Restoration Trial

Scope

The industrial footprint associated to the exploration and development of the in-situ oil sands in Alberta has a significant impact on forest connectivity, influencing forest interior habitats, biodiversity and overall ecosystem health, and has a direct negative influence on caribou populations. Resource development has also increased access of other ungulates and their predators into caribou habitat, influencing caribou via competition and predation, as well as increased access for continuous human activity on linear features. Restoration of these disturbed habitats has become an important issue for the Oil & Gas industry and considerable effort has been placed in restoring sites to mitigate the footprint and accelerate forest recovery, particularly for improving habitat conditions (ecological restoration), including caribou critical habitat, and reducing access to predators and other ungulates (functional restoration). Thus, in addition to the expected ecological benefits of restoration, the implementation of these treatments may help accelerate the recovery of woodland caribou populations, particularly in heavily fragmented areas within caribou ranges. There are however many operational and ecological challenges and many questions raised about the effectiveness of such restoration efforts, which have significant implications for the conservation of natural habitats and maintenance of biodiversity, and ultimately the preservation of healthy and functional forested systems. Alberta alone has over 100,000 km of linear features (e.g., seismic lines and pipelines) within caribou habitat that require restoration and return to forest cover. This is an important liability and industry is therefore interested in finding ways to restore linear features as fast, cost-effective and successfully as possible. Mounding and tree planting is one of the most commonly applied restoration treatments along linear features. The creation of the mounds and their corresponding divots are expected to reduce wildlife and human traffic, as well as to improve site conditions for seedling establishment and return of forest cover, particularly in wetlands. Mounds act as substrates raised from the shallow Linear footprint of a conventional seismic line in northern Alberta (Photo: J. Pinzon, 2017) 2 | Page water table, allowing dryer and warmer conditions for the survival of both natural ingress and planted seedlings. Previous research on well pads has shown that mounds had a greater density of naturally emerging conifers than in adjacent non mounded areas.

Objectives

The overarching objective of this project is to optimize and monitor silvicultural practices following in-situ oil and gas exploration and development in Alberta, in the context of facilitating restoration success and addressing operational challenges. Thus, the purpose of the study is to contribute scientific support and baseline information about ideal mound size that supports either natural or artificial regeneration, while looking at timing, costs and speed of application. In addition, the purpose is to provide information about site conditions and biodiversity responses to mound size in relation to untreated and undisturbed adjacent forests, to assess recovery trajectories and potential restoration success. Thus, specific objectives are:

  1.  Assess the impacts of mounding size on the rate of return to forest cover on linear features.
  2. Evaluate seedling survival, establishment and growth over time in relation to mound size for planted seedlings, SEEDS (Seed Enhanced Ecological Delivery System) pucks and natural regeneration.
  3. Monitor mound and divot rate of change in addition to the assessment of site conditions, including ground temperature and moisture, soil nutrients, and soil properties.
  4. Monitor biodiversity responses to mounding treatments and compare them against untreated conditions and the adjacent undisturbed forest.
  5. Establish a demonstration site in Northern Alberta to highlight the application of mounding and seedling delivery techniques in facilitating linear feature restoration.

Project description

The Evergreen restoration trial was initiated in the winter of 2018-2019 by the establishment of five linear disturbances of approximately 100 m each, spread within a treed bog area at the Evergreen Park in Grande Prairie, AB. These linear features were created in a similar fashion as those created for oil and gas seismic exploration, by removing all trees using conventional equipment. Each line was later subdivided into three sections of equal length, each section being assigned randomly to one of three treatment levels: Large mounds (50-70 cm in height), Small mounds (20-40 cm in height) and No mounding (untreated).

Full Report

Evergreen restoration trial-low.pdf

3D Tour

Project Contributors