Presentations


Dr. David Boerner
Environmental Science Regarding Oil Sands Development

Dr. Frederick Wrona
Oil Sands Monitoring Program in 2016: Status and Direction

Session 1

Dr. Shao-Meng Li
Differences between Measured and Reported Volatile Organic Compound Emissions from Oil Sands Facilities in Alberta, Canada

Large-scale oil production from oil sands deposits in Alberta, Canada has raised concerns about environmental impacts, such as the magnitude of air pollution emissions. In this presentation, results on volatile organic compound (VOC) emission rates based on the 2013 airborne measurements over the oil sands surface mining facilities will be given. Individual emission rates for 73-93 VOCs for each of four surface mining facilities were determined using a combination of the Topdown Emission Rate Retrieval Algorithm applied to PTR-ToF-MS measurements and the emission ratios for a large number of VOCs determined from canister samples. The aggregate emission rate (ERVOC) of the VOCs ranged from 49.9±14.0 to 69.5±22.1 tonnes/day depending on the facility. These emission rates, of both the aggregate VOCs and individual species, were compared to those reported to the Canadian National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The comparison showed notable differences, indicating that currently accepted approximation methods generally underestimate VOC emissions. Potential reasons for the observed differences will be discussed.

Dr. Paul Makar
Environment and Climate Change Canada Modelling and Network Analysis of the Oil Sands

Environment and Climate Change Canada has carried out experimental high resolution forecasts (2.5km horizontal grid cell size) of the oil sands region since 2012, using the Global Environmental Multiscale – Modelling Air-quality and CHemistry (GEM-MACH) modelling system. The model has been evaluated using observations from ground monitoring stations, an aircraft monitoring intensive and satellites. Model output from these simulations have been used to estimate, for example:

  • The effects of improved emissions data on model performance
  • Acid deposition in Alberta and Saskatchewan
  • The transport and deposition of mercury
  • The effects of emissions on local weather and cloud formation

Examples from these evaluations and simulations will be presented, as well as planned future directions for the modelling work. The latter include:

  • Analyses of oil sands and Alberta air-quality monitoring network observations and model output using time series and hierarchical clustering
  • Simulations with observation-based emissions
  • Studies of organic aerosol formation pathways
  • Comparisons to aircraft-based estimates of deposition
  • Further acid deposition simulations with enhanced versions of the model
  • Experimental forecast simulations at 1km resolution
  • Simulations to test improved methodologies for specific chemicals and groups of compounds (ammonia and PAHs, respectively).

Dr. Alvaro Pinto
Fort McKay’s Air Quality and Odour Concerns and the 2016 AER and Alberta Health “Recurrent Human Health Complaints Technical Information Synthesis: Fort McKay Area” Report

Situated in the middle of the mineable portion of the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, the First Nation and Métis community of Fort McKay is significantly impacted by oil sands development related air emissions. Odour and poor air quality events are two longstanding and unaddressed air emission issues which are of particular concern to the community.

In 2015, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), in cooperation with Alberta Health, initiated its “Recurrent Health Complaint Process” to assess Fort McKay’s odour and air quality concerns. A number of parties were consulted and had input into the assessment including: Fort McKay, the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, industry, the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) and Environment Canada. The result of the assessment was a 257 page report entitled: “Recurrent Human Health Complaints Technical Information Synthesis: Fort McKay Area (July 2016)”. The report examined air quality in Fort McKay for the period January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2014 from the standpoint of potential health and odour issues and impacts.

The assessment identified some air quality and odour management issues that need to be addressed. These include: emission characterization and management, ambient air quality monitoring, odour complaint response, emergency response and health impacts. The report made 17 recommendations one of which was related to the process to implement the report’s recommendations.

The presentation provides history and context on Fort McKay’s air quality and odour issues and a summary of the AER and Alberta Health report’s recommendations from Fort McKay’s perspective.

Julian Aherne
Critical Loads of Acidic Deposition for Ecosystems in Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan

A critical load is defined as “a quantitative estimate of an exposure to one or more pollutants below which significant harmful effects on specified sensitive elements of the environment do not occur, according to present knowledge”. Critical loads have been widely used to assess the potential impacts of acidic (sulphur and nitrogen) deposition on natural ecosystems, and have been accepted as a basis for the development of air pollution control strategies. In the current study, empirical observations of soil and surface water chemistry from northen Alberta and Saskatchewan have been collated from existing and new surveys to support the determination of critical loads. In combination with novel mapping techniques, critical loads of acidity for surface waters and forest soils have 10 Program • DAY 1 been estimated for northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The assessment of risk of negative effects is based on the area and magnitude of critical load exceedance, i.e., where acidic deposition is in excess of the critical load.

