It’s the dead of winter in northern Alberta and the thick boreal forest is covered in a fresh blanket of deep snow. The air, usually filled with the chatter of wildlife, is silent and it seems most species have taken to hibernating through the harsh conditions— except one. High in the forested uplands, a small herd of boreal caribou dig through the snow with their crescent-shaped hooves to find a breakfast of lichens (special fungi and algae) to eat underneath.
“Eating lichens is just one of the ways the boreal caribou have adapted to live in the mature low productivity forests and wetlands,” says Drajs Vujnovic, Alberta Parks. “Caribou avoid areas with a high likelihood of predators that feed on ungulates such as deer and moose. Such areas include river valleys and young forest. Separating themselves from habitat preferred by other ungulates is critical to their survival.”
Unfortunately, it looks like this strategy isn’t enough for woodland caribou, which have been listed as ‘Threatened’ under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). According to Environment Canada, the primary threat to their sustainability is habitat alteration from activities such as mining, logging, oil and gas exploration and motorized recreation. As remote areas become more accessible to humans, they also become more accessible to other species, including predators that prey on caribou.
For Kim Ogilvie, manager, Canadian Environmental Planning and Permitting, TransCanada, the stress of human activities on caribou habitat in Alberta offers an opportunity for collaboration and action from all stakeholders involved to sustainably manage and monitor the impacts on biodiversity and species at risk.
“When TransCanada started planning pipeline projects in northern Alberta, we identified a need to offset residual effect on woodland caribou habitat,” says Ogilvie. “So, we entered into what some might call an unlikely partnership with Alberta Pacific Forest Industries Inc. and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development to create a collaborative, restoration project that would align to Alberta’s woodland caribou policy priorities and federal caribou recovery strategies.”
“We each had our own interests, but we bonded over the notion that the caribou story starts with shared objectives – take action, work together and leverage resources to ensure that restoration investments are meaningful,” adds Ogilvie.
It is this example of collaboration that landed Ogilvie a speaking role at this year’s Alberta Recreation and Parks Association Forum, which happened in Canmore, Alberta on March 12. The theme of the forum was “Parks, Landscapes and Open Spaces: Connections” and at the event Ogilvie presented the Dillon Wildlands caribou habitat restoration project. Objectives of the project include:
- Re-vegetate abandoned seismic lines and access roads to ‘close-in’ open canopy spaces
- Create barriers to limit human access
- Test techniques to create microsites to promote natural forest regeneration
The project began in the summer of 2014 with the placement of coarse woody debris on abandoned seismic lines and roads not used for recreational trails or access to Aboriginal trap lines. Jack pine and black spruce seedlings were also planted in microsites between felled trees to protect them from human disturbance. The Dillon project restores caribou habitat over an area equivalent to approximately five townships with more than 300 kilometres of linear features.
The habitat restoration treatments will be evaluated using a combination of both aerial and ground-based monitoring over the next 10 to 15 years to assess vegetation establishment and growth, effectiveness of access barriers and signs of changes to wildlife use.
At TransCanada, we are committed to protecting the environment. Not just because we have to, but because we want to. As one of North America’s leading energy infrastructure companies, we respect the diversity of the landscapes in which we operate and always consider the environmental and cultural aspects of our business activities. We strive to minimize our environmental footprint while fulfilling our obligation to meet the continent’s growing demand for reliable energy.