February 24, 2015 marked the Algar Landscape Ecological Assessment and Planning (LEAP) Project’s final day of operations. Over the course of this four year project, over 340 kilometres of legacy seismic lines were either mounded and planted with seedlings or treated with natural regeneration protection. A staggering total of 161,700 trees were planted over this period.

This ground-breaking project, funded by six of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) members: Nexen, Statoil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Suncor, and Total, was one of the largest linear restoration programs ever to be implemented in Alberta. The 56,000 hectare Algar region was chosen as the restoration area for this project due to its prime location within the East Side Athabasca River caribou habitat core and the significant amount of old growth forest.

From the outset, one of the biggest draws of this project was the improvement it would make to wildlife habitat. Due to poor site conditions which made natural regeneration slow to almost non-existent, some of the seismic lines in the area had been part of the land base for over 20 years. The result was a fragmented and open forest, which was harmful to caribou and other wildlife. Another appeal, was the opportunity to use the land base to test novel planting techniques and monitor their impacts on biodiversity over a long timeframe.

Innovative Techniques

Over the four years, the Algar project spurred plenty of innovative ideas:

  • Winter planting
  • Algar consists largely of bogs and wetlands and gaining access to the site would not be possible during the summer without the use of a helicopter. Before now, winter planting was only an idea piloted by the Government of Alberta (GOA) and Grand Prairie Regional College. It was successfully implemented on a large scale during this project, with survival rates estimated to be between 90% and 95%.

  • Mounding
  • Simply put, mounding refers to digging a hole and piling the soil next to the hole. Since we were working in extremely wet areas, mounding allowed the seedlings to establish on drier sites, and in the spring time the mounds settled back down to ensure seedling survival. It also encouraged natural seeding of Aspen and Willow because the more fertile soil was turned up and less compacted.

  • Leap Frog
  • Leap frog treatments were tested as a way to reduce the overall cost of restoration. For every 100 metres of lines treated, 100 metres would be left open to encourage natural seeding, and to help reduce access and line of sight for wolves and other predators.

  • Open lines
  • An additional 27 kilometres of seismic lines were left open for future research. These lines will be monitored to evaluate the success of our innovative techniques and to ensure environmental objectives continue to be met. Cameras will be established on these open lines to monitor wildlife usage compared to the treated lines.

A Successful Project

The Algar project received the prestigious 2014 Emerald Foundation’s ‘Shared Footprints’ award, in recognition of the collaboration and cooperation exhibited by Silvacom and COSIA to jointly restore caribou habitat in the area. It has encouraged other industry partners to restore seismic lines on their own leases. In 2013, Shell Canada used LEAP to restore a number of legacy seismic lines in Northeast Alberta and LEAP is also being leveraged by a client in Northeast British Columbia to model wildlife habitat changes based on their development activities.

The Algar project has proven that LEAP can be easily scaled to meet the specific needs of our clients. We anticipate being able to use LEAP for even larger projects in the very near future, so we can estimate the landscape effects linear restoration will have on the province as a whole.

What’s Next?

Monitoring, monitoring, monitoring. Operations may be over but LEAP is based on proven results. We will continue to monitor tree growth in Algar to ensure objectives are continuously being met. We will return this summer to evaluate trees planted in 2012 and 2013, stay tuned for those results.

A project wrap-up meeting took place this month, which gave everyone involved an opportunity to address both lessons learned and recommendations for the future. Helping to make linear restoration faster, more convenient, and as cost-effective as possible is always our main goal.

We are also working with Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions to complete an Ecosystem Service Assessment of the restoration activities that have occurred in Algar. For more information on this project, please read our blog: