Oil sands area largely intact, but environmental impacts growing

Report finds animals prefer old-growth forests and some are deserting the region.

EDMONTON — A report by an environmental monitoring agency has found the variety of plants and animals in the oil sands area is largely healthy.

But the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, an agency funded by industry and government, has found that animals that prefer old-growth forests, such as marten, are deserting the region in favour of those such as coyotes, which are found everywhere.

In general, the institute found that about 94% of the oilsands area still has the same birds, plants, bugs and animals that it did before development.

But some effects are becoming apparent.

About half the bird species surveyed that depend on old-growth forest are less abundant over the region than they would normally be.

As well, nearly one-third of the sites in the study showed invasive plant species.

The report also found the region is increasingly threaded through with disturbances such as lease roads and seismic lines.

Many animals refuse to come near those areas.

Less than half of the region is more than 200 metres away from some sign of human activity. Only 5% of it is more than two kilometres away.

How this human activity is affecting the forest appears to be accelerating.
From 2007 to 2010, the last year studies in the report, the amount of impacted land increased by 0.7%, 1.3%, and 3.8%.

It also said that land reclamation is not keeping pace with development.

The report steers clear of making predictions or forecasts, so it doesn’t consider that the current level of development is about one-fifth what’s planned for the oil sands.