Colin Cooke
Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Trace Metal Deposition in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region

The mining and processing of the Athabasca oil sands (Alberta, Canada) has been occurring for decades; however, a lack of consistent regional monitoring has obscured the long-term environmental impact. Here, we use sediment cores recovered from a network of 20 lakes located 10–100 km distant from oil sands mining operations to reconstruct the history of trace metal deposition to regional freshwaters. Early mining operations led to elevated V and Pb inputs to lakes located <50 km of mining operations, but improvements to mining and upgrading technologies since the 1980s have reduced V and Pb loading to near background levels at many sites. In contrast, Hg deposition increased by a factor of ~3 to all 20 lakes over the 20th century, reflecting global-scale patterns in atmospheric Hg emissions. Base cation deposition from fugitive dust has not measurably impacted regional lake sediments. Instead, results from a principal components analysis suggest that the presence of carbonate bedrock underlying lakes located close to development appears to exert a first-order control over lake sediment base cation concentrations and the overall geochemical composition of each lake. Trace element concentrations generally did not exceed Canadian sediment quality guidelines, and no spatial or temporal trends were observed in the frequency of guideline exceedance. Our results demonstrate that early mining efforts had an even greater impact on trace element cycling than has been appreciated previously, placing recent monitoring efforts in a critical long-term context.

Dr. Jill Baron
Lessons Learned from the Science-Policy Interface

Protecting and managing the natural resources of a nation, a state, or a province requires scientific knowledge, and increasingly sophisticated application of that knowledge. Natural resource agencies have an inherent responsibility to collect high-quality and replicable information for the public good and provide objective interpretation of that information to be used in management and policy decisions. Recognizing that scientific knowledge is only one of several factors that contribute to resource management decisions, scientific knowledge plays an essential role in understanding the consequences that come from interactions of natural and human-caused drivers. Examples from the United States will be used that show how long-term monitoring, experimental research, modeling, spatial comparisons, and paleo-reconstructions contributed to a body of information that factored into policy-making decisions. Effective implementation of policy, however, requires far more than one-way transfer of information. An interactive process of exchange of information between scientists, managers, policy makers, and stakeholders is far more effective in building credibility, salience, and legitimacy, and can increase the influence of scientific research in decision-making. 

Dr. Jennifer Korosi
Reconstructing Histories of Environmental Contamination in Lakes Near In-Situ Operations at Cold Lake Using Sediment Cores

Most future growth in the Alberta oil sands will be based on in-situ recovery technologies. To date, however, most attention on the environmental effects of oil sands operations has focused on surface mining in the Athabasca region. Recent, uncontrolled bitumen flow-to-surface (FTS) incidents reported at the Primrose site in the Cold Lake oil sands highlight the need to better understand the potential role of in-situ extraction as a source of contaminants to landscapes and surface waters. We analyzed sediment cores from three lakes in the Cold Lake oil sands region, including a lake located ~2 km away from a recent bitumen FTS incident (Lake 12-26), to provide a long-term perspective on the delivery of metals and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) to surface freshwaters, and to assess whether the onset of local in-situ bitumen extraction can be linked to contaminant increases in nearby lakes. A notable increase in alkyl PACs in Lake 12-26 coincided with the onset and expansion of commercial in-situ bitumen extraction, and multiple lines of evidence indicate a petrogenic source. However, no coincident increase in vanadium (enriched in bitumen) occurred that would suggest the source of PAC enrichment is a direct input of bitumen. Our results show that, similar to surface mining in the Athabasca region, activities associated with in-situ extraction can increase the concentration of PACs in nearby lakes, but many questions still remain regarding the exact sources and pathways of PACs into the environment.

