Identifying Key Native Species and Efficient Strategies for Revegetating Sensitive Landscapes: Oil Sand Areas, Saline Areas, Boreal Forest and Foothills Regions

Jay Woosaree, Alberta Research Council

The major objectives are to:

1. Produce a list of species of early successional plants that can be used to ensure and accelerate the recovery of plant communities following oil & gas disturbances in sensitive landscapes such as the Foothills rough fescue plant community of the Porcupine Hills, saline environments, hydrocarbon contaminated soils, the oil sands and sensitive areas of the boreal ecosystem;

2. Study the methods for propagating and establishing these species both under seed production and reclamation conditions that will lead to commercial release of the plant materials.

3. Develop strategies for appropriate introduction of these species or seed mixes into the disturbed environments.

4. Provide plant performance and revegetation information to land managers and the resource industries in support of development of best practices aimed at establishment of sustainable plant communities following resource extraction activities.

Objectives for reclamation of native plant communities on Crown lands have been recently revised to reflect a Government and Public concern for assurance of long term ecosystem goods and services (RCAG pers. com. 2006) [RCAG is the current Reclamation Criteria Advisory Group, reporting to the Minister of Environment].

Achieving reclamation success requires appropriate site preparation and strategies of plant reintroduction Adapted plants that have proven performance, and strategies on how to use them, will enable resource extraction companies to reclaim environmentally sensitive areas to sound ecological function.

Oil & gas industries in Alberta have drilled approximately a quarter million wells and this number keeps increasing by over 20,000 wells annually. More than half of the wellsites, each occupying approximately 1 ha or more, are on Crown land where an objective of “ecosystem goods and services” has replaced the previous, simpler goal of soil stability and dense forage cover. The foothills, the mixed grass prairie, the aspen parkland and the boreal forest include a diversity of natural plant communities. These plant communities provide habitats and movement corridors for many wildlife species, and important forages for grazing livestock. Oil & gas, other industries, ranching and public recreational activities have altered these plant communities, leading to a risk of reduced ecosystem performance and productivity. Others argue that once, for example the fescue plant community is disturbed, it cannot be reclaimed to its predisturbed condition (Bradley, 2004). Weeds and Invasive forage species may threaten landscapes, especially when natural plant communities and soils have been disturbed, by reducing usable production or changing important site ecological behaviour.

Pipeline breaks and surface spills at wellheads or battery sites may contribute to local soil salinization. Both hydrocarbon and saline produced water are common throughout the province. The presence of soluble salts affects plant growth by limiting their water uptake. Plant species tolerance of contaminants and abilities to enhance conditions at sites is partly understood, but few suitable native species are currently available. Improvements may provide options to wholesale soil removal and land filling.

2007 Report

2007 Progress report

2008 Presentation