14.1 Land cover type by ecozones

Last Updated: 
May 29, 2015

This indicator shows the distribution of 17 primary land cover types over the five ecozones of the NWT.


The dataset used is from the Earth Observation for  Sustainable Development of Forests (EOSD)1 , a joint  program of the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the  Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It was developed as  part of a forest monitoring system for Canada. EOSD is  designed to provide, over the long term, products for  forest inventory, forest carbon accounting, monitoring of sustainable development and landscape management using space-based earth observation data. Inputs from EOSD are an important data source in the National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System2 and Canada’s plot-based National Forest Inventory3. Numbers reported for the Northern Arctic and Southern Arctic Ecozones are from the Northern Canada land cover product.


NWT Focus

Concern over the state of the earth’s environment has resulted in an increased need for accurate land cover information. Land cover mapping is necessary to provide input to scientific models to ensure forest management is sustainable and to monitor environmental change. In addition, land cover mapping is required to meet commitments made to international agreements on climate change (e.g., the NFCMARS) and biodiversity (e.g. CBD).

This information shows how land cover and vegetation communities are distributed across the NWT landscape. Vegetation information is important baseline information that may be used to examine forest health and changes to vegetation patterns at the landscape level.

Current view: status and trend

The EOSD land cover map of the forested area of Canada is based on Landsat data and represents conditions for year 2000. At the present time, there is no information to determine trend.

About 24 % of NWT, for which there is data on cover, is wetlands, lakes and rivers; 12% is sparsely vegetated lands (barren lands); 30% is grasslands and shrub lands; and, 34% is forests. Only 27% of the Northern Arctic ecozone is classified so updates in the data will change these estimates slightly in the future.

NWT land cover by ecozone - baseline Year 2000.

*Numbers reported for the Northern Arctic and Southern Arctic Ecozones are from the Northern Canada land cover product produced by Canada Centre for Remote Sensing.

Percent cover of major groupings of land cover by ecozone – baseline year 2000

*percent of area where there is data.

Looking forward

Over the longer term, EOSD will aim to produce land cover products to capture the conditions present for past years (e.g., for 1990 and for future reporting years occurring after 2000). Better coverage and products continue to be developed for the North.

In the future, increased impact to forest and vegetation communities due to human disturbance is expected. In the NWT, resource-based economies are growing, including mining, oil and gas exploration and extraction. Most development activities will be in the forested ecozones, particularly in the Taiga Plains along the Mackenzie River and near NWT communities.

Climate change may cause significant changes to the distribution of land cover types if there are drastic changes in precipitation or incidence of wildland fires. Many tree and vegetation species are at their northern range limit so impacts may be more obvious than other places in Canada. For example, change in tundra vegetation is noted as more shrubs (willows) are observed near the tree line4  and satellite measurements are showing the tundra is becoming greener with more growth in vascular vegetation but less growth in lichen-dominated areas (See Indicator 14.6 - Trends in shrub cover above the treeline).

Looking around

Most other jurisdictions in Canada have detailed air-photo based vegetation inventories. Some jurisdictions in Canada get new complete air-photo coverage of their province on a ten-year cycle. NWT has similar detailed information only for very localized areas, which is not updated on a regular basis. The EOSD classified Landsat coverage of Canada and the Northern Canada land cover classification are a first approximation of vegetation types that covers all of NWT. The information will be useful for a variety of reporting purposes, particularly on a national basis.

Many programs use this indicator to track changes to vegetation and inform on sustainability and carbon storage. Information from the NWT is added to information from other regions in Canada and the world and reported back for these organizations:

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization - Forest Resource Assessment (UNFAO – FRA) Reporting every 5 year Food and Agricultural Association of the United States

Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, Criteria and Indicators of Sustainability (CCFM C&I) Reporting every 5 years. NRCAN Forests


 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (NFCMARS). Reporting every year. NRCAN Carbon Accounting

 Canadian Forest Service’s State of the Forest Report Reporting every year.

Find out more

Other focal points

Technical Notes


Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.


Ref.1. Natural Resources Canada. Canadian Forest Service. Earth Observation for Sustainable Development of Forests.

Ref. 2. Natural Resources Canada. Canadian Forest Service. National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System.

Ref. 3. Natural Resources Canada. Canadian Forest Service. National Forest Inventory.

Ref. 4. Communities of Aklavik, Inuvik, Holman Island, Paulatuk, and Tuktoyaktuk, S. Nickels. M. Buell, C. Furgal, and H. Monquin. 2005. Unikkaaqatigiit - Putting the Human Face on Climate Change: Perspectives from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Ottawa: Joint publication of Inuit Tapiriit. Kanatami, Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments at Université Laval and the Ajunnginiq Centre at the National Aboriginal Health Organization.

Updated: May 29, 2015