Early Successional Wildlife Monitoring on Reclamation Plots in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region

Virgil Hawkes
Resource Date:
Page Length

Assessing the effectiveness of reclamation efforts to create wildlife habitat in the Athabasca oil sands region requires an assessment of wildlife use of reclaimed areas as well as the development of scientifically defensible and repeatable survey methods. The Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) is mandated to develop guidance documents for assessing reclamation effectiveness on oil sands leases. As part of a pilot study funded by CEMA to assess the use of early successional stands (i.e. those ranging in age from 4 to 17 years) by wildlife (songbirds, small mammals, and ungulates), a wildlife monitoring protocol was developed and field tested in 2010 and 2011. The purpose of this project was to (1) set standards upon which to base longer-term monitoring, and (2) identify wildlife groups that will indicate whether reclaimed ecosystems satisfy land use objectives, including the objective of returning wildlife to reclaimed habitats. The study achieved the following goals: 1) an assessment of the return and re-establishment of early successional wildlife to reclaimed terrestrial systems; 2) an assessment of the feasibility of the recommended protocols for monitoring wildlife on reclaimed terrestrial systems; 3) the development of recommendations for the wildlife appendix of the Guidelines for Reclamation to Forest Vegetation in the Athabasca oil sands region for early successional wildlife monitoring based on the monitoring programme results; and 4) the collection of monitoring data to assist in identifying and developing wildlife indicators for reclamation certification. Early indications suggest that the proposed methods are suitable for documenting wildlife use of reclaimed plots; however, the frequency and duration of monitoring needs to be increased to determine patterns of re-establishment and use by wildlife. A history of the reclamation sites included in the pilot study is provided along with an overview of the current status and use of those sites by wildlife. Recommendations regarding the programme scope and changes to the monitoring protocol in terms of frequency, duration, and study design are made. Ultimately, comparisons between reclaimed and natural stands of similar age should provide the necessary data to determine if wildlife use in reclaimed plots is comparable to that in natural stands.