Dr. Jane Kirk
Mercury in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region of Alberta

Mercury is a pollutant of global concern as concentrations of methylmercury (MeHg), the toxic, bioaccumulative form of Hg, in fish and fish eating wildlife are often present at concentrations that may pose health risks to consumers. In the Athabasca Oil Sands region, Hg levels are of concern 12 Program • DAY 1 as there are fish consumption advisories for Athabasca River walleye downstream of Fort McMurray and consumption of local fishes and birds is an important aspect of the traditional way of life in this region. As part of the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring program, we are monitoring Hg in air, water and biota to examine: 1. Changes in Hg levels in the abiotic environment and in biota, such as fish and bird eggs 2. Sources, levels, and fate of Hg in air, water and land 3. Biological and ecological effects, including if current levels are a concern for humans or for fish and wildlife. Current information on Hg levels and spatial and temporal trends in air, atmospheric deposition, Athabasca River and tributaries, invertebrates, fishes, as well as gull and tern eggs will be presented. Dr. Jane Kirk is a Research Scientist with the Aquatic Contaminants Research Division of Environment and Climate Change Canada and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Dr. Kirk’s research focuses on understanding the biogeochemical cycling of elements and contaminants in the environment including the deposition, transformation, and bioaccumulation of contaminants such as mercury, other metals, and organic contaminants in aquatic ecosystems undergoing change. Dr. Kirk has been leading a Joint Oil Sands Monitoring program funded research program on atmospheric contaminant deposition to the Athabasca Oil Sands region of Alberta for 6 years. 

Kelly Munkittrick
An Industry Perspective on Deposition Patterns, Potential Sources and Data Gaps from Recent Oil Sands Studies

A main objective of COSIA’s Monitoring Priority Area is to review published results and publically available data using rigorous, science-based methods. COSIA uses a structured framework and tiered approach to evaluate consistency, variability, and relevance, and to focus industry attention on potential areas of concern. The most common approach is to review the distribution of change against facility locations and potential sources and pathways, identify data gaps and when warranted, provide recommendations for focused on-site study or the development of collaborations. Monitoring can become more focused when change is detected, and JOSM has been associated with an increased sensitivity in chemical analytical approaches. To achieve environmental improvement, monitoring needs to provide actionable outcomes and focus for investigation of cause studies. Among the recent studies reviewed, the results and their implications are often affected by the approach and assumptions used for visualizing and analyzing data, the baseline used for comparison, and the tools used for determining significance. Analyses among the reviewed studies could be improved by a structured interpretation framework and better integration across components. As well, an improved understanding of the layout and location of facilities and specific activities can assist in developing testable hypotheses for future work within a tiered framework. The purpose of this presentation is to further discuss the approach COSIA scientists use to evaluate change and to interpret the focus of potential follow-up work.

Dr. Matthew Landis
Using Epiphytic Lichens to Elucidate the Sources and Spatial Distribution of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) Air Pollution in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region

A study to elucidate the geographic patterns of atmospheric deposition of PAHs in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) using epiphytic lichens (Hypogymnia physodes) as bioindicators of atmospheric deposition was conducted in 2014, concurrently with a 1-year intensive atmospheric monitoring campaign at the WBEA AMS-1 Fort McKay monitoring site. The lichen monitoring information was integrated into a receptor-modeling framework to elucidate the relative importance of natural and anthropogenic sources to the observed atmospheric deposition of PAHs in the AOSR. A statistical receptor model Positive Matrix Factorization (PMF) identified (i) fugitive dust from oil sand mining, tailings ponds/surface disturbances, and haul roads, and (ii) combustion processes (heavy hauler and biomass burning) as sources that significantly contributed to PAHs in the lichen tissue. The spatial patterns of the PMF receptor model estimated source impacts on the H.physodes tissue concentrations from the oil sand processing and fugitive dust sources had a significant association with the distance from the primary oil sands production facilities. The spatial extent of the fugitive dust impact was limited to an approximate 20-30 km radius around the major mining and oil production facilities, indicative of ground level coarse particulate fugitive emissions from these sources. Comparison of AMS-1 TSP and PM10 analyte concentrations suggested that there is little association of PAHs with particles > 10 μm. Consistent with results from a 2008 study of inorganic trace elements, overall the largest impact on H.physodes tissue PAH concentrations (54%) in the AOSR were related to fugitive dust.

