With the fleeting days of summer upon us, it’s time to finally tackle those jobs we had been quietly neglecting in the dog days of the season: staining the deck, fixing the fence or slapping a new coat of paint on the house.
But it’s not only home owners who are tackling restorative chores. Several oil sands companies have also been working for years on an important wildlife project known as the Algar Restoration Plan.
The plan aims to help save the iconic woodland caribou, an important species for Alberta and Canada, by reclaiming an area in the oil sands region in northeastern Alberta.
Caribou habitat in the Algar forest was disrupted many years ago by conventional oil and gas developers who laid seismic lines and roads. Although relatively little total forest area was lost, especially compared to losses from logging in earlier times, there was still an adverse effect for caribou.
Roads and paths amounting to 415 kilometers of linear development footprint increased access and hunting efficiency for predators like wolves. It also drew larger animals, such as moose, to the area that competed for food and space. The migration of these larger animals into the area in turn attracted even more predators which preferentially attacked the smaller and slower caribou.
Algar Restoration Plan
The Algar Restoration Plan aims to reverse this damage, going even further than the historical reclamation carried out by oil and gas developers according to earlier regulatory standards. Some 570 square kilometers are targeted for reclamation by Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) spanning six townships along the Athabasca River.
The restoration is expected to take five years, with fieldwork for year two well underway. In the first phase, 45,000 trees were planted to ‘in-fill’ lines and roads. Heavy equipment was used for mounding, a technique that helps protect newly planted trees from human and predator traffic. The planting was all completed in the winter (as Algar consists largely of bogs and fens that are waterlogged in the summer) using techniques successfully tested in collaboration with the Government of Alberta and Grande Prairie Regional College.
This collaboration has produced knowledge which will prove helpful as oil sands developers look to restore other impacted lands in the region.
Only time will tell whether or not the woodland caribou return to the Algar region; however, we’re hopeful that the Algar project, and future ones like it, will contribute to restoring the oil sands region to its former natural glory.