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Our Publications

Quantifying the impacts of oil sands development on wildlife: perspectives from impact assessments.

Campbell, M., B. Kopach, P.E. Komers, and A. Ford. 2019. Environmental Reviews (in press).

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Full Description

Investigations of biophysical changes on earth caused by anthropogenic disturbance provide governments with tools to generate sustainable development policy. Canada currently experiences one of the fastest rates of boreal forest disturbance in the world. Plans to conserve the 330 000 km2 boreal forest in the province of Alberta exist but conservation targets and schedules must be aligned with rates of forest disturbance. We explore how disturbance rate, and the accuracy with which we detect it, may affect conservation success. We performed a change detection analysis from 1992 to 2008 using Landsat and SPOT satellite image data processing. Canada’s recovery strategy for boreal caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) states that ≤35% of a caribou range can be either burned or within 500 m of a man‐made feature for caribou to recover. Our analyses show that by 2008 78% of the boreal forest was disturbed and that, if the current rate continues, 100% would be disturbed by 2028. Alberta plans to set aside 22% for conservation in a region encompassing oil sands development to balance economic, environmental, and traditional indigenous land‐use goals. Contrary to the federal caribou recovery strategy, provincial conservation plans do not consider wildfire a disturbance. Based on analyses used in the provincial plan, we apply a 250 m buffer around anthropogenic footprints. Landsat image analysis indicates that the yearly addition of disturbance is 714 km2 (0.8%). The higher resolution SPOT images show fine‐scale disturbance indicating that actual disturbance was 1.28 times greater than detected by Landsat. If the SPOT image based disturbance rates continue, the 22% threshold may be exceeded within the next decade, up to 20 years earlier than indicated by Landsat‐based analysis. Our results show that policies for sustainable development will likely fail if governments do not develop time frames that are grounded by accurate calculations of disturbance rates.

Conservation of wildlife populations: factoring in incremental disturbance

Stewart, A., and P.E. Komers

2017. Ecology and Evolution. Volume 7, Issue 12. June 2017. Pages 4266–4274. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3015

Please contact us for reprints of our papers.

Full Description

Investigations of biophysical changes on earth caused by anthropogenic disturbance provide governments with tools to generate sustainable development policy. Canada currently experiences one of the fastest rates of boreal forest disturbance in the world. Plans to conserve the 330 000 km2 boreal forest in the province of Alberta exist but conservation targets and schedules must be aligned with rates of forest disturbance. We explore how disturbance rate, and the accuracy with which we detect it, may affect conservation success. We performed a change detection analysis from 1992 to 2008 using Landsat and SPOT satellite image data processing. Canada’s recovery strategy for boreal caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) states that ≤35% of a caribou range can be either burned or within 500 m of a man-made feature for caribou to recover. Our analyses show that by 2008 78% of the boreal forest was disturbed and that, if the current rate continues, 100% would be disturbed by 2028. Alberta plans to set aside 22% for conservation in a region encompassing oil sands development to balance economic, environmental, and traditional indigenous land-use goals. Contrary to the federal caribou recovery strategy, provincial conservation plans do not consider wildfire a disturbance. Based on analyses used in the provincial plan, we apply a 250 m buffer around anthropogenic footprints. Landsat image analysis indicates that the yearly addition of disturbance is 714 km2 (0.8%). The higher resolution SPOT images show fine-scale disturbance indicating that actual disturbance was 1.28 times greater than detected by Landsat. If the SPOT image based disturbance rates continue, the 22% threshold may be exceeded within the next decade, up to 20 years earlier than indicated by Landsat-based analysis. Our results show that policies for sustainable development will likely fail if governments do not develop time frames that are grounded by accurate calculations of disturbance rates.

