Measured responses to boreal forest habitat restoration treatments confirm a trajectory towards success

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Michael Cody, Melanie Dickie, Kimberly Murray, Geoff Sherman, Angelo Fillicetti, Glenn Sutherland, Bin Xu, Scott McNay and Scott Nielsen

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Decades of oil and gas exploration has left a legacy of disturbances on the boreal forest including seismic lines, roads, trails and well sites. Exploration disturbance occurred on a widely distributed basis and now contributes to altered predator-prey dynamics and increased predation on woodland caribou, which are threatened in Canada. Exploration disturbances have also been associated with increased methane emissions in certain conditions. Under passive recovery, a large proportion of exploration features stagnated; failing to return to forest cover due to flattened surfaces/loss of microtopography, herbaceous competition and other factors. Arrested recovery is most prominent on wet site types and organic soils. Active treatment using mechanical site preparation to create artificial mounds, tree planting and recruitment of coarse woody material is believed to make return to forest cover more rapid and predictable. Over 10 years Cenovus conducted applied investigation into forest habitat restoration with the hypothesis that we could restore key ecological functions on stagnated sites. We tested plant and animal response to restoration treatment and we measured carbon emissions under contrasting treatments. Overall, we found that responses to active restoration were consistent with our hypotheses, specifically: o Conifer growth rate and survival increased o Utilization of treated areas was reduced for moose, caribou and wolves o Travel speed along treated features was reduced o Carbon storage improved relative to control sites under passive recovery. Further to these indicators, we are confident that this treatment approach will contribute to caribou habitat recovery and as well as a broad range of ecological services supplied by boreal forest.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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