Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative

Focus

Collect and bank seeds for reclamation

Potential

Ensuring a large number of species and variations within these species are available for reclamation

COSIA members are committed to progressively reclaiming the surface footprint associated with their developments. A key component of reclamation is to revegetate the land with species characteristic of the boreal forest. The COSIA Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative (OSVC) is a collaborative effort to harvest and bank seeds from a wide variety of species, supporting this essential step in reclamation. 

Technology and Innovation

Seed banking is an age old practice to preserve seeds of those plants that are considered rare or are commercially valuable such as trees or agriculture crops.  In 2009, five oil sands companies operating in the northern Athabasca oil sands area founded the OSVC and started to harvest and bank seeds from plants that are considered important for establishing ecological diversity on reclaimed lands.  In 2013, the OSVC was expanded to include all COSIA member companies and collection was expanded to include the southern Athabasca oil sands and Cold Lake areas.  COSIA members work with the Alberta Tree Improvement and Seed Centre (ATISC) in Smoky Lake, Alberta, which provides seed storage at a stable -18 C in an underground bunker.  All seeds are harvested, extracted, registered and then banked in a coordinated effort following the Alberta Forest Genetic Resource Management Standard.

Since 2009, seed from forty-three species, representing trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials from various upland, riparian and wetland habitats have been registered and banked by the OSVC: 

  • Acorus americanus - sweet flag/ rat root
  • Almelanchier alnifolia - saskatoon
  • Alnus incana - river alder
  • Alnus viridis - green alder
  • Anthoxanthum nitens - sweet grass
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi - bearberry
  • Betual pumila - bog birch
  • Betula papyrifera - paper birch
  • Carex aquatilis - water sedge
  • Carex atherodes - beaked sedge
  • Carex utriculata - Northwest Territory sedge
  • Cornus canadensis - bunchberry
  • Cornus sericea - red-osier dogwood
  • Corylus cornuta - beaked hazelnut
  • Dasiphora fruticosa - shrubby cinquefoil
  • Juncus balticus - Baltic rush
  • Larix laricina - tamarack
  • Linnaea borealis - twinflower
  • Lonicera involucrata - bracted honeysuckle
  • Picea glauca - white spruce
  • Picea mariana - black spruce
  • Pinus banksiana - jack pine
  • Populus balsamifera - balsam poplar
  • Populus tremuloides - trembling aspen
  • Primula pauciflora – saline shooting-star
  • Prunus pensylvanica - pincherry
  • Prunus virginiana - chokecherry
  • Rhododendron groenlandicum (Ledum groenlandicum) - labrador tea
  • Ribes glandulosum - skunk currant 
  • Ribes hudsonianum - northern black currant 
  • Ribes lacustre – black currant
  • Ribes triste - red currant
  • Rosa acicularis – prickly rose
  • Rubus idaeaus – wild red raspberry
  • Salix bebbiana – Bebb’s willow
  • Scirpus microcarpus - small fruited bulrush
  • Shepherdia canadense - buffaloberry
  • Symphoricarpos albus - snowberry
  • Triglochin maritima - seaside arrowgrass
  • Vaccinium myrtilloides - dwarf blueberry
  • Vaccinium oxycoccus - small bog cranberry
  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea - bog cranberry
  • Viburnum edule - lowbush cranberry

Collaboration

The OSVC is a collaborative effort amongst all COSIA member companies and includes three collection initiatives in the Athabasca oil sands and Cold Lake oil sands regions of the province.

Environmental benefits

As surface footprint associated with oil sands development increases, natural areas for seed harvest diminish.  By harvesting extensively prior to development, from the variety of vegetation communities to be disturbed, resources are available for future reclamation.  The greater the numbers of species and variations within these species, the greater the resiliency of the planted vegetation. Many factors can affect vegetation including changes in weather patterns, disease and catastrophic events such as fires – so resiliency is a key factor in creating self-sufficient ecosystems in reclaimed areas.

Next Steps/Timing

In addition to banking seed for use in future reclamation, COSIA is looking towards developing additional practices for the growth of vegetation that is not propagated by seed, but rather via cuttings or rhizomes. 

The OSVC is looking ahead to address the identified knowledge gaps that hinder the utilization of the native species in reclamation. New research regarding viability, germination and seed longevity is now underway at ATISC.