Oil sands mining in Northeastern Alberta occurs on a predominantly forested boreal landscape, across tens of thousands of hectares. One of the fundamental end goals of oil sands mine reclamation and closure is the re-establishment on this landscape of functional forested ecosystems, and the end land uses that these ecosystems support (i.e. commercial forestry, traditional use, wildlife habitat, recreation). Such reestablishment relies on the generation and refinement of knowledge on the requisite factors for successful forest development on reclaimed lands, and on the ability to make informed projections of future forest characteristics based on current conditions. Some of this knowledge development occurs through the Cumulative Environmental Management Association’s Reclamation Working Group (RWG), a multistakeholder organisation with members from government, industry, regulatory bodies, environmental groups and Aboriginal groups, which is tasked with developing frameworks and guidance documents containing recommendations regarding mine reclamation practices in the oil sands region.
This paper presents information on RWG’s approach to the guidance and assessment of reforestation of oil sands mine disturbances, with particular attention to four programmes under development which form components of this approach, as follows:
Information contained in Guidelines for Reclamation to Forest Vegetation in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, 2nd ed., on species selection and establishment techniques/density for forest vegetation.
Assessment of forest stand juvenile establishment and growth performance in the Alternative Regeneration Standards for reclaimed oil sands mine areas.
Work completed by RWG to establish measures of forest stand productivity for reclaimed sites, based on similar metrics in surrounding stands initiated through forest harvest or wildfire.
An initiative to determine methods for modelling forest stand development on reclaimed oil sands mine sites.
This paper will also discuss some evolving conceptual aspects of oil sands mine reforestation and assessment, including examination of:
Expectations for establishment of productive forests capable of meeting commercial utilisation standards immediately following mining.
Whether the industrial forestry assessment paradigm is appropriate for application to reclaimed oil sands mines, or whether this unique situation demands an equally unique approach to stand regeneration and evaluation.