British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

Guidance for reclamation planning to achieve multiple end land uses Piorecky, Melanie; Murphy, Stephanie; Straker, Justin 2016

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226  GUIDANCE FOR RECLAMATION PLANNING TO ACHIEVE MULTIPLE END LAND USES   Melanie Piorecky, B.Sc., P.Ag.1 Stephanie Murphy, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.2 Justin Straker, M.Sc., P.Ag.3  1Senior Ecologist,  Associated Environmental, Vernon, Canada.  2Biologist,  Associated Environmental, Vernon, Canada.  3Soil Scientist, Principal,  Integral Ecology Group, Duncan, Canada    ABSTRACT In the Athabasca oil sands region, large open-pit mining operations require reclamation to restore the landscape. Oil sand mine operators responsible for reclamation use a revegetation guidance manual, Guidelines for Reclamation to Forest Vegetation in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, 2nd Edition (the revegetation manual) (Alberta Environment 2010), which is a guidance document that is both a technical document and a planning tool. Operators use the revegetation manual in the development of revegetation plans for reclamation of terrestrial ecosystems, and are required to use the revegetation manual under their Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) approvals. Associated Environmental Consultants along with Integral Ecology Group worked with the Terrestrial Subgroup (TSG) of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) to revise the revegetation manual in preparation for its third update in 2017. Our input focussed on techniques to establish upland forest ecosystems to support multiple end land uses, specifically commercial forestry, wildlife habitat, aboriginal traditional use, and recreation. The approach to changes to the guidance document involved multi-stakeholder collaboration and in the end it provided guidance on working with indigenous communities in reclamation planning. Recommended changes to the manual include: 1) alternative decision-flow charts to guide reclamation planning, and 2) detailed checklists to provide guidance and a way of tracking reclamation inputs towards specific end land uses.  KEY WORDS End land use, upland forest ecosystems, wildlife, commercial forestry, traditional use, recreation.    INTRODUCTION The scope of the Cumulative Environmental Management Associations (CEMA’s) work includes addressing the following objective (as outlined in the Regional Sustainable Development Strategy 227  and restated in the current revegetation manual, Alberta Environment 2010): “To define the process and standards needed to return developed land to sustainable ecosystems with desired end land use values.” The revegetation manual is one tool created to meet this objective. More specifically, the goal of the revegetation manual is to provide guidance for re-establishing vegetation in upland ecosystems in the Athabasca oil sands region on reclaimed landscapes, and on evaluating the success of this re-establishment. The revegetation manual is intended to assist companies in reclaiming lands that meet the following fundamental concepts (Alberta Environment 2010):  1. That reclaimed plant communities should have species characteristic of native plant communities in the oil sands region.  2. That trends of vegetation community and structure development on reclaimed landscapes should be similar to native plant communities in the oil sands region. 3. That reclaimed ecosystems should have developmental trajectories that satisfy land-use objectives, and have characteristics that provide resilience against natural disturbance events. The revegetation manual is a “living document”, being revised as new information becomes available. Revising the revegetation manual was the platform for our work with CEMA and the TSG. A key impetus for revision of the manual is that the current manual guides operators to select a primary end land use for planning. Current members of the TSG believed strongly that it was misleading to do so, and underestimated the contributions that reclaimed land could make simultaneously to a range of related land uses. A key aspect of the guidance that was developed through the revision process was a shifted focus on this simultaneous planning for multiple end land uses.   As well, a collaborative approach to planning for reclamation and traditional end land use has been requested by aboriginal communities in the region. The additional content in the manual provides a possible method for operators to work collaboratively with aboriginal communities and other land users. The objectives of this paper are to 1) outline the revegetation manual revision process and 2) summarize the concepts developed that are proposed as additions to the manual in the context of reclamation planning for multiple end land uses. It should be mentioned that CEMA had planned to incorporate the approaches discussed in this paper into the 3rd edition of the revegetation manual when it is rewritten (originally scheduled for 2017). However, on April 1 of 2016 CEMA indefinitely suspended its operations, and it is not clear if another organization will assume responsibility for revision of the revegetation manual, or if CEMA will at some time resume its role, or if the revision process will not occur. The content discussed in this paper is presented primarily as examples of approaches that could be adopted in all mining jurisdictions – especially those that include habitation and use by indigenous communities – and not as a specific report on current the state of practice in the Athabasca oil sands region.   