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Long End Lake

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54° 34' 59.9988" N, 114° 22' 59.9988" W

Association of postfire peat accumulation and microtopography in boreal bogs

Year: 2005

Peatlands accumulate organic matter as peat because of disproportionate rates of production and decomposition. However, peat accumulation heterogeneity has not been well studied along the microtopographic gradient (hummocks vs. hollows), particularly with respect to fire. Fire affects peatland species composition by differentially removing vegetation and resetting succession, resulting in peat accumulation changes. We examined peat accumulation and microtopography in two historically burned bogs in Alberta, Canada. Measurements of current and historic microtopography were made, and cores were collected along the gradient to identify depth of peat accumulated since fire, as well as to assess properties of the accumulated peat. Current microtopography is significant and correlated with the immediate postfire surface relief. However, differences in the magnitude of variability between sites suggests that differential rates of growth between features are exacerbated between sites and reflected in bog microtopography. Rates of organic matter accumulation, ranging from 156 to 257 g.m^sup -2^.year^sup -1^, were elevated but comparable to published rates of recent accumulation. Organic matter content and accumulation rate were greater for hummocks than hollows at Athabasca bog, but the difference between features diminished at Sinkhole Lake, suggesting that the pattern and properties of peat accumulation and microtopography postfire may be attributable to differences in site conditions.

Fort McKay First Nation’s involvement in reclamation of Alberta’s oil sands development

Year: 2012

Fort McKay is a Cree, Dene and Métis community situated in the epicentre of Alberta’s oil sands developments and the people of Fort McKay believe that this development is limiting their ability to carry out cultural activities within their Traditional Lands and that this has significant adverse effects on the maintenance of their cultural heritage. The Community has existed on their Traditional Lands for generations and places great value on the land and all that the land supports. Fort McKay has major concerns associated with both the “loss of land” and the condition of this land following mine closure and reclamation. The existing approved and proposed mine developments will ultimately occupy hundreds of thousand hectares of land and will not be fully reclaimed until the latter half of this century, with the likelihood that a further 10 to 20 years will be needed before the land can be certified as reclaimed. This means that the land occupied by these mines will be alienated from two to three generations of Fort McKay people. Fort McKay and the group of specialist consultants employed to work on behalf of the Community have worked closely with the Alberta government and oil sands developers to express the Community’s concerns and to push both industry and government to work towards meeting the immediate and long term objectives. Although Fort McKay cannot take credit for the recent improvements in mine closure regulation and performance, Fort McKay has certainly had a strong voice which has helped lead to a number of changes in approval conditions. Changes which we have seen over recent years include improved regulations for salvage and replacement of topsoil, recent changes to the management of fluid fine tailings and the requirement to initiate large scale trials of techniques to reclaim land to peat accumulating wetlands (fens and bogs). In the future, Fort McKay will continue to strive for faster reclamation that will restore the land to premining conditions, will seek the complete elimination of fluid fine tailings especially those which will be stored under a water cap in an end pit lake, will seek to ensure that acceptable water quality will be achieved within a reasonable timeframe following closure and will seek to ensure that the reclaimed landscape will support the full range of traditional uses including medicinal plants, berries, hunting, fishing and trapping.

Long term prediction of vegetation performance on mined sands

Author(s): Bliss, L. C.

