British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposia

Reclamation to wildlife habitat Alberta's Foothills MacCallum, Beth 2003

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RECLAMATION TO WILDLIFE HABITAT IN ALBERTA’S FOOTHILLSBeth MacCallum, MEDesBighorn Environmental Design Ltd. 176 Moberly Drive,Hinton, AB  T7V 1Z1ABSTRACTThe process to develop a reclamation plan with wildlife habitat as a primary end land use for the CheviotMine is described.  Reclamation for wildlife habitat and the results of on-going wildlife monitoring on twoopen pit coal mines in Alberta’s Foothills are also discussed.INTRODUCTIONWildlife habitat has been accepted as an end land use objective for reclamation of open pit coal mines inAlberta since Cardinal River Coals Ltd. submitted one of the first reclamation plans for wildlife habitat inthe late 1970's.  Reclamation of coal mines in the Alberta Foothills has produced habitat for a variety ofwildlife.  This paper discusses reclamation to wildlife habitat and wildlife response at the Luscar and GreggRiver Mines, as well as reclamation planning for wildlife habitat for the Cheviot Mine.  All three mines areopen pit metallurgical mines located in west-central Alberta.  Cardinal River Coals Ltd.’s Luscar Mine issituated 50 km south of the town of Hinton in west-central Alberta.  Mining was initiated in 1969 andreclamation in 1971.  The end land use is identified as watershed protection (for fish), wildlife habitat,recreation, and commercial forestry.  Mining will be completed in 2004 with final reclamation to follow.The Gregg River Mine is located adjacent to the Luscar Mine and is separated from it by the Gregg River.The Gregg River Mine began mining activities in 1981 and reclamation in 1982.  The mining phase wascompleted in 2000 and reclamation has been ongoing since that time.  The end land use is identified aswatershed protection, wildlife habitat and commercial forestry.  The Cheviot Mine is located 10 km southof the Luscar Mine.  It was permitted in 1997 and again in 2000 but has not yet been developed.  Aconceptual reclamation plan submitted with the project application identified five resource uses for thereclaimed landscapes: watershed protection, wildlife habitat, fisheries habitat, forest re-establishment andrecreation.Provincial reclamation requirements in Alberta have, as a basic objective, the return of lands disturbed bydevelopment to a capability equivalent to pre-disturbance conditions.  This implies that the reclaimed landsshould be able to support similar, but not necessarily identical, land uses to the predevelopment conditions.In Alberta, legislation and direction regarding mining and reclamation plans are found in: AlbertaEnvironmental and Protection and Enhancement Act (AEPEA; Province of Alberta 1992); Conservation andReclamation Regulations of AEPEA; Conservation and Reclamation Information Letter C&R/IL/95-1(Alberta Environmental Protection 1995) and A Guide to the Preparation of Applications and Reports forCoal and Oil Sands Operation (Anonymous 1991).Reclamation of open pit coal mines is carried out in a progressive fashion meaning that once mining of thefirst pit developments are completed, they are back-filled, sloped, overburden and topsoil replaced, seededwith a grass/legume mix, and planted to shrubs and trees.  This results in a steadily increasing amount ofreclaimed land over the life of the mine.  Theoretically, at some point during the life of the mine the amountof reclamation would equal the amount of disturbed land, and, toward the end of the life of the mine, thereclamation would exceed the amount of disturbed land.  Currently within the Luscar Mine’s permit of 4,818ha, there is 729 ha of disturbed area and 1,635 ha of revegetation areas of which 1,108 ha remains to beseeded.  In 2002, on the Gregg River Mine lease of about 3,700 ha, there was 1,252 ha of disturbance ofwhich 795.5 ha was seeded.  The area initially proposed to encompass the Cheviot Mine was 7,430 ha ofwhich 3,124 ha will be disturbed over the project life.RECLAMATION TO WILDLIFE HABITATMountain mining with truck and shovel techniques results in discontinuous surface disturbance so theworking landscape quickly becomes a mosaic of lands being prepared for mining, active mining, blocks ofundisturbed mature landscape and various stages of reclamation completion.  The maintenance of maturelandscape elements within the mining disturbance area is an important feature for wildlife reclamationplanning.  Complete restoration of disturbed areas is not usually possible given the scale of coal mining, soa pragmatic ecosystem approach is adopted that attempts to integrate procedures that restore premine habitatcondition, replace habitat function, and exchange certain components for others of similar benefit (Tessman1982).  Initial priority is given to re-establish critical habitat that may be disturbed by the mining process e.g.ungulate winter range, raptor nesting habitat.  