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Conservation of wildlife populations: factoring in incremental disturbance

Stewart, Abbie, and Petr E. Komers

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

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Conservation decisions require quantification of disturbance rates and their relationships to predator–prey systems because ecosystem responses to anthropogenic disturbance shift across disturbance gradients. This study examined wolf-moose dynamics in response to incremental anthropogenic disturbance in Alberta’s boreal forest and found  that moose and wolves show an inverse response to incremental landscape change and that there appears to be a shift in their response at about 43% of the landscape disturbed.

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

Chiara Belvederesi, Megan S. Thompson, Petr E. Komers

Environmental Reviews, Published on the web 25 May 2017,

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This study assessed the quality and quantity of National Energy Board (NEB) pipeline failure data available in with a focus on environmental consequences and investigates differences between Canada and  the United States, in tracking accident data. The study found that the NEB database does not allow for statistically robust and system wide analysis of the environmental consequences of pipeline failures in Canada.

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.


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