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1997-98 ungulate monitoring programs: Browse pellet group surveys and winter track counts

Year: 1998

An ungulate monitoring program was designed by Golder Associated Ltd. to assist Suncor Energy Inc. as part of its efforts to assess the impacts of oil sands development and the effectiveness of reclamation efforts. Ungulates (e.g. Moose and deer) were chosen as a study group because they are important economically and traditionally, relatively common in the area, and fairly easy to survey. The ungulate monitoring program consisted of browse pellet group surveys and winter track count surveys. A secondary objective of the monitoring program was to instruct one of Suncor's employees in ungulate monitoring procedures. The browse pellet group surveys were conducted in October 1997 on Waste Area 8, one of Suncor's overburden dump reclamation areas. Although evidence of browse from the current year was scant, it was evident that ungulates utilize the area. The area appeared most heavily use by moose, judging by the browse evidence and the presence of moose pellets or scat. The winter track count surveys were conducted in March 1998 on Waste Area 8, Waste Area 19, Waste Area 16, Waste Area 5, and Shipyard Lake. The majority of tracks within the reclaimed areas were from snowshoe hares, willow ptarmigans and red squirrels. A few coyote tracks were recorded as well. Snowshoe hares appeared to be feeding on willow and trembling aspen shrubs, and on jack pine branches where snow cover was high enough. Old tracks for moose and deer were recorded in Waste Area 19 and Waste Area 16. The majority of tracks recorded at Shipyard Lake were also for snowshoe hares and red squirrels. Other tracks recorded at Shipyard Lake included moose, coyote, weasel, mice and grouse. There was moderate to heavy browse evidence on the red-osier dogwood, a preferred ungulate browse species. Beaver activity was noted in a side channel parallel to the Athabasca River. A great horned owl was heard in the Shipyard Lake area.

Amphibians and reptiles in the AOSERP study area

Year: 1979

During June, July, and August of 1976 three species of amphibians were found within the Alberta Oil Sands Project area. The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) was the most abundant and widespread species and was collected at each of 20 sites examined. Boreal chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata maculata) and Canadian toads (Bufohemiophrys) were common but found at less than half of the study sites. All three species had spawned prior to 12 June. Natural ponds and borrow pits were the most frequently used spawning sites. Canadian toads also spawned in flowing water and lake margins. All species had metamorphosed by early August. Wood frogs metamorphosed at a mean snout-vent length of 17.2 mm, Canadian toads at 12.4 mm, and boreal chorus frogs at 13.7 mm. Spawning for each of these species probably does not occur until individuals are in their third summer of life. Population densities of wood frogs, boreal chorus frogs, and Canadian toads reached estimated maxima of 19.6, 2.3, and 12 per 1000 m2 during 1977. Maximum densities of all species were found within 50 m of the nearest body of water in moist habitat vegetated by sedges, grasses, horsetails, willows and poplar. Lower densities were found in upland mixed woods and no anurans were found in dry areas with sandy substrate and jack pine forest. Other amphibian species and reptiles are either absent or only locally abundant.

Concentrations of metallothionein in fish Peace Athabasca and Slave River basins September to December 1994

Year: 1996

Fish from Peace, Athabasca and Slave rivers and their tributaries are exposed to a variety of pulp mill, municipal and industrial effluents (EnviResource 1995; Brown and Vandenbyllaardt, 1996). Assessments of effects of contaminants have focussed on chlorinated organic compounds, such as dioxins and furans (Pastershank and Muir, 1995), and on alterations of parameters affecting reproduction physiology in individual fish (Brown et al., 1993; Brown et al., 1996; Lockhart et al., 1996). These studies have demonstrated that there is exposure to organic contaminants because mixed function oxidase activities are elevated (Lockhart, et al., 1996; Lockhart and Metner, 1996); and that fish collected downstream from the pulp mills may be stressed, because they exhibit a high percentage of sexually immature individuals, and they have depressed circulating concentrations of gonadal steroid hormones (Brown et al., 1993; Brown et al., 1996). The purpose of the research described in this report was to initiate studies to see if metals may be contibuting to these stresses. The objective was to evaluate whether the metal-binding protein, metallothionein, was elevated in organs of burbot, longnose sucker, northern pike or flathead chub collected downstream from pulp mills and other effluent discharge points, and whether there was evidence of cumulative impacts with progression downstream in these rivers. An increase in MT concentrations in fish represents a molecular response that generally indicates exposure and development of resistance to toxicity to metals, especially Cd, Cu, Hg and Zn (Klaverkamp et al. 1991; Roesijadi, 1992). The study was designed by the Northern River Basins Study Science Directors and the Contaminants Component Leader, and was based on selecting fish collection sites on their proximity to discharges from pulp mills. Additional information on fish collection sites and on general biological parameters of fish collected in 1994 is presented in other reports (EnviResource 1995; Brown et al. 1996). Two observations were made, both in burbot, which may indicate exposure to elevated metal concentrations and the presence of cumulative impacts. First, the greatest difference in MT concentrations between collection sites was observed in kidney of burbot collected in the Slave River Delta (SRD) of Great Slave lake. MT concentrations in kidneys from these fish ranged from approximately 7-times to 26-times higher than those concentrations found in kidneys of burbot from other collection sites. MT concentrations in gill of burbot from SRD were also the highest observed. The SRD burbot may be exposed to metals due to natural conditions of high mineralization in the Great Slave Lake Delta or other parts of the lake; or these fish may be exposed to metals discharged by mining operations, such as the decommissioned lead-zinc mine at Pine Point. The counterclockwise current in this portion of the lake could transport metals from a western source, such as Pine Point, to the Slave Delta (English, 1984). Second, a progressive increase in MT concentration in proceeding from upstream fish collection sites to downstream sites was observed in concentrations of MT in burbot liver. In the Peace River and associated tributaries (Little Smoky, Smoky, and Wapiti), there is a progressive increase of up to 3.34-fold in burbot liver [MT] moving from upstream to downstream collection sites. In the upper Athabasca River system, there is a progressive increase of up to 2.33-fold in burbot liver [MT] moving from upstream to downstream collection sites.

