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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?