Habitat Restoration Work Underway

Reclamation specialists are hard at work in a remote area of northeastern Alberta, preparing sites to plant 80,000 trees in 2012 as part of a plan to restore woodland caribou habitat.

“This is the first phase of a five-year restoration plan we’ve developed for the Algar region,” explains Jeremy Reid, environmental specialist with Nexen and OSLI’s Land Stewardship Working Group (LSWG).

As part of this phase, equipment is used to prepare sites to assist tree growth over about 80 kilometres of linear disturbance. Linear disturbances cause forest fragmentation that disrupts caribou habitat and
allows predators easier access to the animals.

Reid explains that lessons learned from a number of LSWG projects will be used in the Algar restoration project, including winter wetland planting, Faster Forests, and Landscape Ecological Assessment and Planning (LEAP) — a project that allows OSLI to model the future forest including restored areas.

Since Algar consists largely of bogs and fens, some of the planting will be completed in the winter months using planting techniques OSLI successfully tested last year in collaboration with the Alberta government. Conventional planting will follow in the summer.

“The Algar region is where some of the tools we’ve developed will be used on the ground and on a larger scale,” says Reid. “We will be using the lessons we’ve learned to restore habitat for a threatened species — taking our level of land stewardship well above the regulatory requirement.”

The work is made possible due to the co-operation of oil sands developer, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL). CNRL has allowed OSLI to use the access they have created to transport heavy machinery required for site preparation.

“Algar is a very remote area and access is quite difficult. We really couldn’t have moved ahead so quickly and efficiently without the co-operation of CNRL.”

Algar is located in the Lower Athabasca region, west of Highway 63 and southwest of Fort McMurray. Although no OSLI company has worked in the region, historical oil and gas disturbances that have been reclaimed to previous standards provided an opportunity for OSLI to reclaim to a higher standard and achieve ecological objectives. OSLI has taken on the Algar opportunity to pilot this restoration work as part of its regional approach to restoring habitat for woodland caribou.

The area of the Algar region targeted for reclamation is 570 square kilometers, which has 20 square kilometres of land disturbance. The area spans six townships along the Athabasca River, southwest of Fort McMurray.

Located in the southern Lower Athabasca region, the Algar region is host to one of the seven woodland caribou herds of the East Side Athabasca River (ESAR) caribou range.

Woodland caribou are designated as “threatened” under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The federal and provincial governments define threatened as “a species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.”