Inventory of selected raptor colonial and sensitive bird species in the Athabasca oil sands area of Alberta

Year: 1980

A three-year inventory of selected rare, endangered and sensitive bird species in the Athabasca Oil Sands area of northeastern Alberta was completed in the late summer of 1977. Aerial and ground surveys of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (AOSERP) study area and selected adjacent areas were conducted. Three major habitat types were investigated: the boreal mixed-wood forest of the Birch Mountains area; the jack pine sandplains south of Lake Athabasca and the Canadian Shield north of Lake Athabasca. Three major groups of birds were surveyed: raptors, colonial birds, and specified sensitive species. Locations of nest sites and colonies were noted and described. No attempt was made to determine the absolute abundance of each species in the AOSERP study area, as the aerial surveillance techniques employed do not justify such an estimation. The exception to this were two species whose total population in the AOSERP study area was restricted to very small areas and therefore could be readily determined: White Pelicans and Peregrine Falcons. Each of these species was investigated in considerable detail and, the data reported in separate publications. Recommendations were made for: 1. Further, more intensive surveys of part of the AOSERP study area in order to determine phenology and numbers of initial breeders more accurately; and 2. Additional surveys of the Canadian Shield area which was incompletely surveyed during this study. Observations of foraging behaviour of a breeding pair of Bald Eagles were conducted in the Birch Mountains, 90 km northwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta, from mid-summer to early fall, 1977. Bald Eagles foraged almost exclusively on fish, although gull wings and a merganser skull were found below nest trees. Nest trees were generally located less than 50 m from water. Active nests were more frequently located on islands and peninsulas. The nest trees were usually tall and broad and included jack pine, spruce, and less frequently trembling aspen. Live trees were preferred over dead trees. In the Birch Mountains, Bald Eagles were relatively sensitive to boat traffic and approaches by humans on foot. Further work is strongly recommended: 1. To further outline critical breeding and foraging habitat criteria; and 2. To assess the potential impact of disturbance on breeding and foraging Bald Eagles.

Investigations of poly-chlorinated biphenyls in bottom sediments of the Bear-Wapiti-Smoky-Peace and Upper Athabasca River systems, 1989-2000

Author(s): Hazewinkel, R., & Noton L.

Year: 2004

Studies of contaminant distributions by the Northern River Basins Study (NRBS) revealed high levels of PCBs in fish in the upper Athabasca and in the Wapiti-Smoky rivers, relative to other areas in the basins. In response to recommendations of the NRBS, the purpose of this work was to investigate the source and reasons for the PCB contamination. In co-ordination with other projects under the Northern Rivers Ecosystem Initiative (NREI) on fish, water, and benthos, this project investigated PCBs in river bottom sediments to see if there were spatial or temporal patterns that might identify the source(s) of contamination.

Litter production in Pinus banksiana dominated stands in northern Alberta

Author(s): Fyles, J. W.

Year: 1986

Tree and shrub litter production was measured over 2 years in 12 jack pine (Pinusbanksiana Lamb.) and 2 white spruce (Piceaglauca (Moench) Voss) dominated stands located in the Hondo – Slave Lake and Athabasca Oil Sands areas of north central and northeastern Alberta. Annual and daily production rates were calculated for foliage (by species), male cones, and structural material (bark, twigs). Annual litter fall weights were typical of those measured in other boreal regions and were correlated with stand basal area. Seasonal patterns in daily production rates suggested that three classes of control factors were involved in determining litter fall rates within a stand. Random factors, such as weather, and chronic factors, such as insect or disease activity, contolled foliage and structural litter through most of the year. Predictable seasonal factors relating to plant physiological state controlled autumn foliage litter fall in deciduous and most coniferous species and production of male cone litter in early summer.

