Companies in Alberta’s oilsands are scrambling to find a way to reclaim tens of thousands of kilometres of seismic lines cut into the boreal forest before regulations that mandate the recovery of endangered caribou habitat are implemented in late 2017.
But while crews experiment with planting black spruce in piles of dirt during minus-25 degree weather in a bid to repair the forest, the Alberta government continues to lease massive segments of the region for further exploration and still hasn’t mandated reclamation of seismic lines.
The controversy over caribou habitat and wolf culls in Alberta has stewed for years, but the issue of seismic lines has been largely overlooked. It’s these linear corridors cut through the forest (used to set off explosive charges to locate oil and gas deposits) that encourage predators like wolves to infiltrate what remains of fragmented caribou habitat.
“I don’t think a lot of people thought these seismic lines were a big deal,” said Scott Nielsen, an Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chair and University of Alberta professor. “But … there are these cascading effects that you can’t anticipate.”
In a century of oil and gas development, hundreds of thousands of kilometres of these wolf freeways have been cut through Alberta’s forest. In one section of the Lower Athabasca region alone, south of Fort McMurray and extending out to Cold Lake, there are 53,000 kilometres of seismic lines.