Canada’s federal database is inadequate for the assessment of environmental consequences of oil and gas pipeline failures

Belvederesi, C., M.S. Thompson, and P.E. Komers

Environmental Reviews, Published on the web 25 May 2017, https://doi.org/10.1139/er-2017-0003

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Full Description

In Canada, the National Energy Board (NEB) regulates inter-provincial oil and gas pipelines and maintains historical records that contain data on oil and gas pipeline accidents; these data include information about operators, the accidents’ cause, and the resulting consequences. New inter-provincial pipelines are being built in Canada to transport fuels, but no comprehensive statistical analysis of the risk to environmental receptors exists. This study assesses the quality and quantity of NEB pipeline failure data available in Canada with a focus on environmental consequences and investigates differences between Canada and a more thoroughly studied jurisdiction, the United States, in tracking accident data. The discrepancies in agencies’ jurisdiction and regulated mileage are analyzed, along with reporting criteria and initial recording year. The level of detail provided by the two agencies is compared, identifying deficiencies in data collection. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulates 76% of pipelines in the United States, whereas the NEB only monitors 9% of pipelines in Canada. PHMSA provides four databases that include accidents from the 1980s for most pipelines and from 2011 for liquefied natural gas facilities; the NEB database includes accident data starting from 2008, which derive primarily from transmission pipelines. Information about environmental consequences is quite detailed in the US database, which reports 21 descriptive fields, whereas in Canada only two NEB database fields describe environmental outcomes. Moreover, dissimilarities in accident reporting criteria prevent the combination of data from the two agencies. Consequently, the NEB database does not allow for statistically robust and system wide analysis of the environmental consequences of pipeline failures in Canada. Furthermore, to calculate failure rates (annual number of accidents per kilometre of pipeline) for regulated pipelines, annual total mileage estimates are required. Mileage per year is provided by PHMSA for gas gathering, transmission, and distribution pipelines starting from 1984, and for hazardous liquid pipelines from 2004; the NEB provides annual mileage from 2010, a shorter period of record. The Canadian federal agencies are encouraged to improve accuracy and consistency in recording past accidents and in collecting pipeline data, with the goal of preventing and minimizing future pipeline failures.

Rates of disturbance vary by data resolution: implications for conservation schedules using the Alberta Boreal Forest as a case study

Komers, P.E., and Z. Stanojevic

2013. Global Change Biology. Volume 19, Issue 9. May 2013. Pages 2916-2928. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12266

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Full Description

The risk–disturbance hypothesis proposes that organisms respond to generalized threat stimuli; therefore, human disturbances that elicit these behaviours will cause individuals to behave similarly to avoid a natural predator. Studies have shown that pronghorn antelope, Antilocapra americana(Ord, 1815), are influenced by human disturbances. We examined several intensities of human activity and distance from disturbances as indicators of risk perception in pronghorns. We investigated whether pronghorns exhibited risk-avoidance behaviour towards road traffic consistent with the risk–disturbance hypothesis by comparing vigilance and foraging behaviour observations across increasing traffic levels and proximity to roads. Pronghorns showed higher vigilance and lower foraging times along high traffic roads during the spring season compared with lower traffic levels, suggesting that risk perception is related to traffic level. Moreover, individuals within close proximity to roads regardless of traffic level exhibited higher vigilance levels, indicating that there is an overall risk perceived towards roads. Our results also suggest that individuals in herds with young are more risk averse than other social groupings and individuals in larger groups perceive less risk. We suggest that consequences of risk-avoidance behaviour should be reflected in land-use plans that address road densities and traffic levels to better manage wildlife.

Do pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) perceive roads as a predation risk?

