The boreal-forest regions of Alberta are under increasing pressure from human development related to natural-resource extraction. Roads, seismic lines, well sites, cut blocks, mines, pipelines, and other elements of human footprint exert cumulative environmental effects that can harm biodiversity, water quality, and the habitat of threatened species such as woodland caribou. In order to mitigate these effects, resource-extraction companies and provincial regulators are working to develop monitoring initiatives that track the amount of human footprint present in a given area, and measure the rate at which previously disturbed areas are being reclaimed.
This research program is designed to support these goals by taking advantage of cutting-edge geospatial technologies and advanced modelling techniques that can aid in the process of measuring, monitoring, and predicting the recovery of vegetation on non-permanent (i.e., to-be reclaimed) human-footprint features. Our project will address five specific research objectives related to this broad goal:
Mapping human-footprint features with advanced remote-sensing devices.
Assigning descriptive attributes to human-footprint features that can be tracked through time in a monitoring program.
Developing low-cost ground-sensor networks that can track the physical condition and human/animal use of human-footprint features.
Developing statistical models that can predict the rate of vegetation recovery in human-footprint features across the boreal forest
Delivering a rapid-verification protocol designed to assess the reclamation status of human-disturbed areas.
The work is designed to help resource-extraction companies and government regulators reduce the impact of industrial development on boreal ecosystems, and is well-integrated with other complementary research projects currently planned or underway. While our research will be conducted in the context of Alberta’s boreal forest, the findings and deliverables are anticipated to be transferable to other ecosystems in Canada and beyond.