Clyde Fen Candidate Natural Area
by Derek Johnson (updated May 18, 2020)
Clyde Fen Candidate Natural Area is located in the Dry Mixedwood Boreal Forest Natural Region, approximately 8 km northeast of the town of Clyde or 7.5 km east of Highway 2 along the Bouchard Lake Road. Three quarter sections (SW 15, NE 16, and SW 27 of T60 R24 W4M) of the greater fen area are designated as a natural area, totaling an area of 119 ha. Much of the surrounding land has been cleared for agriculture and a large commercial sand and gravel pit is in operation east of the natural area (in the NW 15).
Clyde Fen was established as a Candidate Natural Area in 1990 and the Alberta Native Plant Council (ANPC) has been the Volunteer Steward of the site since 1992. Annual inspections of the area are made in conjunction with ANPC field trips, particularly on the last weekend in May as part of Nature Alberta’s May Species Count. The May Species Count has been conducted most years at Clyde Fen since 1995.
In addition to all wetlands being important on the landscape, Clyde Fen is important for a number of reasons. It supports the most southerly recorded population of pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) in Alberta (less than 100 km from Edmonton). Other insectivorous plants found in the area include two species of sundew (Drosera spp.) and three species of bladderwort (Utricularia spp.). Clyde Fen rivals other notable peatlands in the region for the most insectivorous plants. The two rare orchids bog adder’s mouth (Malaxis paludosa) and Loesels’s twayblade (Liparis loeselii) occur in the area along with flattened spike rush (Eleocharis compressa). All three are species tracked by the Alberta Conservation Information Management System (ACIMS). The yellow-bellied flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris), an uncommon bird in Alberta, has been recorded breeding in the area. Palm warblers (Setophaga palmarum) have bred here in the black spruce–tamarack (Picea maria–Larix laricina) forest. Bonaparte’s gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) regularly nest around a small lake approximately 1.5 km west of the natural area.
The wettest parts of Clyde Fen support a weakly patterned, treeless fen with alternating higher, drier strings of dwarf birch (Betula pumila), sedges (Carex spp.) and golden moss (Tomentypnum nitens); and lower, wetter flarks of sedges and brown mosses. The edges of the fen are dominated by tamarack, dwarf birch, buck-bean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and brown mosses. This grades into a black spruce –Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum)–golden moss/feathermoss forest as the soil moisture level drops. At higher and drier elevations a few small areas of white spruce–aspen /balsam poplar (Picea glauca–Populus tremuloides/P. balsamifera) forest can be found. There are also two sand ridges in the area with an open jack pine–northern rice grass (Pinus banksiana–Piptatheropsis pungens) forest.
A serious fire in 2001 (one of the driest years on record in the area) burned the majority of the trees in SW 15 and NE 16, but SW 27 was spared. The areas burned were changed from a treed form to a shrubby form of fen. In all except the wettest areas where tree seedling establishment has been minimal, the burned fen area is transitioning back to its treed form. Nine years after the fire in 2001, an access road to the gravel pit was constructed through the fen. Despite concerns that the road would have dire consequences on the drainage pattern of the fen, its effects on hydrology have so far been minimal. Its main effects have been that it is unsightly, creates an edge for the introduction of numerous invasive and undesirable plant species, and accumulates litter.
Many groups are interested in the protection of Clyde Fen because of its species richness, diversity of habitats, presence of rare species, educational potential and proximity to a large urban area. A current concern is the invasion of non-native species into the area, particularly common caragana (Caragana arborescens), common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and cicer milk-vetch (Astragalus cicer). Efforts are underway to prevent the spread of these species.
A checklist of the vascular plants of the Clyde Fen Candidate Natural Area has been prepared and is available from Alberta Environment and Parks in Edmonton: 780-427-2711
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