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Wood Buffalo AB

Reclamation of boreal forest after oil sands mining: Anticipating novel challenges in novel environments

Year: 2014

Boreal forests in northern Alberta have a growing anthropogenic footprint due to a rapidly growing oil sands mining industry. Although land reclamation is a necessary aspect of responsible industrial development, these activities nearly always affect higher order landscape components such as the broader landform, and its hydrology and biogeochemistry. Recent anthropogenic impacts are then believed to result in new environmental conditions and obstacles under which the boreal forest is developing, potentially leading to irreversibly different environments that could be characterized as novel ecosystems. Reflecting an emerging trend across the field of restoration ecology, these novel ecosystems are not necessarily undesirable. Instead, they are an unavoidable consequence of pervading anthropogenic effects on natural ecosystems. It is our view that successful reclamation outcomes can still be derived so long as policy and regulatory requirements are afforded the necessary scope and economic flexibility to account for the development of hybrid and novel ecosystems among highly disturbed mine sites. Hence, this analysis seeks to situate current and anticipated challenges affecting the reclamation of boreal forest following oil sands mining by describing (i) how regulatory criteria shape reclamation practices and targeted end goals and (ii) how these approaches embody latest trends and priorities in the area of restoration ecology.