Forestry among top three land conversion activities in Alberta's oil sands region, with highest growth rate of 72% in 1999-2012; old-forest wildlife less abundant than expected, finds report that aims to help province evaluate land-use outcomes

EDMONTON, Alberta , June 17, 2014 (press release) – There are many Footprints in the Oil Sands

ABMI reports 13.8% of the Oil Sands Region of Alberta has been visibly converted by development; species intactness at 88%.

A region wide analysis of human footprint in the oil sands region of Alberta shows agriculture as the dominant activity on the landscape followed by forestry, and then energy, according to the latest report by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute.

The ABMI report “The Status of Biodiversity in the Oil Sands Region of Alberta” presents data on human footprint throughout the region as well as the current condition (status) of 425 species of plants and animals, with a focus on those most sensitive to human development. As of 2012, the total human footprint across the OSR was 13.8%. Agriculture was the largest footprint type, covering 7.3% of the region, followed by forestry at 3.1% and energy at 2.3%. In terms of trend in human footprint, however, agriculture footprint remained relatively unchanged over the years 1999-2012, while forestry and energy footprints increased by 72% and 44%, respectively.

With multiple land use activities occurring on the landscape of the OSR, wildlife management will be challenging, which underscores the need for science-based land use planning. With respect to the status of the region’s plants and animals, the report highlights several key findings:

The ABMI Biodiversity Intactness Index for all 425 species assessed in the oil sands regions is 88%. The Biodiversity Intactness Index is a measure of how much more or less common a species is compared to an undeveloped landscape free of human footprint. An intactness value of 88% represents a 12% deviation from expected abundance relative to an undisturbed area.

Regarding specific species, the black-throated green warbler—a species of Special Concern, according to the Alberta Endangered Species Conservation Committee—is approximately 50% less abundant than expected relative to an undeveloped landscape free of human footprint. This small songbird prefers old forest habitat (tree stands between 80-130 years old), elements of which, such as large trees and snags, are also less abundant than expected throughout the region.

Other old-forest associated species such as the fisher (a small mammal with few predators due its speed and agility), the well-camouflaged bird, the brown creeper, and the delicate one-flowered wintergreen were all less abundant than expected. By contrast, species that thrive in areas with human development, such as the coyote and the black-billed magpie, are more abundant than expected.

“As the Government of Alberta proceeds with developing biodiversity indicators and thresholds for various regional land use plans, it’s precisely this type of unbiased, evidence-based information that should inform the deliberations,” said ABMI Executive Director Kirk Andries. “This report serves as an ecological baseline from which we can measure change over time. It is a powerful tool for evaluating land use planning outcomes related to biodiversity in this region.”

Data and information used in this report was partially funded through the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program, a joint federal-provincial environmental monitoring program established in 2012.

JOSM was designed to ensure that air, water, biodiversity and toxicology monitoring efforts in the OSR are independent, credible, coordinated and transparent.

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