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Wildlife and Biodiversity

Our Challenge

Like anywhere in the world, where there are people, there are impacts on ecosystems and wildlife. This is no different in the oil sands region, where significant industrial development coexists with a thriving ecosystem, bringing with it habitat changes that are major challenges to manage.

Our Actions

Alberta monitors both natural and human-caused changes to wildlife and biodiversity. We work with industry to reduce impacts to wildlife on sites and to address the unique issues facing wildlife in this rapidly growing industrial region. Actions require site-specific plans to reduce hazards to wildlife, minimize habitat disturbance and ensure long-term health of ecosystems.

View/download Wildlife and Biodiversity as a PDF.


Fast Facts

The great blue heron nests in colonies throughout much of alberta, including the boreal forest. Animals like moose, caribou, deer, wolves, black bears, songbirds and owls are characteristic of the boreal forest that overlaps the oil sands region.

Alberta is home to over 587 wildlife species, including amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals. Nearly half the species of birds in North America use the boreal forest each year.

Modern wildlife management includes the conservation of plants and invertebrates like insects -- about 3,500 species of plants and fungi and many thousands of invertebrates are found in the province.

The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute reports that the Lower Athabasca region shows a species intactness index of 94 per cent -- close to a completely intact condition for the region.

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) is a non-profit organization composed of government,industry, academia and environmental groups.

ABMI collects data and reports on thousands of species, habitats and human footprint activities at 1,656 terrestrial sites across the province.

The data are used to achieve responsible environmental management of the entire province including the oil sands area.

The human footprint index used by ABMI indicates seven per cent of the Lower Athabasca region's landscape has been altered by human activities.

The ABMI will be the source of data for evaluating changes over time for approximately 75 per cent of the land, water and biodiversity indicators identified in the Lower Athabasca regional plan under Alberta's Land-use Framework.

Managing Wildlife and Biodiversity

Wildlife and biodiversity are protected by laws and regulations. Environmental impact assessments are required for large-scale industrial operations.

Operators are required to have plans in place to minimize their effects on wildlife and other biodiversity. The Alberta government's role is to monitor and verify that industry undertakes their plans effectively.

Mitigating Impacts

The Beaver River runs through the cold lake oil sands deposit in eastern Alberta. Various techniques are used by industry to minimize impacts to wildlife and biodiversity. Operators of large-scale industrial projects must follow government-approved plans for the responsible development of resources. Mitigation techniques include:

  • Reducing industrial activity during key biological periods, such as calving and nesting.
  • Maintaining the integrity of large river corridors to enable wildlife movement.
  • Progressively reclaiming land throughout the life of the project.
  • Providing passages for wildlife movement through industrial areas.
  • Discouraging wildlife from entering hazardous areas with on-demand radar detection and response systems. 
  • Reducing industrial footprints by encouraging different operators to share site access (e.g., roads) and requiring the use of lower impact technology for seismic exploration.
  • Maintaining aquatic connectivity on the landscape by installing bridges, culverts and other flow-maintaining devices under roads.