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.

Oil sands tailings capping study

Year: 1994

In the summer of 1990, research plots were designed and constructed on the Syncrude Canada Ltd., mine site at Mildred lake to test the effect of thickness and quality of replaced soil over tailings sand on the performance of trees and shrubs. Treatments included three cap thicknesses (70, 50 and 30 cm) of replaced soil salvaged from an area rated as \"fair\" soil suitability for reclamation, as well as one cap (70 cm) of replaced soil salvaged from an area of \"poor\" soil suitability. Following plot construction, seedlings of four species were planted including: jack pine, white spruce, aspen, and dogwood. Baseline soil data were collected and height was measured on a random selection of permanently marked seedlings. Survival and growth data were collected annually from 1991 to 1993. Soil analysis after plot construction indicated good control of cap thickness during soil placement but minimal difference in the quality of replaced soil between plots constructed from the \"fair\" and 'poor\" rated source materials. Seedling survival after three growing seasons ranged from 68 to 96 %. Almost all mortality occurred during the first overwinter period. Spruce had the highest survival and dogwood the lowest. In general seedlings doubled\" doubled in size during the three year period. Survival and were growth unrelated to soil thickness or quality. Naturally invading plants, primarily weedy species varied according to the amount of peat present near the surface of the replaced soil.


Oil sands terrestrial habitat and risk modeling for disturbance and reclamation - Phase I report

Author(s): Welham, C.

Year: 2010

The overall objective of this project is to develop a framework that integrates risk management and strategic decision-making to evaluate the impact of disturbance (natural and industrial) on ecosystem products and services, and on habitat availability for terrestrial species in Alberta’s Lower Athabasca planning region. This will include an evaluation of the impact of disturbance (natural disturbance due to insect outbreaks, fire and wind, as well as other industrial and agricultural disturbances), conservation, and reclamation activities associated with oil sands development both at the lease and regional levels. The project will be conducted in three phases. Each phase is sequential such that its results and conclusions represent the foundation for the subsequent work. In this way, project investment and outcomes can be realized incrementally. Four scenarios will be incorporated into the overall project. These include scenarios constituting a basecase analysis, climate change, mine development plans, and regional development plans. The basecase scenario is a series of outcomes derived with no consideration for future climate change. The importance of the basecase is that it represents the null condition and thus provides a context for comparing the relative impact of different climate change scenarios (the focus of subsequent project activities). The basecase scenario was the main focus of the work conducted in Phase I, and is comprised of a dendrochronology study of the relationship between climate and tree growth in the sub-boreal region that encompasses oil sands mining, an aspatial analysis of habitat suitability for 10 wildlife species in relation to reclamation activities on the Kearl Lake mine, and a risk analysis of the potential for development of water stress in young reclamation plantations at the Kearl Lake mine. The report begins with an introductory chapter that defines core concepts and project objectives. Dendrochronology The dendrochronology work examined the relationship between climate and tree growth (specifically ring width) for four species (white spruce – Picea glauca, black spruce – Picea mariana, jack pine – Pinus banksiana, and trembling aspen – Populus tremuloides) in the sub-boreal forests of western Canada (Alberta and Saskatchewan). A review of on-line and literature sources was used to identify tree core collections from the region. A total of 29 chronologies were identified that matched a set of suitability criteria: 18 chronologies for white spruce, 8 for jack pine, 2 for black spruce and 1 for trembling aspen. In addition, 9 aspen chronologies were analyzed from cores collected within the region. Each core series was used to date tree rings by year of growth and to create master chronologies of ring width over the previous 75 years (1935 to 2009). Residual chronologies were generated by standardizing and detrending master chronologies to remove non-climate-related influences on growth. These residual chronologies were then correlated to one or more of 25 climate-related variables derived from climate records obtained from nearby weather stations. Results indicate that radial growth of white spruce was limited by current year water stress; significant relationships were found between radial growth and growing season precipitation and summer temperatures. Similar results were found for jack pine, but no conclusive results were found for trembling aspen or black spruce. Subsequent work will be required to (a) add additional data sources, particularly for aspen, and (b) to determine whether additional climate relationships may better explain ring chronologies. The full report is provided in Section 2. Habitat suitability analysis Habitat suitability indices (HSIs) were calculated from equations for 10 boreal forest wildlife species (moose, black bear, snowshoe hare, lynx, red-backed vole, fisher, Cape May warbler, ruffed grouse, pileated woodpecker, and northern goshawk) in natural forests and within reclamation plans developed as part of the Kearl Lake mine. Input values for each index were derived from output generated from the ecosystem simulation model, FORECAST. The development of each index was calculated from the initiation of reclamation through to mine closure as per practices described in the Kearl Lake Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). It should be noted that for some species, the HSI includes parameters with a spatial component, the latter of which requires calculation of one or more landscape metrics. For present purposes, HSIs were calculated for the 10 species without including spatial metrics. In practical terms, these HSIs then represent the most optimistic scenarios for habitat development since the inclusions of spatial metrics only serves to reduce habitat suitability (though in some cases, the HSI may remain unchanged). Specific objectives were as follows: • Review of habitat suitability models that may be applicable to Alberta boreal forests. • Identify variables used in the habitat suitability models that can be simulated with the FORECAST model. • Simulate the reclamation prescriptions described in the Kearl Lake EIA documents with FORECAST and generate output suitable for populating each habitat suitability model. • Generate habitat suitability indices (HSIs) for 10 wildlife species (identified from the review) on the Kearl lake mine site and compare and contrast the temporal development of habitat from reclamation initiation to mine closure. Conclusions were: 1. There is a 37-year window following mine operation when upland habitat suitability is very poor on the mine footprint (an area that encompasses almost 30,000 ha). 2. Habitat suitability recovers relatively quickly thereafter; 50 years after mine operation, 4 out of 10 species have a 100 % suitability index, and this increases to 9 out of 10 species 55 years after mine operation. 3. The overall quality and pattern of recovery in habitat suitability depends on how much upland is reclaimed relative to the original (pre-mining) landscape. 4. Deviations in the post-mining distribution of ecosite phases relative to the pre-mining landscape could have significant implications for the habitat suitability of particular species, either positively (more habitat is created) or negatively. 5. The broad variation among species in their HSI values suggests that reclamation practices could be targeted towards the habitat requirements of one particular wildlife species by preferentially reclaiming more favourable ecosite phases. Conversely, a broad range of ecosite phases is necessary to promote a higher degree of biodiversity on the reclaimed landscape. 6. When habitat recovery rates on reclaimed sites are considered in conjunction with the overall mine footprint, it suggests that the negative impact of the operation is not trivial with respect to habitat loss. The full report is contained in Section 3. A risk analysis of the potential development of water stress in young reclamation plantations The development of ecologically viable reclamation strategies and methodologies in the oil sands region can be a difficult undertaking considering the logistical challenges of constructing soil covers capable of providing both the hydrological and nutritional characteristics required for the establishment of self-sustaining, productive forest ecosystems. To examine the potential for the development of water stress in proposed reclamation plantations within the Kearl Lake mining area, a risk analysis was conducted for different species and ecosite combinations using the stand-level forest hydrology model ForWaDy. The risk analysis was designed to evaluate the probability of high levels of water stress developing in young plantations of white spruce, trembling aspen, and jack pine established on different ecosites as a function of soil texture and slope position. Each species and soil type combination was simulated for a 25-year period using historical climate data from the Fort McMurray weather station. Annual summaries of simulated water stress (expressed as a Transpiration Deficit Index; TDI) during the growing season were used to derive probabilities of exceeding a range of water stress thresholds. Spruce was the species most likely to experience high TDI levels (greater than 0.3). In addition, it was the only species to reach TDI levels greater than 0.6 during the 25-year simulation period. Jack pine, in contrast, was the least likely to experience high TDI levels and did not exceed levels of 0.5 during any year; the remaining species were intermediate between the spruce and pine. The probability of exceeding TDI thresholds was consistently greater in an a-b ecosite grouping (representing dry, nutrient poor sites) relative to a d-e grouping (moist, nutrient-rich sites). Differences between the two ecosite groupings were relatively small, however. The difference would have been greater if not for the 50 cm peat layer that is applied to each site as a rooting substrate, and which alone constitutes 70% to 80% of the water holding capacity of the total soil profile. The probabilities reported here are based on the simulated response of the tree–soil combinations to the past 25 years of climate data (1982 - 2006). These years reflect the current climate but are not likely to be representative of future climate conditions predicted for the region from Global Circulation Models. An exploration of the impact of climate change on water stress and its implications for overall growth and the associated development of structural habitat elements will be conducted in Phase II of the project. The full report is contained in Section 4. The report concludes with a brief description of the next steps in the project.

Oil sands terrestrial habitat and risk modelling for disturbance and reclamation: The impact of climate change on tree regeneration and productivity - Phase III report

Author(s): Welham, C., & Seely B.

