ecological zones. To the west of the park, herds of elk congregate in sedge meadows while packs of grey wolf (few in number, highly mobile and extremely vulnerable to human impact) roam the forest. Lynx and cougar inhabit the woodland, and bald eagles and osprey nest along the streams and lakes. The aspen parkland, where vast herds of bison once ranged, is a productive habitat where white-tailed deer, coyotes, snowshoe hares and ground squirrels are conspicuous.
Other large mammals include black bears, which can weigh up to 400 kilogrammes, and moose. Black bears can easily cover 100 kilometres a day and many have grown bigger than most grizzlies. An exploding beaver population – there are over 18,000 and around 3,500 dams – creates problems as in some areas their dams preventing fish from spawning. There are at least 260 bird species, including great grey owls, and the highest density of breeding ducks in North America, particularly mallards, shovellers and pintails.
The escarpment is a tilting shelf of sedimentary rock, much harder than the surrounding limestone. Although it only reaches an altitude of 756 metres, compared to the prairie around it, it is a mountain – with diverse landscapes of evergreen and hardwood forest, rolling hills, valleys, lakes and streams. The many lakes that were left as Manitoba’s glaciers retreated are now havens for waterfowl, fish, birdlife and insects.
Although they mingle to some degree, there are three distinct zones of vegetation: in the south open, rough fescue grassland with groves of aspens edges the eastern shore of Lake Audy. Bordering this is mixed forest with various combinations of coniferous (particularly white spruce and balsam fir) and deciduous (white birch, aspen, elm, maple and balsam poplar) trees. Most of southern Manitoba’s deciduous forest was destroyed clearing land for agriculture, so this is a valuable remnant of a complex ecological zone. With an understory of vines, berry bushes, mushrooms and flowers, this area is at its most beautiful when the prairie grasses are high in June and July. Further north, boreal forest predominates, with seemingly endless stretches of black spruce covering the flat, boggy land. This combination of ecosystems creates a highly distinctive and unique habitat.
The region’s rich heritage, which dates from the days of the early hunter-gatherers, was secured by the formation of the national park in 1929, one of the first in Canada, and the first in Manitoba Province.
Riding Mountain National Park lies 255 kilometres i.e. three hours drive northwest of Winnipeg.
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