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Webinar – Coal Mining Part 2: Reclamation Successes and Challenges
2021-08-10 @ 19:00 – 20:00 MDT
Building on Part 1 in our coal mining webinar series, this webinar focused on reclamation practices that occur after mining operations have ceased. From the planning before ground is broken to monitoring effectiveness, our three speakers had diverse experiences and research to draw from.
Our first speaker, Stella Swanson, shared a great presentation entitled: Hydrology Rules: Sustainable hydrological systems in the reclaimed landscape. Stella is an aquatic biologist who has been working with coal mining assessment, mitigation, monitoring and reclamation in British Columbia. She started her presentation by emphasizing that planning for reclamation starts during the project proposal phase for the whole mine. We need to see reclamation as an inherent part of the mining process. During planning phases, it’s important to identify critical hydrological features (e.g., streamflow, baseflow, distribution of wetlands). Modeling various hydrological scenarios with these critical features in mind should guide reclamation planning. Progressive reclamation is the preferred approach to reclamation, but Stella emphasized that whether this is happening will be evident in how the mine sequencing, and waste rock and water management changes in response to reclamation results during mining and at closure. Stella emphasized that reclamation plans should aim to have enough water at the right place at the right time. She identified three aspects all plans need: 1) quantify key hydrologic processes; 2) understand water-biota interactions on the reclaimed landscape; and 3) define ecosystem properties to use for reclamation. Reclamation can take more than 20 years, so long-term planning and monitoring are key.
Beth MacCallum shared similar views when it comes to reclamation planning for wildlife. Reclamation planning for wildlife involves different details, but the principles are the same – quantify ecosystem attributes, plan ahead, monitor over the long term. Defining an end land use goal that defines which wildlife species will be using and reproducing on the reclaimed habitat is important. Quantify biodiversity should be completed before operations start, as well as defining target species and habitat features that will be the focus for reclamation activities. A reclamation plan should define the amount and arrangement of habitat types with clear intentions. Beth’s work has found that creating discontinuous disturbance can result in diverse habitats and benefits for wildlife. Attributes like highwall retention can be used to create nesting platforms for raptors and escape terrain for bighorn sheep. Cover soil treatment should consider providing native rhizomes through direct placement, which improves plant species diversity. Soil health is critically important for site biodiversity. A reclamation plan should consider not only planting native species but also the resulting forage volume, which inherently involves considering the needs of wildlife species. Monitoring, as always, is important to quantify wildlife response to reclamation measures and adapt practices for success.
Our last speaker, Eckhart Marenholtz, works with reforestation services. Eckhart also emphasized the need for a pre-disturbance inventory. Some of his work has demonstrated success with tree planting over 10 years, which underscores the need for long term monitoring projects. He has had different success with topsoil, finding that some topsoil mixes promote understory growth to such an extent that trees are outcompeted. Direct soil placement can be good for plant diversity, but Eckhart cautioned that it may create challenges regarding invasive weeds. Eckhart also spoke to the relationships between plants and wildlife demonstrating that the right vegetative growth can bring wildlife back to areas, who under the right conditions can help propagate plants through bringing propagules in naturally. This can reduce the capacity required and promote natural succession processes. Using mulch can also be effective to keep soil warm and suppress weeds. Eckhart has been working with hitchhiker planting where two species are planted together (e.g., goldenrod with spruce), which promotes ecosystem complexity and diversity.
The webinar was attended by 21 people on zoom and 2 people over Facebook live; 100% of attendees were satisfied with the webinar and everyone said they would recommend an ACTWS webinar to their network. Thanks so much to all who attended.
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Speakers and Abstracts
Reclamation to Wildlife Habitat
Over the past five decades in Alberta there has been a rapid evolution of reclamation methods and outcomes on land disturbed by resource extraction. The first legislation in Canada that dealt solely with reclamation was passed in Alberta in 1963. This was followed by significant legislation in 1973 requiring Environmental Impact Statements to include plans for reclamation after operations. This legislation was the catalyst for more sophisticated design criteria to be developed to meet various reclamation objectives. Legislation adopted in 1993 established the goal of ‘equivalent land capability’ which allowed for flexibility in reclamation plans to introduce new features (i.e., lakes). This presentation will focus on reclamation for terrestrial wildlife habitat in west-central Alberta. It will briefly review planning procedures, provide an overview of design criteria for focal species, and discuss wildlife response to landscapes reclaimed for wildlife as an end land use.