Roland Hall
Use of Lake Sediments to Establish Baseline and Evaluate for Pollution at the Peace-Athabasca Delta

The extent to which Alberta oil sands development enhances delivery of contaminants via the Athabasca River and atmosphere to the Peace-Athabasca Delta is a pivotal question that generates national and international concern. Deciphering relative contributions of natural versus industrial processes on supply of polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) and metals has been identified as a critical knowledge gap, but remains a formidable scientific challenge because loading from natural processes remains unknown and industrial activity occurs in the same locations as the natural bitumen deposits.

Here, we present results from analyses of sediment cores from strategically-selected lakes within the Peace-Athabasca Delta, 200 km north of Fort McMurray, to determine pre-industrial baseline contaminant levels and evaluate for evidence of pollution. The results demonstrate that air pollution of heavy metals has declined in the Delta despite oilsands development, organic contaminants carried by the Athabasca River to the Athabasca Delta have not increased above pre-development levels in sediments of a flood-prone lake, and heavy metal concentrations in downstream Athabasca River surface sediment have not increased above levels that existed 14 Program • DAY 1 before oilsands development.

Our findings suggest natural erosion of exposed bitumen in banks of the Athabasca River and its tributaries is a major process delivering contaminants to the Delta, and the spring freshet is a key period for contaminant mobilization and transport. This baseline environmental information is essential for informed management of natural resources by provincial and federal regulatory agencies and industry, and for designing effective long-term monitoring programs for the lower Athabasca River watershed.

Speakers Panel 1: Q&A

Dr. Leroy Little Bear
Presentation Big Thinking and Rethinking: Blackfoot Metaphysics, “Waiting in the Wings” 

All societies, in one way or another, lay claim to a territory. Within the territory a culture arises from a mutual relationship with the land and the ecosystem including plants, animals, and the observable cosmos. A culture consists of theoretical concepts, customs, and social values. The theoretical concepts are the paradigms upon which the culture is based. These paradigms are the tacit infrastructures members of a society utilize for their beliefs, behaviour, organization, and relationships. Every society develops customs and practices to inculcate into its younger generation for the survival and continuation of the society. Every society attempts to mold its members into ideal personality types based on its paradigms, customs, and values. Thousands of generations of Blackfoot have come and gone on the northern plains resulting in the manifestation of a culture arising from a unique combination of Blackfoot relationships to the land, the ecosystem, and the observable cosmos. This presentation will compare western academic metaphysics and Blackfoot metaphysics from an evaluative perspective: is our current dominant metaphysics still serving our purpose and needs, or is it a passing phase? Are there other metaphysics, such as Blackfoot, that can better serve our current academic and environmental needs so as to bring about sustainability and an ecological balance?

Panel Discussion: Linking Indigenous and Western Knowledge Systems: Applying different worldviews in a scientific framework
Panel Moderator: Dr. Brenda Parlee
Panel Participants:

  • Janelle Baker & Cecilia Fitzpatrick – From Traditional Knowledge to Testing: The Fort McKay WBEA Berry Project
  • Ron Zurawell & Gilmen Cardinal – Wabasca Lake Monitoring Project – Integrating Local Knowledge and Science for Common Objectives
  • Philippe Thomas & Wayne Courchesne – Impacts of Priority Pollutants on Free-Ranging Furbearing Wildlife in the Peace-Athabasca Delta
  • Peter Fortna & Matthew Whitehead – An Indigenous Traditional Knowledge Framework (CEMA)

Session 2

Dr. Joseph Culp
Assessment of Biological Condition in the Lower Athabasca River Tributaries, Mainstem and Deltaic Wetlands

Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) investigations for benthos and fish in the Lower Athabasca River (LAR) tributary, mainstem, and deltaic ecosystems evaluated the efficacy of Phase 2 Integrated Monitoring Plan designs for fish and benthos. The principal bioassessment questions included determining the status and trends of the biota and investigating potential linkages between biological pattern and environmental drivers at reference sites inside and outside the Oil Sand (OS) deposit that were upstream of OS development and at sites downstream of the deposit and development. While fish health was generally good in the tributaries and mainstem, slimy sculpin in tributaries exhibited consistent changes in fish health between reference and exposure sites within the OS deposit. These downstream responses are indicative of exposure to inducing compounds as EROD (EthoxyresorufinO-deethylase) activity and were associated with PAC body burden. Toxicity information suggests that sediments are the source of the elevated PACs in the water column, but further research is required to determine whether this increase is associated with development. In the mainstem, white sucker sampled below Fort McMurray showed a pattern indicative of nutrient enrichment: fish were older and longer, and had increased condition and internal fat store than reference fish. Benthic assemblages largely exhibited good ecological condition with high abundance of intolerant mayfly, stonefly and caddisfly taxa. In tributaries there was no significant difference between reference sites located outside of the OS region compared to those within the natural deposit, however, benthic assemblages in areas with an increased industrial footprint were mildly divergent from reference sites. In the LAR mainstem, assemblages in middle river reaches exposed to municipal sewage effluent and potential stressors from OS development had higher abundances of tolerant taxa. Benthos considerably downstream of the middle reaches shifted back towards upstream reference communities. Delta benthic assemblages appear to be in a healthy state, exhibit high biodiversity, and strong seasonal and spatial variability of richness and composition. In summary, fish and benthos bioassessments indicate that LAR aquatic ecosystems are generally in good ecological condition but there are early warning signals that biotic change may be occurring in the OS region. Future assessment would benefit from a focus on determining the combined effects of nutrient enrichment and OS development as their cumulative effect has the potential to change biotic condition in LAR aquatic ecosystems.

Philippe Thomas
Monitoring the Impacts of Exposure to Alkylated-PAHs in a Bioindicator Species, the River Otter (Lontra Canadensis), through Community-Based Monitoring Programs

Oil sands bitumen is heavily and severely biodegraded crude oil dominated by alkylaromatic hydrocarbons and hetero-compounds, some of which are likely oxidized, increasing their water solubility and potential for bioaccumulation and biomagnification in animals. The Athabasca River and the Peace–Athabasca Delta may be impacted by industrial development related to bitumen extraction that is occurring in the upstream region of the oil sands. There have been few studies on the exposure of free-ranging terrestrial mammals to PAHs. The result is that the ecological significance and the effects of this exposure are poorly understood, especially in long-lived species, where longterm survival and lifetime productivity may be adversely affected. Given the paucity of information on the levels and effects of PAHs on reproductive success, immune function, and population level 20 Program • DAY 2 responses, further investigative studies in terrestrial apex predators are warranted. In this project we assessed contaminant burdens in tissues of river otters collected from traditional land users, and, with indigenous community-based monitoring programs, we mounted a collaborative non-invasive sampling program involving the collection of otter feces at latrine sites in different watersheds. Analysis of the samples collected allowed us to determine chemically-induced stress responses in the animals as well the measurement of various fecal hormone metabolites (including progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormones and corticosteroids). DNA was extracted from the same scat samples and used for a population genetic assessment of river otters to monitor population structuring in the vicinity of development sites. Local populations of river otters are responding to anthropogenic disturbances as evidenced by altered fecal hormone metabolite levels and reduced local effective population sizes

Mark Bidwell
Monitoring Movement, Habitat Use and Survival of Endangered Whooping Cranes in the Oil Sands Mining Region

The Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of whooping cranes migrates through Canada’s oil sands region (OSR) twice annually, in spring and fall. This is the last remaining wild and self-sustaining population of the endangered species, with just over 300 cranes. From 2009 to 2014 we captured 68 adult and juvenile cranes and fitted them with leg bands and satellite transmitters, to study their movements, habitat use and survival during all stages of the annual cycle, including migration. Transmitters were programmed to collect four or five GPS locations daily. We monitored the movement and habitat use of individual cranes remotely, and we used field surveys to assess their survival during the period corresponding to migration through the OSR. Almost all cranes monitored for this study migrated through the OSR, most migrated through the mineable oil sands area (MOSA) especially in spring, and some stopped over during migration in the MOSA for 1-2 nights. Migration through the OSR in spring (mid April-late May) was less protracted than in fall (late August-early November). Although cranes stopping over tended to select for natural habitats and against anthropogenic ones, some stopovers occurred in close proximity to, or actually on, oil sands tailings ponds. We did not detect mortalities directly associated with oil sands mining, although one unbanded juvenile accompanied by its banded parent did not survive the period including migration through the OSR. We conclude that oil sands mining likely constitutes a risk to whooping cranes, although the degree of risk is unknown at this time.