Gavin, S.D., and P.E. Komers

2006. Canadian Journal of Zoology. Volume 84, Issue 12. October 2006. Pages 1775-1780. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1139/z06-175

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Full Description

Anthropogenic landscape disturbances, including industrial development, can have major negative impacts on wildlife populations. In Canada, federal and provincial laws require major industrial development projects to submit detailed environmental impact assessments (EIA) reports as part of the project application process. These assessments are meant to establish baseline habitat conditions and predict which landscape components will be altered by the project and to what degree. Based on these changes, indirect predictions for wildlife impacts are made using a variety of models, which can vary in validation adequacy and often rely heavily on expert opinion. In the oil sands region of Canada, wildlife species and habitat types used to make predictions are not comprehensive nor standardized between EIAs, despite a high degree of landscape similarity between projects. We extracted habitat model parameters, projected impacts, and anticipated mitigation effectiveness from 30 project EIAs. Despite all these projects occurring in the same natural region, we found very little agreement in the species used to assess wildlife impacts as well as the parameters used to model impacts on those species. We also found that models receiving independent validation required half the habitat amount for proponents to conclude that the project will have an adverse effect. Our analyses have exposed a number of areas where policy could improve the efficiency of EIA process as well as the scientific rigour underlying regulatory decisions.

Other Publications

 

Belvederesi, B., Thompson, M.S., Komers, P.E. 2018. Statistical analysis of environmental consequences of hazardous liquid pipeline accidents. Heliyon 4 (2018) e00901. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2018.e00901

Stewart, A., and P.E. Komers. 2012. Testing the ideal free distribution hypothesis: Moose response to changes in habitat amount. ISRN Ecology 2012, 8 pp.

Thompson, M.S., F.J. Wrona, and T.D. Prowse. 2012. Shifts in plankton, nutrient and light relationships in small tundra lakes caused by localized permafrost thaw. Arctic 65: 367-376.

Gavin, S., Hechtenthal, S., Stewart, S., Whidden, T., Stanojevic, Z., and P. Komers. 2010. Maintaining Wildlife Movement: The Need for Regional Planning in the Canadian Oil Sands. IAIA Conference Proceedings.

Komers, P.E. et al. 2010. Participatory Management In The Canadian Oil Sands. ‘IAIA10 Conference Proceedings’ Submission ID: 56; 6-11 April 2010, Geneva – Switzerland.

Kokelj, S.V., B. Zajdlik, and M.S.Thompson. 2009. The impacts of thawing permafrost on the chemistry of lakes across the subarctic boreal-tundra transition, Mackenzie Delta region, Canada. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 20: 185–199.

Kopach, B and J.W. Fox. 2009. Facilitation and natural selection along altitudinal gradient. British Ecological Society Symposium on Facilitation in Plant Communities. Aberdeen, Scotland.

Thompson, M.S. 2009. The impact of permafrost degradation on the pelagic water chemistry and biota of small tundra lakes. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Geography, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Victoria.

Thompson, M.S., S.V. Kokelj, T.D. Prowse, and F.J. Wrona. 2008. The impact of sediments derived from thawing permafrost on tundra lake water chemistry: An experimental approach. Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost. pp. 1763-1768.

Gutsell, S.L. and E.A. Johnson. 2007. Wildfire and tree population processes. Pages 441-485 In Plant Disturbance Ecology. The process and the response. E.A. Johnson and K. Miyanishi, eds. Academic Press.

Calambokidis, J., R. Lumper, M. Gosho, P. Gearin, J.D. Darling, W. Megill, D. Goley, B. Gisborne, and B. Kopach. 2003. Gray whale photographic identification in 2002: Collaborative research in the Pacific Northwest. Report to the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, WA. 19 pp.

Gutsell, S.L. and E.A. Johnson. 2002. Accurately ageing trees and examining their height growth rates: implications for interpreting forest dynamics. Journal of Ecology 90:153-166.

Gutsell, S.L., E.A. Johnson, K. Miyanishi, J.E. Keeley, M. Dickinson, and S.R.J. Bridge. 2001. Correspondence: Varied ecosystems need different fire protection. Nature 409:977.

Komers, P.E. and G.P. Curman. 2000. The Effect of Demographic Characteristics on the Success of Ungulate Re-introductions. Biological Conservation 92: 187-193.

Gutsell, S.L. and E.A. Johnson. 1996. How fire scars are formed: coupling a disturbance process to its ecological effect. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 26:166-174.

 

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