Beth MacCallum has worked with bighorn sheep since completing a Master of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary in 1991. For her thesis “Bighorn Sheep use of an open pit coal mine in the Foothills of Alberta” she described bighorn sheep use of a partially reclaimed coal mine, quantified habitat, and developed criteria to reclaim an open pit coal mine to functional bighorn sheep habitat. She has since been involved in impact assessment, reclamation planning for wildlife habitat and long-term monitoring. She has recently completed a bighorn sheep lambing study for Mt Norquay in Banff, Alberta and continues to monitor bighorn sheep at Cardinal River mines in west-central Alberta.
“Hydrology Rules”: Sustainable hydrological systems in the reclaimed landscape.
Sustainable reclamation depends upon sustainable hydrological systems. Without enough water in the right place at the right time, achieving successful re-vegetation and adequate habitat quality/suitability across the reclaimed landscape is not possible. Connectivity between reclaimed and adjacent hydrological systems can be essential, depending upon the size of the reclaimed area and the specific hydrogeologic, topographic, and land use context. Planning for climate change-related increases in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods is essential to building in resiliency in order that soil moisture, ephemeral or permanent waterbodies and watercourses, and recharge to groundwater are all maintained at levels which support the vegetation communities and habitats on the landscape. Water quality is also central. Wetlands, streams or springs with poor water quality and concentrations of contaminants which pose a risk to plants, animals and/or people are not compatible with a sustainable reclaimed landscape. It can require a very long time for a reclaimed landscape to develop self-sustaining hydrology; therefore, it is essential to plan for active and passive management during the interim period.
Dr. Stella Swanson received her B.Sc.(Hons) in Biology from the University of Regina and her Ph.D. in Limnology at the University of Saskatchewan. She completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Radiation Ecology at the Saskatchewan Research Council.
Stella’s 40-year career has included management of the Aquatic Biology Group at the Saskatchewan Research Council, and consulting positions with SENTAR Consultants (now Stantec) and Golder Associates Ltd. (where she attained the position of Principal). She has owned and operated Swanson Environmental Strategies since 2007. Stella’s focus is on strategic-level services which help to achieve inclusive, credible, and practical outcomes. Stella’s mission is to assist in the development of collaborative solutions to environmental problems through respectful and effective community engagement and the application of leading-edge environmental science.
Stella’s experience spans work for a wide range of industries as well as federal, provincial and territorial governments, First Nations, and NGOs. She has worked on all types of ecosystems, from small saline lakes on the prairies to subarctic watersheds and marine systems off both the east and west coasts of Canada. Stella has contributed to dozens of environmental impact assessments, as well as human health and ecological risk assessments. She served as the Chair of the Joint Review Panel for the Deep Geologic Disposal of Low and Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste, and was a member of the Royal Society Expert Panel on the impacts of crude oil spills. She led the development of the Elk Valley Cumulative Effects Management Framework which has now become part of the Province of British Columbia regional cumulative effects management suite of projects. In 2019-2020, Stella led the generation of a new monitoring design approach for the Terrestrial Biological Monitoring (TBM) program within the Oil Sands Monitoring Program. Her recent work has included providing advice regarding the regulatory requirements for specific projects and guidance in support of the requirement to demonstrate sustainability under the Impact Assessment Act. Stella was recently appointed to the Nuclear Waste Management Advisory Council, advising the Nuclear Waste Management Organization regarding siting of a high-level nuclear waste facility.
Successes and Challenges Restoring Native Plant Communities on Reclaimed Sites in Three Central Alberta Thermal Coal Mines
Abstract to come.
Eckehart Marenholtz owns and operates Chickadee Reclamation Services, a small environmental consulting company that provides reforestation services to two central Alberta coal-fired electricity generators. His company also collects and processes native seeds across Alberta. Eckehart is proud to be a U of A forestry grad and has worked in the reclamation field since 2008. Eckehart also operates Chickadee Farm Herbs, an organic herbal tea farm, with his family near Flatbush, Alberta.