Habitat needs for a broad range of wildlife that existed priorto mining are addressed by the use of umbrella species and by the integration of specialized habitat featuresinto the reclaimed landscape.Ungulates are often used as umbrella species for reclamation to wildlife habitat because they have large homeranges, require a variety of landform features and vegetation types to fulfill their annual life requirements,and are important prey for carnivores.  These characteristics  require the planner to work at the landscapelevel.  As well, certain ungulate species can respond relatively quickly to reclamation even in an earlydevelopment stage, therefore they provide a useful monitoring tool for reclamation success.  This isimportant, as wildlife response to reclamation can be evaluated and design criteria modified if necessaryduring ongoing reclamation planning.  Ungulates are a valued species in west-central Alberta (AlbertaForestry Lands and Wildlife 1990) which will help to ensure that these landscapes remain of interest to thepublic after mining and reclamation are completed.In addition to designing habitat at the landscape level, specialized habitat features required by certain speciesmay be identified in the pre-development wildlife inventory and assessment.  The approach used for theCheviot Mine reclamation plan demonstrates the integration of the use of umbrella species and specializedhabitat features.  The following procedures were developed by Cardinal River Coals Ltd. to guide futurereclamation activities at the Cheviot Mine (Cardinal River Coals Ltd. 1996a and b): 1.  Develop short and long-term strategies.Short term strategies: Develop a post-mining landscape that is integrated into the existing undisturbedenvironment;  initiate the development of an ecologically functioning post-mining landscapeLong term strategy: to integrate human use into the post-mining landscape.2.   Identify land use objectives.The end land use objectives are: watershed protection, wildlife habitat, fisheries habitat, forest re-establishment including commercial timber production and human/recreation use.3.   Subdivide the mine disturbance into Biophysical Reclamation Units (BRUs) with different pre-development biophysical attributes and end land uses.Four BRUs were developed to reflect varying ecological conditions and resource objectives across theproperty.  Wildlife objectives were addressed by developing habitat assemblages based on sheep, elk/deerand moose habitat requirements.  These assemblages were assigned different priority within each BRU.Specialized reclamation actions were also identified for grizzly bear, harlequin duck, raptors, fish,commercial timber and recreation. 4.  Subdivide each BRU into landscape units to determine post-reclamation attributes.Landscape attributes include topographic features and vegetation community types which are achievablewithin ecological and other restraints.5.  Design the reclamation program.This program has three phases: pre-development, site manipulation and reclamation, and post-reclamationland management.  In the pre-development phase, environmental impact studies identify resources that mayrequire special mitigation.  Mitigation, such as minimizing disturbance, conserving soils, leaving undisturbedvegetation, protecting displaced wildlife and avoiding sensitive sites where possible, are incorporated intothe engineering plan.  The site reclamation phase involves the operations aspects of soils handling, terrainmanipulation and revegetation.  The location of specific terrain, soil and vegetation types is identified.  Thesite reclamation plan is modified throughout the reclamation period to address unanticipated changes inpit/dump design and adjacent features.  Some techniques used to encourage wildlife use of reclaimed siteson the Luscar and Gregg River Mines are listed in Table 1.  In the post-reclamation phase, appropriate humanuses are re-established on the reclaimed landscape so that ecological integrity of the reclaimed landscape ismaintained e.g., designated access routes, catch and release fisheries.6.  Determine how reclamation success will be evaluated.Several monitoring programs were designed to provide on-going feedback on the effectiveness of thereclamation techniques during the reclamation program.  Successes and limitations will be determined earlyin the reclamation process so adaptations can be made.WILDLIFE RESPONSE ON THE LUSCAR AND GREGG RIVER MINESResponse by Bighorn SheepReclamation of the Luscar and Gregg River mines has expanded the range and increased the population ofbighorn sheep as well as providing new habitat for other species.  These habitat developments take on moresignificance when put in context with range losses experienced by bighorn sheep in North America duringEuropean settlement (Wishart 1978).  