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How has wildlife been affected by energy development in Alberta?

Reviewing the Science
  • Describe some of the pressures wildlife face in Alberta.
  • How are some species adapting to development in the province?

Video Notes
  • Indicator species: a species whose presence, absence or well-being is an indicator of the overall state of the ecosystem.
  • Woodland caribou are designated a Threatened species under the Wildlife Act in Canada.
  • Low birth rate and isolated herds leave caribou vulnerable to disturbances.
  • Caribou need connected space – some herds travel hundreds of kilometers in a season.
  • Habitat loss means there are fewer places to graze, and less lichen available.
  • Habitat fragmentation means remaining habitat is broken up and divided by disturbance.
  • Wolves use linear disturbances to travel – straight lines help them run faster and see farther.
  • Industry, government, and non-profit groups are researching innovative methods to balance development with a healthy ecosystem. (examples: scat dogs, changing how seismic lines are cut, and physically separating wolves from caribou.)
  • Stronger guidelines regarding when and where companies can explore for oil and gas are being implemented.

Video Notes 
  • Listed under the Wildlife Act as a species that May Be At Risk.
  • Populations are difficult to estimate – they are isolated, fear humans, and cover a large area.
  • Grizzly bears are an umbrella species. Ensuring the health of grizzly habitat means any species using the same habitat is also theoretically protected.
  • Linear disturbances cut up grizzly habitat, while also attracting bears to those areas.
  • Access to food near human populations has increased – berries in ditches, grain spilled along railroads and garbage in recreation areas.
  • We tend to label “problem bears”, when it’s really “problem people.”
  • Researchers are creating Grizzly Priority Areas where it is extremely important to preserve habitat.
  • Industrial companies are limiting permanent roads, sharing existing ones, and creating protection plans.
  • BearSmart programs teach us how to share the landscape with bears.
  • Since 2006, grizzly hunts have not been allowed in Alberta.

Video Notes 
  • There are 411 species of birds in Alberta.
  • Waterfowl (ducks, geese) are migratory and exposed to development all along their travel routes.
  • It’s important for researchers to collaborate across regions.
  • Tailings ponds in the oilsands can be mistaken for wetlands – they often thaw in the early spring when most natural ponds are frozen.
  • Innovative methods like scarecrows and air cannons are used to keep birds away.
  • Ovenbirds won’t cross linear disturbance which can cause them to become concentrated in one area.
  • Raptors (hawks, falcons, owls) are attracted to open areas – cut lines or well sites.
  • Industry is increasing the speed of reclamation.
  • Bladeless wind turbines are being designed to make them safer for birds.

Exploring the Issues
  • Explain why habitat fragmentation is a common concern for caribou, grizzlies and birds.
  • In addition to energy companies, what other land users have a responsibility for protecting animal habitats? Are all groups equally responsible? As a camper or ATV user what role do you play?
  • Which innovations used to protect wildlife were you most surprised by? In 10 years, how might technology further improve development practices?
  • How are you personally connected (directly and indirectly) to energy and the environment?
  • Consider the wide variety of careers related to energy and wildlife. What skills or interests do you have that could lead to an opportunity in these fields?
  • On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (exceptional), how do you feel Alberta is meeting their goal of balancing energy development with a healthy ecosystem?

Inside Education’s work brings us to all corners of the province, as such, we acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples in the area currently known as Alberta. The relationship the Peoples of Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 and Alberta’s M├ętis Peoples have with the land is founded on a deep respect for the environment. This connection forms the foundation of our personal responsibility for stewardship of the environment, a connection Inside Education strives to foster among students and teachers through our diverse programming. Inside Education is a registered charity #101894319RR0001

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