228  REVISION PROCESS The revision process done collaboratively with multiple stakeholders, which was possible with the structure of the Terrestrial Subgroup. Aboriginal community representatives, oil and gas operators, regulatory bodies and consultants are part of the TSG, and were engaged in the process. Following an initial project kick-off meeting with CEMA and the TSG in May 2015, we developed options for integrating multiple-use planning approaches into the existing flow charts from Section 2 of the manual.  A key component to developing optional approaches was to understand the current or anticipated needs of the users. The first step was to consult with the TSG regarding where and what additional approaches to reclamation planning were needed, and how additional documents and obligations could be accommodated in a revised manual. This included revisions to the flow charts at the start of the current manual. During a conference call with the TSG early in the project, the concept of checklists was also developed. The revision process progressed to include literature review of all references pertaining to wildlife, traditional use, commercial forestry, and recreation.  Relevant information in each document was used to determine the contents of the checklists (i.e. what parameters would be used) and to populate the checklists with associated design elements.  The choice of parameters and design elements was determined by the availability of suitable information.   The TSG was consulted along each step of this project through both the direct and indirect (via CEMA) engagement during the project. Through a number of emails, conference calls, a detailed online survey, and a presentation of various flow chart options and the draft content and format checklists, there was consensus on the final additions to the manual, presented below.    CONCEPTS DEVELOPED  The 2nd edition of the revegetation manual, finalized in 2009, emphasizes techniques to establish upland forest plant species and ecosystems appropriate to given site conditions and reclamation objectives. The majority of the material in the 2nd edition is being maintained for the 3rd edition. The main changes are around planning for multiple end land uses, including when and how to consider multiple end land uses throughout the reclamation planning process. This included development of the flow charts to guide decisions in reclamation planning, and checklists that define parameters to meet end land use goals, both of which provide a solid framework for collaborative end land use planning. The ultimate goal of reclamation in the Athabasca oil sands region is to achieve an ecologically functional landscape across mine leases. This introduces the concept of reclamation planning at multiple levels: stand (a continuous vegetation community), landform (an identifiable feature in the landscape that can contain numerous polygons, typically at the one to ten kilometre scale and include things like overburden dumps, tailings dykes and settling basins, lakes and wetlands), mine lease (which typically consists of ten to twenty landforms), and landscape (across mine leases). While many design elements will be initially planned for at a polygon scale only, it is useful to consider the broader scales during the initial planning process in order to achieve the ultimate goal of an ecologically functional landscape. For many wildlife and traditional land uses to be successfully restored, the reclamation needs to be functional at the landscape level. For example, wildlife that needs different habitat types for different life stages must be able to move 229  through the landscape, and even have connectivity between these habitat types. Reclamation at multiple levels was part of the concept with the revisions to the manual. FLOW CHARTS The current edition of the manual guides decision-making through the use of conceptual flow charts that define the principal focus of the manual and a revegetation program. The decision-making flow charts have been revised with the TSG to focus on vegetation planning steps to establish upland forest ecosystems, providing secondary information for consideration in parallel streams for all primary potential end land uses (commercial forest, wildlife habitat, traditional use, and recreation). The four new decision-flow charts emphasize the following: • a recognition of the need to maintain consistency between stand-level revegetation planning and broader landform, landscape (mine lease-level), and regional reclamation planning (across mine leases), • stand-level planning for multiple simultaneous end land uses, and decisions required to support design, and • a process and approach to development of revegetation planning (or review of that planning) for aboriginal traditional land uses through collaboration with aboriginal communities in the region.  The four flow charts developed are: Flow Chart 1 – Stand-level planning in context of mine lease and regional planning Flow Chart 2 – Stand-level planning encompassed by the manual Flow Chart 3 – General guidance for reclamation planning and processes for traditional land uses Flow Chart 4 – A specific stand-level planning approach for traditional end land uses. As an example, the second of the four flow charts is shown in Figure 1-1. Specific to the traditional land uses flow charts (3 and 4), the flow diagrams developed are to guide an aboriginal participatory process in open pit mine reclamation planning, from assessing historic site conditions and traditional land uses, to the reintroduction of aboriginal communities to the land after reclamation. The guide outlines decision points in reclamation planning where traditional land users of different generations could work with reclamation scientists to plan a reclaimed landscape that would meet