Once reclamation began at the Luscar and Gregg River Mines, bighornsheep from adjacent alpine habitats voluntarily colonized the reclaimed landscapes, and incorporated thereclaimed areas into their annual movement patterns (MacCallum 1997).  Mining activity is directed andpredictable, bighorn sheep and other wildlife have the capability to learn to habituate to this type of humanbehaviour.  The reclaimed landscapes are used primarily as winter range by bighorn sheep, but otheractivities such as lambing, rutting and summer use also occur.  The bighorn sheep using the Luscar andGregg River Mines interact with a larger population composed of seven subpopulations, which are furthersubdivided into home range groups (MacCallum et al. 2000).  The nursery herds on the two mines arediscreet, the Luscar Mine ewes belonging to the Luscar subpopulation and the Gregg River Mine to theDrinnan/Sphinx subpopulation.The common feature of bighorn range in North America is the presence of escape terrain in proximity toquality forage.  The bighorn's anti-predator strategy involves visual detection of predators at distance andresponse by running to escape cover (cliffs or cliff-like terrain).  MacCallum (1991) found that 75% of allobservations of bighorn sheep at the Luscar Mine were within 300 m of escape terrain, and none wereobserved beyond 700 m of escape terrain.  Escape terrain at the Luscar and Gregg River Mines is providedby benched highwall or footwall.  Quality forage is provided by the variety of grasses and legumes used inthe revegetation program.  Other habitat requirements such as mineral licks, lambing locations and ruttinghabitat are provided by seepage on pit walls, benched highwalls and large flat areas near escape terrain onthe reclaimed landscapes (MacCallum et al. 2000).  The spatial configuration of reclamation on the Luscarand Gregg River Mines fulfill one of the primary criteria for bighorn sheep colonization i.e. the presence ofunoccupied habitat in proximity to occupied habitat (Geist 1971).The rate of population increase for bighorn sheep on the Luscar Mine between 1985 and 2002 was 3.8% peryear despite a 12% annual ewe removal by means of non-trophy harvest (1984 to 1996), capture and exportto various locations in the western US and Alberta (1989 to 2001), natural mortality, accident, poaching  orother causes.  The rate of population increase for bighorn sheep on the Gregg River Mine between 1993 and2002 was 24% with no annual ewe removals other than natural mortality.  This is near the theoretical limitfor animals bearing young at three years (30%).  The 2002 fall population combined for Luscar and GreggRiver was 798 bighorn sheep.  This is one of the largest bighorn sheep herds in North America.The bighorn sheep population on the Luscar Mine experienced steady population growth between 1982 and1993, then a leveling off.  This growth accompanied a steady increase in the amount of reclamation (note thatat this stage of successional development, all reclamation can functionally be identified as “grassland” evenif trees and shrubs have been planted).  A linear population response is expected early in the life of a mineas disturbed land exceeds the amount of reclamation meaning that all the available escape terrain in the formof active and inactive pit walls is in close proximity to grassland reclamation.  As reclamation proceeds, thebighorn sheep population would respond to newly planted grassland adjacent to pit walls, but toward the endof the life of the mine reclamation would primarily occur in areas designated as forest, or not associated withpit walls, making areas less attractive or unusable by bighorn sheep.  Once all the area adjacent to highwallsleft for escape terrain have been planted, it would be expected that the bighorn sheep population would reachits maximum size.  Depending on the amount and location of reclamation every year, or series of years, thebighorn population could rise in a “stepped” fashion, reaching successive plateaus until reclamation iscompleted.Response by Other UngulatesUse of reclaimed habitat by elk on the Luscar and Gregg River Mines was initially limited by low regionalpopulation numbers (Bighorn 1996).  The first use of the Luscar Mine by elk recorded during the annualsurveys, were two cows in the winter of 1990/1991.  The fall 2002 elk population was at Luscar 155.  Elkwere not observed systematically on the Gregg River Mine until the fall of 2002 when 17 elk were recorded.Elk primarily use the reclaimed landscape for winter range, but in recent years have expanded their activityto include calving, rutting and summer use.  Elk are species of the grassland/forest edge.  Their habitat canbe modeled at the landscape level using three variables common to elk across ecoregions - forage quality,cover quality, and distance from the forage/cover edge (MacCallum and Morgantini 1999).  Because openpit mining techniques create large area disturbances, most of the elk habitat at an early succession stage iscreated by reclamation at the forest edge and adjacent to undisturbed forest vegetation.Mule deer are common on both mines and take advantage of the forage/cover interface in a fashion similarto elk.  