Through wildlife monitoring and reclamation programs, our commitment to responsible environmental stewardship reflects an awareness of the importance and value of biodiversity in the region.
Over 1,500 birds captured and released
at 8 monitoring stations on reclaimed and natural areas.
External review gives Syncrude’s biodiversity management system
New management tool
introduced to reduce wildlife impacts.
Our commitment to responsible environmental stewardship reflects an awareness of the value of biodiversity in many of our programs and initiatives. Through these, we work towards ensuring our actions today do not have a long-term permanent impact on local ecosystems and, through our reclamation activities, we are able to re-establish native vegetation and wildlife habitats similar to those that existed prior to disturbance of the area.
As a member of the Mining Association of Canada, we endorse the principles of the Towards Sustainable Mining initiative. This includes a protocol on biodiversity conservation management. A third-party verification of our system completed on 2016 performance rated Syncrude at AAA, or best-in-class, noting demonstrated commitment and extensive external collaboration. More information on TSM can be found in the Management Systems chapter.
Syncrude operates within a large wilderness area in northern Alberta's boreal forest and employs a number of strategies to deter wildlife from our sites. These include our waterfowl and bird deterrent system, and protocols for the handling of food and food waste.
In 2016, there were eight non-avian wildlife mortality incidents, including those related to natural causes. We also experienced 39 bird and waterfowl mortalities due to oiling – a reduction of nearly a quarter from the previous year. Twenty-five additional losses were recorded related to vehicle collision or natural or unknown causes. We are required by law to report to regulators sightings and wildlife incidents occurring on our site. In situations where distressed wildlife is found, the animal is assessed and action is taken under the guidance of Fish and Wildlife officials from Alberta Environment and Parks.
It is important to assure stakeholders and regulators that our land reclamation practices are delivering results and creating productive habitats for local species to return. This is done through monitoring techniques such as visual observations, capture and release of birds, acoustic recordings, motion-activated cameras and track plates to detect a diversity of wildlife. Most studies compare both reclaimed and natural sites within and around our lease boundaries.
Activities include the Institute for Bird Populations' Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program. Through this continent-wide bird banding program, researchers can effectively monitor bird reproduction, survivorship and habitat use of reclaimed, disturbed and natural sites. Information collected contributes to a large database that is managed by the institute.
During the 2016 program, over 1,500 birds were captured and released at eight stations, including approximately 1,100 birds at six stations located on reclaimed land. Since the program began in 2011, 130 species have been detected on our leases. Furthermore, automated audio and ultrasonic recordings have detected the presence of boreal chorus frogs, wood frogs and Canadian toads, as well as silver-haired, hoary, northern long-eared, little brown and red bats. Stations equipped with motion-detection cameras have captured an abundance of wildlife species including coyote, black bear, grey wolf, Canada lynx, moose, fisher, white-tailed and mule deer, red fox, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, American marten, weasel, northern river otter and beaver. Monitoring continues in 2017.
We work to minimize bear interactions through the help of Bear Scare Ltd., a company based out of Western Canada that specializes in non-lethal methods of resolving human and wildlife contacts. A technique called aversive conditioning is used to help restore a natural fear of humans by convincing the bears to leave populated areas. The Bear Scare system also incorporates waste management education, hazard assessments and training to personnel who work in remote, undisturbed or reclaimed areas of our leases.
In 2016, we launched an on-line Wildlife Inventory Tracking Tool (WiTT) which indicates where bear sightings have occurred and streamlines bear sighting data into a central repository accessible to all staff. The tool also allows Bear Scare specialists to enter data remotely from the field, providing real-time bear sightings on a geographic image of our leases. Future upgrades aim to see additional wildlife sightings incorporated into the program.
Species of concern to provincial and federal governments have been monitored returning to our reclaimed areas. These include the Canada lynx and fisher – both listed by the Alberta government as sensitive – and the short-eared owl and common nighthawk – listed as special concern and threatened respectively by the Canadian government’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). As well, an increase in the number of adult Canada warbler – listed as threatened by Canada’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and SARA – has been observed in the region since 2011.
Regarding woodland caribou, Syncrude’s operations are not located within their habitat range nor have our monitoring programs observed evidence of their presence on our leases.
As part of our support for biodiversity conservation, Syncrude submitted formal input on the Recovery Strategy for the Wood Bison in Canada proposed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. We first introduced wood bison to reclaimed land in 1993 as part of our participation in the Wood Bison Recovery Program run by the Canadian Wildlife Service. Due to the excellent health of the 300-head herd, which is co-managed with the Fort McKay First Nation, it has become part of a genetic preservation project led by scientists from the University of Calgary, the University of Saskatchewan, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Parks Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Calgary Zoo.
Our submission indicated our interest in collaborating again with the Canadian Wildlife Service. This could include supporting the strategy with information we have gathered over the last two decades from our own herd, through sponsorship of educational materials, or providing stock to grow the wild wood bison population.
We also shared several comments regarding the proposed strategy’s concern over the impact of oil sands mining projects on wood bison, pointing to our ranch as an example of a healthy herd living within an active operation. We also support an ecosystem approach for species-at-risk recovery, which could include coordinating with conservation efforts for other species in the range, such as woodland caribou.
We recognize the value of multi-stakeholder approaches to monitor and mitigate industry impacts on the environment. Syncrude funding supports the work of several groups and initiatives, including the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA), and we actively participate in a number of programs underway through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). This includes, for example, the Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs Program to improve biodiversity science in the boreal forest and research on assessing regional wildlife corridors.