traditional land use needs. Following the flow diagram guidance, input from traditional users at the implementation stage will help to determine where in the landscape reclamation inputs should go to eventually re-establish historic land use patterns. The revisions to these flow diagrams were conducted with the input of a representative of an aboriginal community on the TSG, and the addition of these two flow charts was well received by the operators on the TSG.  230    Figure 1-9 Flow Chart 2 – Stand-level planning encompassed by the manual  231  CHECKLISTS The checklists present available information for reclamation planning in a format intended for potential use as both planning and assessment tools. Four checklists were developed, one for each identified end land use. Each of the four checklists details a number of parameters that are important for each of the end land uses.  Each parameter includes one or more reclamation design features based on fundamental environmental characteristics for that parameter.  The checklists are in Excel format, with a spreadsheet for each of four end land uses, with traditional use being the most comprehensive. The four checklists were designed using available information, which outlined the following: • parameter (e.g., Canadian toad overwintering habitat), • design element required to achieve that parameter (e.g., upland areas with well-draining soils, jackpine or aspen stands), • relevant ecosystem that the design element could be established in (e.g., ecosite phase a1, b1, b2 [Alberta]), and • scale at which the design element is applicable (stand/polygon, landform, mine lease, or landscape).  The creation of checklists was advanced by the fact that the current manual has extensive information available about traditionally used plants in the Athabasca region, and information about the growing requirements of those plants. In this way the checklists are founded on local traditional knowledge that CEMA has compiled through various projects with the local aboriginal communities in the oil sands region. Parameters include habitat characteristics for traditionally collected plants and harvested wildlife. The checklists can be used by operators as guidance and to track reclamation inputs towards specific end land uses. An example of a checklist is shown in Figure 2-2 below, showing one entry from the traditional use checklist and one from the wildlife checklist.  A next step could be to create checklists as a web-based tool that can be utilized and populated by mine operators or other land users implementing reclamation. This tool would provide perspective on landscape-level reclamation achievements, facilitate communication and planning at the landscape level, and can play a key role in future planning for multiple end land uses.232  Parameter Design Element Ecosite / Ecosite Phase Polygon Landform Mine Lease Wildlife Mixed wood stands dominated by conifers (>50% conifer species composition) b1, d3, e2, f2       Snowshoe Hare  Aspen and aspen-spruce mixedwood forests b1, d3, e2, f2, g1, h1       Shelter/Cover & Reproduction Dense black spruce thickets (coverts) on ridges h1, j1, k1, i1   Applicable     > 35% shrub cover, 0.5-3 m high b4, d1, d2 g1         50-60% conifers in canopy with total cover > 31% (< 70% to allow for shrubby understory). Canopy hieght > 3.5 m, spruce dominated b1, d3, e2, f2       Traditional Use Mixed woods with white spruce, jack pine, balsam poplar, aspen and black spruce. North or east facing slopes. Non-shady, dry sites. Variety of soil types, especially well-drained deep, sandy or silty soils. Moderately acidic soils to pH 3.2. Tolerant of flood and drought sites, and moderate salinity. b, d, e, f   Applicable     Priority Species Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) Commercial Forestry - Planting Density           Labrador tea horsetail (leading species Lt) Entry level site index breast height 7.7 m h Applicable     Recreation - Fishing Revegetated riparian areas     Applicable Applicable Figure 1-2 Example of content in checklists  233  CONCLUSION The flow charts to guide decisions in reclamation planning, and the checklists that define parameters to meet end land use goals provide a solid framework for collaborative end land use planning. Whether or not the 3rd edition of the revegetation manual is produced, this work provided value in the following ways: 1. At a high level, presenting a suggested work-flow for collaborative planning of traditional land uses on reclaimed landscapes with indigenous communities. 2. Emphasizing planning for simultaneous achievement of a number of end land uses, rather than focussing on a single designated end land use. 3. Developing specific guidance in the form of checklists that can help operators plan for reclamation to achieve end land uses, but that can also be used as an assessment tool to evaluate success in doing so.  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Members of the CEMA Terrestrial Subgroup in 2014 and 2015. Mike Pocente, RFPT, President of Charette, Pell and Pocente (CPP) Environmental, Sherwood Park, Alberta. Kim Dacyk, Program Administrator, Reclamation Working Group, CEMA, Fort McMurray, Alberta REFERENCES  Alberta Environment. 2010. Guidelines for Reclamation to Forest Vegetation in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, 2nd Edition. Prepared by the Terrestrial Subgroup of the Reclamation Working Group of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association, Fort McMurray, AB. December 2009.  Alberta Environment (AENV). 1999. Regional Sustainable Development Strategy for the Athabasca Oil Sands Area. July 1999. Publication No. I/754.     


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