In 2002, 159 mule deer reported on the Luscar Mine and 54 on the Gregg River Mine.  White-taileddeer and moose are uncommon on the Luscar Mine and very uncommon on the Gregg River Mine.Response by CarnivoresThe gray wolf, coyote and red fox are present on the Luscar and Gregg River mines.  The presence ofdiverse prey (bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk and high concentrations of small mammals) and lack of humanharassment contribute to carnivore use of the Luscar and Gregg River mines.  Wolves did not systematicallyuse the Luscar Mine until the elk population began to increase.  This added a third ungulate species insignificant numbers to the prey base in addition to bighorn sheep and mule deer.  The status of wolves onthe Luscar Mine changed from occasional to regular use in 1997.  Grizzly bears are uncommon but regularusers of these mines.  The Foothills Model Forest Grizzly Bear study has recorded one of its collared sowsdenning successfully on the Luscar Mine in the winter of 2001/2002 and 2002/2003.  Grizzly bears travelthrough the disturbed areas, forage in the reclaimed areas and feed on bighorn sheep carcasses that melt outof the snow in the spring.  At least one sow with a cub has learned to successfully hunt young elk calves andwas observed capturing two calves on different occasions in June 2003.  Black bears are very uncommon onthe Luscar and Gregg River mines as are wolverine, cougar and Canada Lynx.  Ermine and marten areuncommon, and generally associated with undisturbed parts of the mines.Response by Other WildlifeHigh numbers of small mammals in reclaimed habitat have been documented on the Luscar and Gregg RiverMine reclamation.  Small mammal species that have been documented include: deer mouse, southern red-backed vole, meadow vole, long-tailed vole, and western jumping mouse.  High densities of small mammalsprovide a prey base for mammalian carnivores such as coyote and fox and for local and migrating diurnalraptors (northern harrier, American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, and rough-legged hawk), as well as for thoseowls which prefer to hunt the forest margin e.g. great horned owl.  Other small mammals such as pika,snowshoe hare, least chipmunk, woodchuk, hoary marmot, golden-mantled ground squirrel, red squirrel,beaver, and porcupine are present in appropriate habitat on the these mines.  Ninety bird species have beenidentified on the Luscar Mine and 62 on the Gregg River Mine.ASSESSMENT OF WILDLIFE RESPONSE Monitoring of wildlife response to reclamation at the Luscar and Gregg River Mines is population-based andhas occurred simultaneously to mining and reclamation (habitat) development.  This has allowed forinformation about existing wildlife use and unanticipated changes in wildlife response, pit/dump design andadjacent features to be incorporated into reclamation plans.  This adaptive management approach improvesreclamation and reduces the long-term impact of mining.  The following population characteristics are generated on an annual basis for bighorn sheep, mule deer andelk: population abundance, sex and age structure, seasonal use, spatial distribution, area of occupation,concentrated (core) areas of use and use of habitat.  This information can be used to perform tests of sitefidelity, range shifts and population trends and provides a direct measure of wildlife response to reclamationover time.  Species occurrence associated with a particular site can be identified at any time during minedevelopment.  Habitat availability during mine development can be identified by tracking the reclamationsequence.SUMMARYProduction of diverse wildlife habitat is a key part of the reclamation associated with mining in the Subalpineecoregion of Alberta.  Ecological attributes are seldom the same throughout large area disturbances anddifferent reclamation strategies recognize this ecological diversity.  End land use wildlife values often useumbrella species like ungulates because they function at a landscape level which reflect the overall ecologicalcondition of the pre-disturbance environment.  Life requirements for many bird or smaller mammalianspecies can often be fulfilled within a narrow habitat range and therefore these species are not appropriatefor assessing  an overall ecological condition.  Use of umbrella species does not mean that only the needsof these species will be considered in the reclamation program.  Rather, habitat requirements for the umbrellaspecies serve as a guide to landscape level decisions i.e amount, type and placement of tree vegetation, shrubvegetation, and grassland vegetation, as well as landform shaping.  A variety of reclamation techniques areemployed at the micro-site level to encourage diversity in the final landscape.  