Year: 2013

The overall objective of this project is to develop a framework that integrates risk management and strategic decision-making to evaluate the impact of disturbance (natural and industrial) on ecosystem products and services, and on habitat availability for terrestrial species in Alberta’s Lower Athabasca planning region. This also includes an evaluation of conservation, and reclamation activities associated with oil sands development both at the lease and regional levels. The project has been conducted in phases. Each phase is sequential such that its results and conclusions represented the foundation for subsequent work. This report summarizes activities conducted as part of Phase III, consisting of the following: (1) Model projections of tree regeneration under climate change on actual oil sands reclamation materials, and (2) A comprehensive model analysis of the risks to ecosystem productivity from climate change as a consequence of the impact of moisture stress on tree mortality. Model projections of plant regeneration under climate change on actual oil sands reclamation materials Six climate change scenarios for Alberta were selected that encompassed a range of predictions in future temperature and precipitation change. The tree and climate assessment (TACA) model was calibrated for reclaimed sites that varied in their soil moisture regimes (from xeric to subhygric) and three natural sites, High Level (subxeric), Calling Lake (mesic), and Fort Chipewyan (subhygric). TACA was used to predict regeneration probabilities on these sites for jack pine, aspen, and white spruce, in conjunction with the climate change scenarios. A comparison between the natural sites and their corresponding moisture regimes on reclaimed sites showed little quantitative difference in predicted regeneration for High Level. Regeneration probabilities for Calling Lake and Fort Chipewyan, however, were lower than the corresponding moisture regimes on reclaimed sites (mesic and subhygric, respectively). The differences in the Calling Lake and Fort Chipewyan sites are largely a consequence of the fact that percolation rates were higher on natural versus the reclaimed sites. These results highlight the importance of assessing soil moisture regime using a variety of metrics. Across climate periods, regeneration in this northern region was generally improved in jack pine and aspen because of the warming temperatures and in some scenarios, increases in annual precipitation, predicted under climate change. This was particularly the case in the wetter moisture regimes (submesic to subhygric) than the subxeric and xeric regimes, probably due to increases in growing season moisture deficits in the latter. Aspen regeneration from suckering had substantially greater predicted success than aspen regenerated from seed. Predicted trends in white spruce regeneration were in sharp contrast to the other species. Spruce regeneration was reduced substantially in future periods to the point where it was predicted to be less than 20% in subxeric and xeric moisture regimes. These results indicate that from a reclamation perspective, the impact of climate change on regeneration requires careful consideration of the tree species and its associated moisture regime. Soil moisture regime generated pronounced differences in regeneration probabilities both within a given future time period, and across periods. As might be expected, regeneration was highest in the wettest moisture regime and declined as the moisture regime became drier. However, the difference between moisture regimes within a given time period also increased over time for all species. From the perspective of reclamation outcomes, these results suggest soil prescriptions should be developed and/or applied which generate moisture regimes that are submesic and wetter. Drier regimes (subxeric and xeric) appear to introduce a substantially greater average risk that revegetation success in a future climate may be compromised through regeneration failure. How well might current reclamation prescriptions be expected to perform under climate change with respect to regeneration success? Overall, results suggest that no single set of prescriptions will be adequate to maintain the current suite of tree species common to the region. Nevertheless, current one-layer prescriptions seem adequate for maintaining pine and aspen regeneration, at least on average. Practices governing spruce, in contrast, should transition over the next several decades towards an emphasis on constructing two-layer prescriptions only, in an effort to minimize the risk of inadequate regeneration. This has important implications for mass balance calculations associated with soil amendment materials. In short, drier sites should focus on pine and possible aspen regeneration, and spruce on wetter sites. For a risk management perspective, reclamation practices that generate the two wettest moisture regimes (mesic and subhygric) are most likely to result in successful outcomes, at least through the 2050s. Drier moisture regimes can have lower regeneration probabilities but results were often highly inconsistent across the climate scenarios; constructing covers that generate drier moisture regimes thus entails considerably more risk of inadequate regeneration. Although regeneration was high in the 2080s, in many moisture regimes uncertainty in model predictions was also high. However, because of this extended time frame, modifying current reclamation practices or planting prescriptions to mitigate this risk is not warranted. Taken together, results emphasize the point that the climate will continue to change and highlight the necessity for ongoing investment in this type of analysis to facilitate the process of continuous learning that can form the basis for adaptive management. Analysis of risks to ecosystem productivity from climate change using FORECAST Climate Drought is anticipated to be an increasingly limiting factor for plant productivity and survival in the Fort McMurray region. Regional climate data indicate that this trend has already begun with patterns of growing season moisture deficits increasing since the 1960s. A new drought mortality function was developed and implemented within FORECAST Climate. In contrast to the threshold mortality approach employed in previous analyses, the new continuous function simulates drought mortality using a two-year