Philippe Thomas
Spatial Modelling of Exposure of Non-Target Mammals to Anticoagulant Rodenticides Can Inform Mitigation Options for Mammalian Predators Inhabiting Areas Impacted by Oil and Gas Development

Oil and gas development in northern Alberta, Canada occurs in the ecologically significant boreal forest. This forest is home to many highly-valued animal species including fishers (Pekania pennanti; formerly Martes pennanti) and American marten (Martes americana). In areas undergoing development in this region, second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) are widely used near facilities and human infrastructure to control and reduce damage from rodent pests. High body burdens of SGARs in their rodent prey pose risks of secondary poisoning for fishers and marten that readily consume rodents, and may selectively prey on SGAR-intoxicated prey. The objective of this research was to determine if fisher and marten living in areas of northern Alberta where there are anthropogenic disturbances are at a higher risk of SGAR exposure. Fisher and marten carcasses were collected from the region, aged, sexed, and liver samples were analyzed for rodenticides using liquid-chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS). SGARs were found in the livers of non-target fisher and marten. As SGARs were found in the livers of fishers with sufficient frequency for complete statistical analysis, analyses including ANOVA, linear regression, and spatial cluster analyses were used to assess spatial patterns exhibited by fisher exposure frequencies against potential explanatory variables such as boreal anthropogenic disturbances and land cover classes. Additionally, companies operating in the region were surveyed to identify their current rodent control measures in an effort to verify the results of the spatial analyses. This is the first study to demonstrate non-target SGAR exposure of fishers in Canada and the first to report exposures in marten. The frequency of exposure in fisher exhibited global and local clusters, which could be explained by total boreal disturbances, number of oil sands mines, and broadleaf forest cover. The spatial methods used in this paper provide tools to develop local interventions for mitigation and conservation efforts.

Dr. Kelman Wieder
Bog Responses to an Altered Atmospheric Deposition Regime in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region

Bulk atmospheric deposition of N, S, Ca and Mg, quantified since 2009 using ion exchange resin collectors deployed at 6 bog sites, all increase with increasing proximity to the oil sands industrial center. Growth of the dominant peat-forming moss, Sphagnum fuscum, also increases with proximity to the industrial center, but is not correlated with either N or S deposition. Biological N2-fixation, not atmospheric deposition, represents the major source of new N to Alberta bogs; N2 fixation appears to be inhibited by increasing N deposition. Increasing N and S deposition leads to increasing N and/ or S concentrations in tissues of several bog lichen, Sphagnum, and vascular plant species. Growth and cover of bog shrubs is enhanced by N deposition, with potential consequences of decreasing Sphagnum moss cover and growth and compromising the ability of bogs to function as net sinks of atmospheric CO2-C. Findings from intensive monitoring of the 6 bog sites were extended through a one-time regional synoptic survey of 19 bogs within a 3,255 km2 area surrounding the oil sands industrial center. Several bog species showed patterns of tissue N and S concentrations that were: 1) highest near the oil sands industrial center, and 2) positively correlated with bulk N or S deposition. Concentrations of porewater H+ and sulfate, but not of dissolved N compounds, also were higher near the oil sands industrial center than at more distant locations. Bog monitoring in the oil sands region is useful for assessing both the local intensity and the spatial extent of a changing atmospheric 22 Program • DAY 2 deposition chemistry regime, and for assessing potential shifts in bog ecosystem structure and function into the future.

Dr. Jahan Kariyeva
Human Footprint Mapping to Support Biodiversity Monitoring in Alberta

Due to increasing impacts of anthropogenic pressure on natural ecosystems, the measurement of human activity is essential in the fields of biodiversity and environmental monitoring. Regional to provincial scale human disturbance information is a key component used for supporting habitat modeling, cumulative effects management, and regional land-use planning. The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) monitors and reports on the amount, type, and distribution of Human Footprint (HF) across Alberta. The ABMI recently completed two HF products: annual evaluation of HF on a subsample (~5%) of Alberta’s land base and the 2014 Wall-to-Wall HF Inventory. The subsample data (grid of 1,656 3x7 km sites), available 1999-2014, is used to support long-term trend analysis for sub-regions across Alberta. Between 1999-2014, for example, total HF for the Athabasca Oil Sands Area increased by 3.4% (4.8% - 8.2%), mostly due to creation of new forestry (+1.8%) and energy (+1.1%) footprint. The data demonstrated forestry footprint to be the largest (3.9%) footprint, followed by energy (2.7%) footprint in this region. The 2014 HF Inventory has been enhanced through joint HF monitoring initiative undertaken and co-led by the ABMI and the Alberta Environment and Parks. The enhancements include accurate boundaries of footprint whenever possible instead of using a buffered features approach to average footprint per feature; and new categories within HF type, e.g., agricultural areas can now be designated into four categories. The presentation demonstrates how detailed assessments of HF are critical to understand and support natural resource management and land use decision making in Alberta.