Species with specializedrequirements, such as riparian habitat or food plant requirements, are identified in the reclamation programand specific action taken to accommodate these needs.  The long term and progressive nature of mining andreclamation means not all habitat will be disturbed at once and new habitats will become available beforethe end of the life of the mine.  Wildlife diversity is maintained by an ecosystem approach to reclamation thatrestores pre-mine habitat condition, replaces habitat function, and exchanges certain components for othersof similar benefit.  Understanding the basic biology and habitat requirements of the umbrella species withinthe context of the mine development can lead to specific recommendations regarding the type and placementof landscape attributes in the site reclamation phase.  On-going or periodic population monitoring maintainsa continuous record of wildlife response to reclamation activities and can be used to integrate sitereclamation techniques with adjacent undisturbed lands and previously reclaimed lands.REFERENCESAlberta Forestry Lands and Wildlife.  1990. Coal Branch sub-regional integrated resource plan.  Pub. No.I/294.  Energy/Forestry, Lands and Wildlife, Edmonton, Alberta.  91 p.Bighorn Environmental Design Ltd.  1996. Cumulative effects and environmental assessment of the proposedCheviot Mine development: ungulates, small mammals, avifauna, amphibians.  Appendix 33,Volume VIII.  Cheviot Mine Project Application March 21, 1996 to the Energy Utilities Board,Calgary Alberta.  Cardinal River Coals Ltd., Hinton, Alberta,Cardinal River Coals Ltd.  1996a. Cheviot Mine Project Application March 21, 1996 to the EnergyUtilities Board, Calgary, Alberta.  Volume 1, Part E.  Cardinal River Coals Ltd., Hinton, Alberta.Cardinal River Coals Ltd.  1996b.  Conceptual reclamation plan for the Cheviot Mine. Appendix 35, VolumeVIII., Cheviot Mine Project Application March 21, 1996 to the Energy Utilities Board, Calgary AB.Cardinal River Coals Ltd., Hinton, Alberta.Geist, V.  1971. Mountain sheep, a study in behaviour and evolution.  The University of ChicagoPress.  383 p.MacCallum, N.B.  1991.  Bighorn sheep use of an open pit coal mine in the Foothills of Alberta. MEDes, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta.  202 p.MacCallum, B.  1997. Bighorn sheep interaction with alpine habitat and reclaimed lands in Alberta’s RockyMountains.  Prepared by Bighorn Environmental Design Ltd., Hinton, AB for Alberta Departmentof Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Service, Wildlife Management Division; CardinalRiver Coals Ltd.; Department of Canadian Heritage, Parks Canada, Jasper Park and Gregg RiverResources Ltd.  69 p. + appendices.MacCallum, B., and L. Morgantini.  1999. A spatially explicit elk habitat model to assess the impact of landdevelopments (Abstract only).  Presented at the Symposium on Ungulate Ecology, Integratingthrough Spatial Scales, Nelson, British Columbia.MacCallum, B., B. Wishart, J. Gendron, and M. Moore.  2000. Bighorn sheep sub-regional management plan,Wildlife Management Units 436, 437 and 438, Appendices A-H.  Alberta Environment, NaturalResources Service, Fisheries and Wildlife Management Division.  Prepared by BighornEnvironmental Design Ltd., Hinton, Alberta and Equus Consulting Group, Edmonton, Alberta.Tessman S. A.  1982. Habitat reclamation procedures for surface mines in Wyoming.  Pages 185-194  inComer, R. D. et al. (eds.).  Issues and Technology in the Management of Impacted Western Wildlife.Proceedings of a National Symposium Nov 15-17, 1982.  Thorne Ecological Institute, TechnicalPublication #14, Boulder Colorado. Wishart, W. D.  1978. Bighorn sheep.  p.161-171  in  Schmidt, J. L. and D. L. Gilbert (eds).  Big game ofNorth America, ecology and management.  Stackpole Books.Table 1. Wildlife reclamation techniques and their ecological benefit.Topographic manipulation. Shaping the surfaceand sides of dumps.  “Design” dumpingHabitat Diversity; minimize impact of miningdisturbanceHighwall retention Raptor nests, escape terrain for bighorn sheepDump rock at natural angle of repose Talus habitat for small mammals, i.e., marmot,pika, golden-mantled ground squirrel Direct haul and rough surface topsoil placement Native rhizomes, seeds and soil microbiaRock and brush piles Perches, small mammals, shelterEstablish impoundments Still water habitatReconstruct stream channels, habitats Riparian developmentSelect plants for revegetation with forage andcover value for wildlifeConsideration of wildlife needs during seed mixselectionTree, shrub plantings on lee side of shelter Additional snowpack moistureCollection of local tree/shrub seed and cuttings Promote native vegetation establishmentDesigned mosaic of forest, shrub,  grassland Vegetation and wildlife diversitySpecialized structures, i.e., implanted dead trees,nesting structuresHabitat needs not provided by other techniques.


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