Year: 1977

This project on the \"Long Term Prediction of Vegetation Performance On Mined Sands\" (V.E.6.1) was undertaken to provide management with answers on the predictive ability to maintain different kinds of vegetation on raw sands. The research was designed as an integrated, multi-disciplinary program that would concentrate on the role of water stress in a dynamic soil-plant-atmosphere system of a planted grass cover and a natural Jack pine forest. To date only the latter project has been initiated because of the lack of funding and approval to work on the GCOS dike in 1975. This and the Syncrude dyke represent the worst (driest) environmental situation and therefore revegetation of other sand deposits should be more easily accomplished. The Richardson Fire Tower site was chosen because of the representativeness of its Jack pine - lichen woodland on deep sands, a forest type so characteristic of northeastern Alberta. The results of the first full year show that climatically this southwest-facing sand slope warms more rapidly in spring than do level sites at Mildred Lake and Fort McMurray and that the 1976 summer was above normal for temperature. Precipitation was near normal based upon the 1941 - 1970 period. Of the >60 days of precipitation, over 60% were 4 mm or less and thus little if any water entered the soil due to tree, lichen, and litter interception. Both needle duff and lichens provide a significant barrier to surface evaporation compared with open sand. Resistance to evaporation is 2 to 3 times greater with a lichen cover than with litter. The soils are very porous which is advantageous for water entrance, thus preventing erosion but porosity is a disadvantage in maintaining higher water levels near the soil surface for plant growth. These soils recharge during snowmelt in late March - early April; little runoff occurs and over the summer soil water drawdown takes place. Soil moisture content (volume basis) is generally 8 - 15% near the surface in spring, but by late September is 1 - 3% at all depths. Xylem water potentials, a measure of tree water content, were never very low (mean maximum at dawn -5 to -7 atm. and mean minimum at midday -11 to -14 atm.) which reflect a year of average precipitation with frequent light rains and periodic heavier storms. Transpiration and stomatal closure were controlled largely by vapour pressure deficits. Jack pine avoided spring drought by remaining dormant when air and needle temperatures were above freezing, yet when soils were still frozen. Although Jack pine did not show indications of severe drought in a relatively moist summer, it did develop xylem water potentials of -16 to -18 atm., values which are probably detrimental to many of the species being used in revegetation trials on the dike (Bromus inermis, Phleum pratense, and species of Agropyron). This means that potential species must be drought hardy and tested under laboratory rather than only under field conditions to determine their survival under severe drought conditions that may occur but once in 30 to 50 years. The studies of mycorrhizae show that a large number of species of fungi infect the roots of Jack pine and that the infecting flora from disturbed soils (old burns) is quite different from that of undisturbed forests. Since mycorrhizae are critical for the proper growth and survival of pines, care in innoculating tree seedlings with the proper species is essential. The energy and water balance mathematical model predicts the heat and water status of the Jack pine forest. Examination of the model outputs suggests that late season resistance to water uptake occurs because of increased root resistance in autumn. If this is confirmed with further experimental data, and model runs, it means that fall droughts may be especially critical because of the reduced ability of the trees to absorb water through their roots. A second field season coupled with the laboratory studies to determine lethal and sublethal levels of water stress in Jack pine will provide the added inputs to the models necessary for predicting tree response to severe climatic stress. These data, gathered in a highly integrated manner, will permit the calculation of tree survival on sands, be they dikes or other kinds of mined sand, in terms of soil water content and tree density (including crown extent) in relation to the exceptional dry year that may occur once in 30 to 50 years. Data from field trials of grasses or woody species, without supporting measurements of plant physiological responses to environmental conditions cannot provide this essential predictive tool for management unless the one in 30 to 50 year drought cycle is encountered. It is for this reason that modelling of the data in order to predict plant response to unusual environmental conditions becomes so useful. In summary, this study should be able to provide sufficient data to determine whether or not an open stand of Jack pine or similar conifer is the desired end point in maintaining vegetation at a low maintenance cost on sands, the result of open pit mining of the oil sands.

Professional judgment in mineable oil sands reclamation certification: Workshop summary

Author(s): Creasey, R.

Year: 2012

On June 18, 2012, the Oil Sands Research Information Network (OSRIN) convened a workshop to solicit the expert views from about 50 technical specialists from a variety of disciplines representing about 850 years of experience. The workshop, entitled Information That Professionals Would Look for in Mineable Oil Sands Reclamation Certification sought to document the field experience and “common sense” that a seasoned field specialist brings to the reclamation certification decision process. The workshop was coordinated with the Reclamation Working Group (RWG) of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) to provide additional information in support of their Criteria and Indicators Framework project. With some basic information on the hypothetical lands subject to a reclamation certificate application being considered, the groups were given three different scenarios to analyze from the viewpoint of their professional experience and technical knowledge: Session One: You are going to visit a reclaimed oil sands mine site and decide if a reclamation certificate should be issued. You have only your five senses, experience and common sense to guide your decision. • What positive and negative features do you look for? • How confident (%) would you be that your decision is correct (i.e., mean and range)? Session Two: Next, when you go onto the site you can bring one piece of equipment or one tool. • What would you bring? • What additional information will it provide for your assessment of the site? • How much extra time (and time consuming logistics) would it add to your assessment of the site? • Now how confident are you (%) in your assessment decisions (mean and range)? Session Three: Next, in addition to your senses, experience, and the additional equipment you brought, you can ask for a report(s) regarding the site before the field assessment. • What information would you want to see in the report/documents? • Now, how confident are you (%) in your decision (mean and range)? Session Four: For the final session in the workshop, the groups were asked to provide their comments on one of seven questions: 1. What do we need to know about contamination and remediation? 2. What advice can you give CEMA on criteria and the certification process? 3. Do expectations and process needs change depending on the reclamation goal(s)? 4. Do expectations and process needs change depending on when the site was reclaimed (i.e., older sites, currently reclaimed sites, sites reclaimed in the future)? 5. How long do we monitor for before applying for a reclamation certificate? 6. Do expectations and process needs change based on landform type (e.g., dump, tailings pond, Dedicated Disposal Area, plant site)? 7. What disciplines are missing from the discussion today? The original intent of the workshop was to supplement the science-based reclamation certification criteria and indicators being developed by the Reclamation Working Group of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association with the knowledge and experience used by people with significant field experience. Although valuable suggestions about criteria were received, the discussions seemed to focus more on the information needs and process for assessing certification, suggesting the need for a Guide to the Reclamation Certification Process. The workshop also sought to determine how confidence in decision making is affected by the use of field equipment/tools, and the value of background data and reports in increasing confidence. Given the extensive experience of the workshop participants, it was surprising to see how little confidence they had in using only their knowledge and experience to make reclamation certification decisions. Their confidence in making decisions increased somewhat if they were able to bring a piece of equipment into the field with them. If they were able to review a high quality report and supporting data from the site’s historical file prior to going into the field their confidence increased substantially. This confirms the need for the CEMA RWG Criteria and Indicators work and suggests the need for a Guide to Reclamation Certification Application Content.

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.