Responsible and sustainable growth of Canada’s oil sands requires that the oil sands industry, governments and academics understand the environmental effects of industrial and human activities in the boreal forest, and that industry continues to work to reduce those effects. The Alberta Biodiversity Research Chairs Program (ABC) is intended to fast-track biodiversity science by providing funding and support to implement on-the-ground research in the boreal forest of Northern Alberta. The results of that field research will be knowledge that can be shared across Canada, to be used to avoid or minimize environmental effects across the nation’s boreal forest. Research will also be looking at more rapidly and effectively removing or mitigating effects, when they do occur. The current program will include two research Chairs at the University of Alberta based out of Edmonton, Alberta.
Legacy seismic footprint in Alberta’s boreal forest. Reclamation of this footprint and documenting its positive effects on caribou habitat is one of the conservation priorities being evaluated by COSIA companies and is a focus of ABC Chairs Program.
The ABC Chairs program will provide research findings that support efforts to maintain biodiversity in Alberta’s boreal forest. It will look at predicting biodiversity responses to human activities and developing restoration methods and tools to recover site biodiversity and landscape processes. For example, one of the research themes will be focused on woodland caribou conservation and monitoring.
The important next step in addressing woodland caribou herd declines is to design and monitor actual implementation of various conservation strategies. The next phase of caribou research in Alberta must focus on the effectiveness of recovery strategies to be implemented on a herd-by-herd basis by the Provincial Government in collaboration with industry. Depending on the circumstances, this will involve one or more of the following three complimentary components to woodland caribou conservation: (1) predator mortality reduction, (2) habitat restoration, and (3) caribou protection. It will be important to learn as much as possible about the effectiveness of the management actions through a well-designed adaptive management and monitoring program. The caribou program will address the following information gaps:
- Population estimation techniques. Although Alberta has some of the best information on caribou population trends, there has been no measure of actual herd sizes. New methods using DNA collected from pellets and survey techniques will be tested.
- Monitoring of the effectiveness of government-led predator and primary prey management programs.
- Assessment of ‘critical habitat’ including methods to facilitate, criteria for recovery, and monitoring of range scale recovery.
- Implementation and monitoring of innovative industry strategies for caribou recovery. This would include predator exclosures of various sizes and types.
- Exploration of alternate predator management strategies such as diversionary feeding of predators and chemical camouflage of caribou calves.
The research would be conducted in collaboration with Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute staff, provincial government staff, and industry. In addition, however, there is the requirement to facilitate and coordinate the recovery actions of government and industry. The ABC Chairs will work to foster the co-planning and co-implementation of a Provincial Caribou Recovery Strategy.
The ABC Chairs program includes the announcement of two Chairs working with the University of Alberta. They are Dr. Stan Boutin and Dr. Scott Nielsen.
Dr. Stan Boutin
Professor of Biological Sciences
Stan Boutin (FRSC) is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Science Director of the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. His current interests include conservation and management of the boreal forest including new strategies for the conservation of woodland caribou. His applied research is designed to allow stakeholders to make ecologically informed land-use decisions.
Dr. Scott Nielsen
Assistant Professor in Conservation Biology
Current research interests are species distribution and habitat supply modelling; endangered species monitoring and management; conservation planning and reserve design; landscape ecology.
The environmental benefits of applied research will include improved landscape management by improved understanding of:
- the effects of human footprint and activities on biodiversity;
- the effectiveness of local mitigation strategies; and
- the effectiveness of approaches used in scaling up solutions to regional scales (i.e. the cumulative effects challenge)
Additional benefits will be the application of new knowledge to support best management practices, and specific research findings including those focused on supporting caribou conservation. One of the side-note benefits of this investment in applied research is the numbers of graduate and post-graduate students who will be able to participate in the field. These students are Canada’s next generation of biologists and the more detailed experience and information they have within the boreal forest, the stronger our knowledge and management practices will be.
COSIA’s Land EPA is working directly with Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Energy and Environment Solutions, the University of Alberta on this Chairs Program and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).