Erin Bayne
Avian Response to Energy Sector Impacts at Different Scales: Do local-scale control-impact models tell us everything we need to know about cumulative effects? 

The boreal forest is one of the world’s last great wildernesses that is slowly being altered by industrial development and climate change. The impacts of this development on bird populations have been studied for the past decade. This talk will provide an overview, using the Ovenbird as a model species, about what we have learned and what key questions remain. Specifically, I will demonstrate a conceptual model to explain how and why birds might be influenced by energy development. This model uses territorial behavior to explain how birds distribute themselves relative to energy activities. The link between avian territoriality and population change will be evaluated and a discussion of the conditions by which behavioural responses to energy sector development do and do not lead to changes in bird populations. Throughout the presentation examples of how birds reach to changing 24 Program • DAY 2 industrial best practices will be discussed to identify ways that the energy sector can mitigate their effects. I will address how this past work has influenced the current design of the long-term monitoring plan developed by the Oil Sands Monitoring program and the need to use this approach on other species of interest.

Dr. C. Lisa Mahon, Dr. Judith Toms
Oil Sands Effects on Boreal Bird Communities: characterizing niche, quantifying cumulative effects, and assessing sector and stressor effects

We summarize and highlight key results obtained during a collaborative 5 year monitoring and research program to quantify oil sands effects on boreal birds in northern Alberta, Canada. We characterized the community structure and niche characteristics of upland and lowland boreal birds at multiple scales to (1) identify specialist and generalist species and (2) prioritize species for targeted monitoring or study. Outlying Mean Index (OMI) analysis of >5220 point counts revealed that only 15 of 67 species (22%) had specialized niches and narrow niche breadths including species associated with old forests, lowland forests, burns, and open habitats. We evaluated the additive versus interactive effects of multiple stressors associated with linear features, energy, and forestry to assess cumulative effects using >2700 point counts and a set of 12 candidate models for 27 boreal bird species. Complex synergistic interactions occurred for 39% of bird species. Predicted densities in current and no-disturbance landscapes revealed strong increases for deciduous and open habitat species and moderate decreases for conifer species in current landscapes. We implemented a multiscale in situ study focused on lowland boreal birds to compare effects at regional and lease scales and quantify species-specific resource selection within the lease. We also worked with partners to (A) conduct a meta-analysis of energy sector control-impact studies and (B) evaluate derived models using independent validation methods to assess whether control-impact models can predict bird abundance within larger landscapes.

Stuart Slattery
Roads, Pipelines, and Seismic Lines…What Might They Mean for Western Boreal Ducks?

The objectives of this project are to assess how duck pair abundance and productivity change relative to density of and distance to linear features (roads, seismic lines, and pipelines) and thereby gain insight into associated effects pathways. In 2013 – 2016, waterfowl pairs and broods were counted from a helicopter across a gradient of linear feature densities located in north-central Alberta and north-east British Columbia, both within and outside the oil sands area (n = ~420 grids, 2.5 km x 2.5 km containing >4,500 wetlands). Hierarchical Modeling was used to assess relationships between waterfowl and linear features while accounting for habitat and sampling bias. Preliminary results indicate that, on average, pairs of all guilds generally settled at higher rates as densities of all linear feature types increased, at both the landscape (i.e. grid) and wetland scales. However, cavity and overwater nesting pairs may have avoided areas close to roads and pipelines because pair counts declined closer to these feature types, particularly within ~180m. Meanwhile, breeding success tended to decline at higher densities and closer distances to linear features, especially relative to seismic lines. These preliminary results are more consistent with top down, habitat fragmentation (i.e. predation) hypotheses than with bottom up, altered hydrology hypotheses. Prospecting pairs did not appear to avoid areas of high linear feature density as predicted for hydrologically degraded wetlands. Also, the linear feature type potentially most limiting to breeding success, seismic lines, does not appear to have clear link to impaired hydrology but can aid predator movement.

Speakers Panel 2: Q&A