Applied Geospatial Research Group

Facing the Challenge of Boreal Restoration

October 30, 2018

I have written before about the hidden costs of resource development in Alberta, where decades of forestry and petroleum exploration has created an enormous network of roads, seismic lines, pipelines, and well sites in parts of the province that most folks would consider “remote”. If this subject is unfamiliar to you, then a few moments in front of the ABMI Mapping Portal will likely be pretty enlightening. 

 

The environmental effects of industrial development in the boreal forest are far-reaching. While most closely associated with the decline of woodland caribou, recent work by Jason Fisher and Cole Burton shows that petroleum development has shifted the composition entire mammalian communities in the lower Athabasca. Meanwhile, research by Julie Lovitt and colleagues shows how seismic lines - those seemingly benign petroleum-exploration corridors - impact boreal wetlands through soil compaction, altered water tables, and boosted methane emissions.

 

So what to do about all of this?

Michael Cody from Cenovus Energy (right, in the vest) describes the outcomes of treatment trials conduction on a restored oil-sands exploration (OSE) well site located in a treed wetland. 

 

A dedicated group of 50+ land managers, regulators, and researchers - including members from the Boreal Ecosystem Recovery and Assessment (BERA) project - spent two days discussing potential solutions at the COSIA Fall Field Tour, held near Bonnyville Alberta from October 1-3. Organized by Fuse Consulting,  attendees viewed a number of experimental sites which demonstrated the challenges and breakthroughs associated with restoration of industrial disturbances in the boreal forest. Showcasing the work of Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources, the tour highlighted the types of silvicultural treatments that have proven successful in encouraging a return to forest cover on difficult sites. For example, the group marveled at the effectiveness of a site-preparation technique called mounding, which improved both the survivability and growth rate of seedlings planted in treed wetlands, which can remain unforested for many decades after industrial disturbance without active restoration. 

 

Of course, many additional challenges remain.  The costs and trials associated with restoring millions of hectares of disturbed sites in remote locations was discussed repeatedly by the group, as was the problem of connecting local treatments (e.g. mounding and planting at a given site) to desired regional outcomes (e.g. conservation of caribou).  

 

The COSIA Fall Field tour connected managers, regulators, and scientists across the province, and provided focus and future opportunities for current and future members of the Applied Geospatial Research Group.  Thank you Fuse and COSIA! 

 

BERA team members (left to right) Caroline Franklin (University of Alberta), Amit Saxena (Devon Energy), Michael Cody (Cenovus Energy), Greg McDermid (University of Calgary), Elston Dzus (Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries), Robert Albricht (ConocoPhillips), and Julia Linke (University of Calgary). 

 

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