Ecological Policy Issues and Knowledge Gaps


Public Policy Issue Knowledge Gaps

Species Recovery: Boreal and Mountain Caribou

Boreal and mountain caribou are federally listed as a Threatened species under the Species at Risk Act and face declining populations and local extirpation of herds across Alberta. Impacts from anthropogenic features are cited as a leading cause of the decline, with a large focus on oil and gas-related linear disturbances. The relationships between oil and gas footprint and caribou, their predators, and alternate prey species require further evidence to support protective or restorative measures taken by industry.

  • How do boreal and mountain caribou, predators and alternate prey respond to restoration treatments?
  • How do site types affect treatment success and long-term population response?

Migratory Bird Protection: Pileated Woodpecker

In July 2022, the federal government amended the Migratory Bird Regulations requiring 36 months of monitoring to declare a pileated woodpecker cavity is not being used by itself or another animal before the tree which the cavity is found in can be removed for development. The supporting science for this proposal was not provided and remains inconclusive. If implemented as proposed, this amendment could impose significant delays and costs to operators in the scale of years and millions of dollars. Research could illuminate the relationships between pileated woodpecker cavities and secondary cavity nesters to inform more appropriate monitoring measures.

  • The frequency and duration of use of pileated woodpecker cavities by other migratory bird species and secondary cavity nesters.
  • The number of and rate at which pileated woodpeckers create cavities (prior to and after selecting one as a nesting cavity).
  • The use of artificial cavities by other migratory bird species or secondary cavity nesters compared to pileated woodpecker cavities.
  • Monitoring technologies for identifying and monitoring the use of pileated woodpecker cavities and potential nests.

Species Recovery: Greater Sage Grouse

The Greater Sage Grouse is federally listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act. Sage grouse habitat overlaps with conventional oil and gas plays in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, some of which were restricted from development by an emergency protection order in 2013 for the species. An understanding of greater sage grouse population dynamics and how individuals of this species use disturbed and reclaimed land compared to undisturbed habitats can influence industry’s role in species recovery by informing management for and mitigation of impacts to sage grouse habitat

  • What is the current range / populations

Species Recovery: Grizzly Bear

Grizzly bears are an iconic species in Canada with ecological and cultural value, which was listed as Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act in 2012 and threatened in 2010 under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. Bears generally experience higher rates of mortality near anthropogenic features and human activity is believed to lead to fragmentation and isolation of demographic units, potentially resulting in population decline. Real or perceived threats to grizzly bears from the upstream industry are not well understood and require further data to assess appropriate mitigations, if needed.

  • Grizzly bear responses to oil and gas development.

Habitat Restoration and Reclamation

Restoration and reclamation of legacy and current oil and gas footprint is an integral component to the recovery of habitat and the species that inhabit them. Restoration in caribou range habitat is of particular importance to achieve the objectives set forth in the Federal Recovery Strategy for Boreal Caribou. With vast amount of footprint on the landscape and limited funding available, restoration activities need to be both efficient and effective in order to achieve the greatest return of ecological productivity on investment.

  • Novel techniques for reclamation/restoration of:
    • Habitat of federally listed species (e.g., Boreal Caribou Habitat);
    • Wetlands (including peatlands);
    • Forested Areas; or,
    • Native Grasslands
  • Techniques to minimize presence of invasive species on operation and reclaimed oil & gas sites.
  • What are the carbon and biodiversity benefits of restoration/reclamation activities?
  • Understanding the impacts of climate change on restoration/reclamation treatments.
  • Effectiveness of restoration/reclamation treatments:
    • When is a disturbance (e.g., seismic line) no longer a disturbance?
    • Do all linear disturbances need to be treated for reforestation?
    • Natural recovery vs. treatment of disturbances of various widths, types, and habitats.
    • Ecological value of reclamation (function, habitat, and hydrology) of different reclamation treatments (e.g., natural recovery, progressive reclamation, mounding, full/partial pad removal) compared to pre-/un-disturbed habitats.
  • Can reclamation be effective at reducing invasive species?
  • How do we ensure funds are being efficiently spent on targeting ecologically stagnant linear features?

Noxious and Prohibited Weeds

In Alberta, there are 75 regulated weed species (46 prohibited noxious and 29 noxious) listed in the Weed Control Regulation under the Weed Control Act that need to be destroyed or controlled, respectively, as undesirable species.  The issues with continuing to manage regulated weeds while aiming to achieve reclamation closure include the following: increased time and resources spent on weed management; increased herbicide application into the environment; unintentional mortality of desirable native species from accidental herbicide overspray; and a delay in reclamation certification application by at least one growing season.

  • What species are of highest concern to the boreal forest?
  • Updated list of noxious weeds appropriate for the boreal forest.

Cross-cutting Environmental Technologies – Sampling & Monitoring; Data Management, Access and Integration

Recent advancements in technology hold potential to improve the efficiency, cost, and safety of the often invasive and laborious tasks of collecting samples and monitoring environmental components. Collecting and analyzing ecological data is realized through various methods and often results in large and complex datasets. To assess and utilize this data to inform policy decisions and plan development, it must be accessible and presented in a format that can be translated among different groups.

A host of methods developed in the past decade hold promise but need further assessment to be deemed suitable for use. Remote technology, metadata, and advanced computing could provide considerable savings and more reliable data to operators’ monitoring programs.

  • Use of novel technology, including but not limited to; use of droves/UAV, environmental DNA, internet of things, etc.
  • Exploration and development of a data management tool for environmental data.
  • Shared open data partnership model between Industry, government, and the regulator.

Federally Listed Species at Risk. 

Oil and gas operations and legacy footprint often overlap with habitat associated with SARA listed wildlife.  Federal recovery strategies and management plans set the strategic direction to arrest or reverse the decline of the species, including the identification of critical habitat to the extent possible and the knowledge gaps to recovery.  Threats to many of these species include land conversion of breeding and nonbreeding habitat, forest harvesting, energy and mining exploration and extraction. The significance of each threat varies across the various species geographical range.

An understanding of  population dynamics and of how  species use disturbed, reclaimed and undisturbed habitats can influence industry’s role in species recovery by informing management for and mitigation of impacts to  habitat

  • Research to address knowledge gaps identified in recovery strategies and management plans.
  • Looking for renewed information on population dynamic health, Short Horned Lizard, Ord’s Kangaroo Rat, Long Toed Salamander