In western Canada, decades of oil-and-gas exploration have fragmented boreal landscapes with a dense network of linear forest disturbances (seismic lines). These seismic lines are implicated in the decline in wildlife populations that are adapted to function in unfragmented forest landscapes. In particular, anthropogenic disturbances have led to a decline of woodland caribou populations due to increasing predator access to core caribou habitat. Restoration of seismic lines aims to reduce the landscape fragmentation and stop the decline of caribou populations. However, planning restoration in complex landscapes can be challenging because it must account for a multitude of diverse aspects.
To assist with restoration planning, we present a spatial network optimization approach that selects restoration locations in a fragmented landscape while addressing key environmental and logistical constraints. We applied the model to develop restoration scenarios in the Redrock-Prairie Creek caribou range in northwestern Alberta, Canada, which includes a combination of caribou habitat and active oil-and-gas and timber extraction areas.
Our study applies network optimization at two distinct scales to address both the broad-scale restoration policy planning and project-level constraints at the level of individual forest sites. We first delineated a contiguous set of coarse-scale regions where restoration is most cost-effective and used this solution to solve a fine-scale network optimization model that addresses environmental and logistical planning constraints at the level of forest patches. Our two-tiered approach helps address the challenges of fine-scale spatial optimization of restoration activities. An additional coarse-scale optimization step finds a feasible starting solution for the fine-scale restoration problem, which serves to reduce the time to find an optimal solution. The added coarse-scale spatial constraints also make the fine-scale restoration solution align with the coarse-scale landscape features, which helps address the broad-scale restoration policies. The approach is generalizable and applicable to assist restoration planning in other regions fragmented by oil-and-gas activities.