ABMI Releases First Ever Comprehensive Report on Biodiversity in Athabasca Oil Sands Area

Key Finding: Biodiversity intactness in the region is 94%

EDMONTON, Dec. 5, 2013 /CNW/ - Today, the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) released a comprehensive report - the first of its kind - on the status of Alberta's species in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area (AOSA).

Found in northeastern Alberta, the AOSA makes up 14% of Alberta's land area, and is central to Alberta's economy. Situated within the Boreal Forest Natural Region, the AOSA has a robust forest industry. It also contains the Athabasca oil sands deposit, which represents 77% of Canada's proven oil reserves and supports a growing energy extraction sector. Managing the cumulative effects of economic activity in the area requires transparent and credible scientific data on the state of the region's environment.

The ABMI report "The Status of Biodiversity in the Athabasca Oil Sands" examines the status of over 350 species (plants and animals) in the AOSA and highlights those that show the most sensitivity to human development using the Biodiversity Intactness Index (a measure of how much more or less common a species is relative to an undisturbed landscape free of human footprint). The Biodiversity Intactness Index for the AOSA is 94%. The report evaluates two additional sub-regions - the Active In-situ Region and the Surface Mineable Region - and found biodiversity intactness to be 91% and 86%, respectively.

Species that prefer old-forest habitat, like the marten, fisher, and bay-breasted warbler are examples of species found to be less abundant than would be expected in an undisturbed area. In contrast, species that thrive in areas with human development, such as the coyote and song sparrow, have higher abundance than would be expected in an undisturbed area.

As of 2010, 6.8% of the AOSA showed visible evidence of human footprint, with forest harvesting accounting for the largest human footprint type in the region at 3.1%. Human footprint in the Active In-situ region was 7.7%; whereas, in the Surface Mineable Region, it measured 20.8%. Energy infrastructure was the largest human footprint type in the Surface Mineable Region at 16.8%.

"This report is a good example of the ABMI's contributions to provincial monitoring efforts," said Ernie Hui, Environmental Monitoring Chief Executive Officer with Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. "The data they are presenting provides information that the newly created Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency can draw upon when it begins reporting on the condition of the environment in the new year."

ABMI Executive Director Kirk Andries said, "This report serves as an ecological baseline from which we can measure change over time. It is a powerful tool for evaluating land use planning outcomes related to biodiversity in this region. This information will be valuable to a diversity of stakeholders interested in sustainability and responsible resource development in the oil sands area. The goal of the ABMI is to provide unbiased, evidence-based information about status and trends in biodiversity for the purpose of informing management." 

Data and information used in this report was partially funded through the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program, a joint federal-provincial environmental monitoring program established in 2012. JOSM was designed to ensure that air, water, biodiversity and toxicology monitoring efforts in the AOSA are independent, credible, coordinated and transparent.

Download a copy of the report at www.abmi.ca. Available 11:00 am MST.

The ABMI will be holding a media event on Thursday December 5, 10:30 am, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Visit http://bit.ly/1dNWXVe for the media advisory. The event will also be live streamed at www.abmi.ca.

About the ABMI
The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) is an arm's-length, not-for-profit scientific organization. The ABMI's core business is to monitor and report on the status and trends of Alberta's species, native habitat, and human footprint. ABMI provides relevant, timely, and credible scientific information to support natural resource and land use decision-making in Alberta. More on ABMI is available at abmi.ca.

SOURCE: Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

For further information:

Media Contact:
Tara Narwani,
Communication Manager, ABM (780) 492-5531
tnarwani@ualberta.ca

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Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

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