running average of a species-specific moisture stress as a predictor of annual mortality. The 2-year running average is designed to capture the compounding effect of consecutive dry years. The amplitude of the function curve was fitted to historical climate data for each species so that mortality rates were consistent with empirical observations of actual mortality events. Two different mortality curves (low and high) were simulated for each tree species to explore the sensitivity of the model to assumptions regarding tree susceptibility to drought stress. To simulate the effects of a changing climate, five climate-change and associated emissions scenarios were utilized, and one scenario representing the historical climate regime. Simulations were conducted for ecosites dominated by jack pine (ecosite a1), aspen (d1), and white spruce (d3). Jack pine showed very little mortality under the historical climate regime at either index of drought sensitivity. In the case of aspen (ecosite d1) and spruce (ecosite d3), historical drought-related mortality events were not uncommon in the simulations, consistent with empirical data. Projections of future climate conditions generated mixed results in terms of mortality, depending on the emission scenario. With the exception of A1FI, all other emission scenarios triggered mortality below historical conditions at various points in the simulation. Given that primary productivity at high latitudes is temperature limited, a warming climate thus has the potential to improve survival under some circumstances, though not necessarily on sites where drought is already problematic. Within a given species, the highest mortality almost always occurred under the A1FI emissions scenario. Though A1FI was considered a pessimistic outcome in terms of CO2 emissions, current evidence indicates that, in fact, it may be close to reality. Pine and spruce appear generally robust to drought conditions at least over the next several decades, regardless of the climate regime. Mortality tended to increase thereafter as the simulation years got longer (i.e., later in the century). In absolute terms, pine is projected to have the lowest overall drought-related mortality (the exception being mortality under the A1FI emission scenario) while spruce is projected to have the highest mortality, particularly late in the century. Aspen showed a small increase in mortality over time beginning in the first decade of the simulations. The Climate Response Index (CRI) is a metric calculated in FORECAST Climate that integrates the impact of temperature and precipitation. Similarly, the decomposition response index (DRI) links decomposition (i.e., nutrient availability) to temperature and moisture. Both indices thus serve as proxy measures of climate-related growth conditions. The A1FI scenario, by example, always generated higher CRI and DRI values than occur under historical climate conditions. Nevertheless, assumptions regarding tree sensitivity to drought stress had a significant impact on volume production and its relation to climate change. When the mortality rate was low (i.e., species were robust to moisture stress), volume production under climate change always exceeded that projected under the historical climate regime. If species are less tolerant of moisture stress (i.e., the mortality rate function was high) climate change will have a negative impact on stand-level productivity later in the century, though how much depends on the particular species and a given emissions scenario. Significant reductions in productive capacity from climate-driven mortality threaten to destabilize ecosystems beyond their resilient capacity. One feature that would serve to promote resilience by avoiding drought stress is to ensure the rooting zone possesses adequate available water holding capacity. This can be accomplished by ensuring capping materials have higher organic matter content, are not predominantly coarse textured, and of sufficient depth. Layering of capping materials to generate textural breaks also serves to increase moisture storage, at least temporarily. Another important feature in creating resilience is to properly match tree species to their edatopic position. Aspen, and particularly spruce, occupy wetter positions on the edatopic grid. For the most part, these species are more prone to drought than pine. It is important then to ensure they are not planted on sites that may become marginal in terms of available moisture. In that respect, another consideration is to actively modify planting prescriptions in anticipation of a drier climate. Conceptually, this approach is based on the assumption a given soil moisture regime will for all intents and purposes transition to a drier edatopic position with further climate warming. In Europe, mitigative activities against climate change at the stand level are focusing on the regeneration phase. This is because a well-established plant population will have better prospects for surviving the vagaries of future (and largely uncertain) climate conditions and the fact little can be done to affect survival in stands that are mature today. Hence, one approach is to increase the genetic or species diversity in seeded and planted stands. This can be accomplished with traditional tree-breeding programs (termed provenance trials) though molecular genetics techniques have been developed that significantly reduce the time and resources needed for the selection process. Other possible silvicultural measures to promote establishment and maintenance of desired communities include moving up the planting season to take advantage of earlier spring conditions, using containerized stock to reduce drought risk, enhancing drought tolerance by employing seedlings with higher root:shoot ratios, and reduced spacing to increase recovery after dry periods. Quantitative models, such as TACA and FORECAST Climate, can project forest responses and the goods and services those forests provide to a range of future climate change scenarios. Predictions made using these climate-based models need to inform best management practices and can be coupled to the continuous learning that forms the basis of an adaptive management process, thereby reducing the uncertainty associated with reclamation decisions. The report closes with conclusions and associated recommendations, and a final section describing potential next steps.

