Ecological Restoration: Linear Feature Reclamation and the Woodland Caribou
Legacy seismic lines are linear features in the boreal forest that have remained largely intact since they were created decades ago. Averaging 6 to 10 meters in width, these clearings often extend many kilometers in a straight line and are present in large numbers in the boreal forest. After several decades, the cumulative impacts of these long and wide-open corridors have become both environmentally unsustainable and socially unacceptable. Canada’s forestland management professionals are faced with a large inventory of fragmented boreal forest in which ecosystem form and function have been altered.
One victim of these persisting linear features is the boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus), now considered threatened according to Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). The legacy seismic lines provide good habitat and travel corridors for the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and have contributed to the penetration of this species and its predators into new areas of the boreal forest and into the range of woodland caribou. As a result, caribou predation on the caribou by the wolf (Canis lupus) and black bear (Ursus americanus) has vastly increased, jeopardizing the survival of many caribou populations.
Consultants developing environmental mitigation
Multiple intervention strategies to improve the survival of the woodland caribou are being used. The Reclaimit environmental consultancy and its customer, a Canada-based oil sands resource developer (client), have worked together since 2014 to improve and accelerate habitat recovery on legacy seismic lines and thereby restore ecological function.
What is our approach?
Starting in 2014 the team of Reclaimit environmental consultants began to support the habitat restoration of the seismic lines in the region through summer tree and shrub planting on lines pre-selected by the client. Beyond 2014, the client and Reclaimit forestland consultants began to recognize that a solution that will work environmentally, gain social acceptance and remain fiscally responsible would require a multifaceted approach with key performance indicators to measure program success beyond the execution phase.
For the 2015-19 linear restoration programs, management considerations such as the social interests of the local Indigenous communities and the usage patterns of the wildlife became leading project design factors. Frequently, an otherwise viable treatment option was redirected, constrained, or completely rejected because of the negative impact it could pose on another value. For example, the timing of some treatments was directly impacted by the nesting periods of migratory birds and the breeding window of the caribou.
“Andrew Carpenter and the staff of Reclaimit Ltd. have worked with MEG Energy for nearly a decade and have been instrumental in our success as an operator. We have had the privilege of working side by side with his team on various programs pertaining to restoration and caribou protection while aligning ourselves with local and Indigenous communities on how to achieve best results. Andrew has embraced the opportunity and has provided not only employment but has also developed meaningful relationships in the region. ….. Reclaimit has employed several local Indigenous staff through the years and with this has changed the attitude of many who did not realize how much effort goes into reclamation.” – Alex O., Site Lead, Community Relations, MEG Energy
Another challenge that Reclaimit environmental consultants are successfully working through is the necessity of different treatment methodologies for a variety of ecosystems. Legacy seismic lines often travel for several kilometers and transect multiple ecosystems, ranging from saturated lowlands to semiarid uplands. To make this work Reclaimit’s consultants prescribe revegetation and ecosystem restoration strategies that have been successfully applied on historic lease sites in the same region. Also, since heavy equipment access to work areas is significantly limited by expansive wetlands, recommended equipment treatment and reforestation strategies have shifted to frozen ground operations. Reclaimit teams conduct forest reclamation treatments in the winter, with access by snowmobile, Hagglund, helicopter or snowshoe.
From 2014-19 Reclaimit successfully reclaimed approximately 100+ kilometers of linear features and has learned how to apply solutions in year-round weather conditions. But that is not the best part! What is especially satisfying is the positive engagement of local communities and workers, an increase in the complement of treatment methodologies to hit the target, witnessing the land’s recovery in action, receiving positive feedback on recovery success from independent auditors and getting all this done in an accident-free manner.