$4M announced for biodiversity conservation chairs program

(Edmonton) The Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs program received more than $4 million for five years to examine the cumulative impact of industrial development on biodiversity, including in the Lower Athabasca region.

The two chairs, Scott Nielsen from the University of Alberta's Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, and Stan Boutin from the Faculty of Science, will conduct a number of research projects focused on key biodiversity challenges related to the energy sector. Their goal is to understand how the combined effects of human activities affect biodiversity, and to design and test strategies to mitigate those effects.

“We have unprecedented changes in our landscape, and trying to find solutions is important for sustaining our biodiversity and our international reputation,” said Nielsen. “The chairs are an approach to build the needed collaborations to make that happen and to communicate solutions to the public and industry.”

The chairs will act as the hub of a broad-based research program that will extend the province’s research and innovation network, providing dedicated science capacity for testing cause-and-effect relationships related to the monitoring information generated in the province.

“We’ll use our own data, supplemented extensively by data from monitoring agencies such as the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency to identify biodiversity conservation challenges and determine potential solutions,” explained Boutin. “The research will inform policy decisions and ensure that industry has the information it needs to develop and implement solutions.”

One issue the chairs will work to address through research projects is woodland caribou conservation. Industry is interested in reversing the decline of herds and is looking at options it can undertake to make a difference. Boutin will design and test the effectiveness of various strategies.

Nielsen will be leading a project to understand patterns of natural reforestation in the area of seismic lines for mineral, oil and gas exploration, and to determine what can be done to speed recovery. His project will result in software that categorizes areas and tells decision-makers where they should focus restoration efforts to get the most benefit.

Funding for the program comes from Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions, Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions, the University of Alberta and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.