Root distribution activity and development for boreal species on reclaimed oil sand mine soils in Alberta Canada

Author(s): Lazorko, H. M.

Year: 2008

Alberta’s oil sands are located in the boreal forest where surface mining disturbs huge tracts of land. One such area, Syncrude Canada Ltd.’s Mildred Lake mine, contains waste overburden (OB) piles which can be saline and sodic (SSOB). The objectives of this research were to 1) determine SSOB material impacts on planted tree root distributions, 2) quantify root activity to identify plant species growing at depth, and 3) document coarse woody root structure for planted trees. Root distributions for three mixedwood stands on reclaimed OB in relation to electrical conductivity (EC) and sodium absorption ratio (SAR) were examined using soil cores. Root distributions followed a similar pattern with soil depth as those from undisturbed boreal forest stands and appeared unaffected by the SSOB at this stage; however, future monitoring will be required as the stands mature. Root activity was assessed for jack pine (jP) and white spruce (wS) stands on tailings sand (TS) and OB using a strontium (Sr) chloride tracer. Understory and tree foliage was collected prior to and after application to measure Sr concentration in the control, broadcast, and depth treatments. A small proportion of roots grew in the OB material regardless of its chemical properties. Results from the Sr tracer study suggested that these roots were probably from the clover, sow thistle, and grasses. Planted trees showed little to no change in Sr tissue content suggesting that there were little to no roots in the treatment zones, the understory species out-competed the trees for Sr accessibility, or the tracer was diluted in the tree biomass to undetectable levels. Root systems of planted jP trees older than 10 years and older than 20 years on TS and OB were excavated and the number and diameter of lateral roots, the degree of kinking and coiling, and the presence of a taproot were recorded. Excavated trees showed poor taproot development on 70% of the trees and numerous root deformities, suggesting that more emphasis is needed in correct planting techniques and good planting stock to ensure proper root development. Roots are critical components of boreal forest ecosystems; without healthy root systems productivity may decline, stands may be susceptible to windthrow, and general forest health may suffer.

Sensitivity to acidification of forest soils in two watersheds with contrasting hydrological regimes in the oil sands region of Alberta

Year: 2007

Input of large amounts of N and S compounds into forest ecosystems through atmospheric deposition is a significant risk for soil acidification in the oil sands region of Alberta. We evaluated the sensitivity of forest soils to acidification in two watersheds (Lake 287 and Lake 185) with contrasting hydrological regimes as a part of a larger project assessing the role of N and S cycling in soil acidification in forest ecosystems. Fifty six forest soil samples were collected from the two watersheds by horizon from 10 monitoring plots dominated by either jack pine (Pinus banksiana) or aspen (Populus tremuloides). Soils in the two watersheds were extremely to moderately acidic with pH (CaCl2) ranging from 2.83 to 4.91. Soil acid-base chemistry variables such as pH, base saturation, Al saturation, and acid-buffering capacity measured using the acetic acid equilibrium procedure indicated that soils in Lake 287 were more acidified than those in Lake 185. Acid-buffering capacity decreased in the order of forest floor > subsurface mineral soil > surface mineral soil. The most dramatic differences in percent Ca and Al saturations between the two watersheds were found in the surface mineral soil horizon. Percent Ca and Al saturation in the surface mineral soil in Lake 287 were 15% and 70%, respectively; the percent Ca saturation value fell within a critical range proposed in the literature that indicates soil acidification. Our results suggest that the soils in the two watersheds have low acid buffering capacity and would be sensitive to increased acidic deposition in the region.

Soils of permanent sample plots in the Athabasca oil sands area

Author(s): Turchenek, L. W.

Year: 1982

Soils of permanent sample plots were investigated to provide baseline data for research related to monitoring of terrestrial ecosystems. More specifically, the objective of this project was to provide information on the kinds, characteristics, and distribution of soils in 16 permanent sample plots, each of about 5 ha area, established during 1981. The background and general purpose of the project are outlined in the Terms of Reference appended to this report. General information about distribution and characteristics of soils in the oil sands area is provided in a report on the soils inventory of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program study area (Turchenek and Lindsay 1982). Emphasis in 1981 was placed on selecting permanent sample plots with jack pine vegetation communities on Eluviated Dystric Brunisols. These soils are members of the Mildred and Heart soil groups which are described in the report of Turchenek and Lindsay (1982). Both of these soils groups are composed predominantly of Eluviated Dystric Brunisols. The Heart soils have developed in eolian sands while Mildred soils have formed in sandy glaciofluvial materials. Both soil groups are very sandy and usually contain less than 5% fine materials (clays and silt). The Mildred soils normally have a variable content of coarse fragments (larger than 2 mm) while Heart soils have no coarse materials. Two permanent sample plots were established in the Richardson Hills Upland. Soils in this area belong to the Firebag soil group; they have developed on sandy, gravelly and stony glaciofluvial ice-contact deposits, but are otherwise similar to the Mildred and Heart soil groups. In this project, samples for laboratory analysis were taken from one or two sites within each permanent sample plot. For additional data and for making comparisons, analytical data for Heart, Mildred, and Firebag soils can be found in Volume 2 of the report by Turchenek and Lindsay (1982). Other soil surveys conducted in the general area are those of Hardy Associates Ltd. (1980) for the Alsands lease, and Twardy (1978) for portions of the Syncrude lease. Information about general properties, moisture movement and retention, and nutrient cycling in soils near the AOSERP Mildred Lake research facility can be found in the report of McGill et al. (1980).

Spatial and temporal variations in fire frequency in the boreal forest of northern Alberta

Author(s): Larsen, C. P. S.

Year: 1995

Forest fires occur frequently in the boreal forest of North America and greatly affect vegetation dynamics, biogeochemical cycles and resident human populations. Estimates of the frequency of boreal forest fires would be useful for understanding boreal ecosystems and managing that affects of fires on human populations. The objectives of this work were to investigate relations between fire frequency and climate change, vegtitation type and waterbreaks in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP), located in northern Alberta. To address these objectives, four hypotheses were tested: (1) tree ring-width records from the boreal forest can provide a proxy climate record: (2) annual area burned in the boreal forest varies in response to climate changes: (3) boreal forest fire frequency varies with differences in forest type and the proximity to waterbreaks; and (4) fossil pollen and macroscopic charcoal records from massive lake sediments can provide meaningful estimates of local fire frequency. The first hypothesis was tested by constructing tree ring chronologies from 3 white spruce and two jack pine sites in WBNP. All five chronologies were significantly positively correlated with June precipitation in the growth year or the previous year, and were significantly negatively correlated with historical records of fire weather and annual area burned. The second hypothesis was tested by analyzing historical records of annual area burned and climate, and tree ring records of fire history and climate. Annual area burned was significantly negatively correlated with seasonal means of fire weather indices. The time since last fire was estimated using tree ring records from 166 sites located throughout WBNP. These records exhibited decadal and centennial scale variations in fire frequency. Comparisons with tree ring other proxy climate records suggest that these variations are related to climatic changes. The third hypothesis was tested using survival analysis of the time since last fire records, disagregated by dominant vegetation and the mean distance to waterbreaks. Sites dominated by jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and aspen (Populus tremuloides) exhibited significantly higher fire frequencies than did sites dominated by black spruce (Picea mariana) or white spruce (Picea glauca). Fire frequency increased with increased mean distance to waterbreaks. The fourth hypothesis was tested by analyzing fossil pollen and charcoal records from two lakes at $\sim$5 year resolution for 600 years. I compared their fire history records with local tree ring records of fire, and their mean fire intervals with regional fire frequency estimates for sites with similar vegetation and mean distances to waterbreaks. One lake exhibited a meaningful fire frequency estimate and the other lake did not. The poor fire frequency estimate was related to high sediment mixing and the lack of homogenous vegetation around the lake. The results indicate that: (1) area burned and fire frequency in the boreal forest of northern Alberta varies temporally at the annual, decadal and centennial scales; (2) fire frequency varies spatially in relation to vegetation type and mean waterbreak distance; and (3) lakes with massive sediments can provide meaningful estimates of local fire frequency.

Synecology and autecology of boreal forest vegetation in the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program study area

Author(s): Eulert, G. K., & Hernandez H.

Year: 1980

A review of the literature pertaining to the forest ecology of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (AOSERP) study area was completed. Because of the complex nature of the vegetation pattern, the dynamic interactions of overstory species, and the relation of understory species to the nature and type of the canopy, the stands are discussed on the basis of relatively pure overstory species dominance. Dominant species examined were: aspen, jack pine, balsam poplar, paper birch, white spruce, black spruce, tamarack and balsam fir. The ecological factors discussed for each of these and 12 other understory species include soil and moisture requirements, reproduction, establishment, growth, successional roles, sensitivity to pollutants, and the nature of associated species. Fire is the major disturbance factor of the boreal forest. Aspects of fire discussed are: the nature, causes, incidence and extent of fire; its influence on soil heat balance, soil pH, and nutrient availability; and the general effect on the vegetation mosaic. General dynamics of vegetation are discussed and summarized for muskegs and related wetlands, river and lake shores, uplands, lowlands and the understory. The literature relating to North American concepts of communities, climax and succession is summarized to clarify usage of these terms and to illustrate the diversity of views that exist. Five approaches to studying and classifying vegetation are discussed: (1) physiognomic classification; (2) the ordination (continuum) view of vegetation; (3) floristic classification; (4) the North American approach based on physiognomy and dominance, and (5) biophysical land classification. For each approach, a general description of its characteristics, data requirements, advantages, disadvantages and applications are discussed. The report concludes with a discussion of data gaps and recommends studies needed to fulfill AOSERP objectives.