Sunday, June 21, 2015

Rumsay Ecological Reserve

Here's the right way to balance land-use interests
As an illustration of broadening participation in environmental preservation and land reclamation, consider a letter to Alberta’s Deputy Minister of Renewable Resources on October 6th, 1982. The recipient of the letter was Fred McDougall; its author was Cheryl Bradley – then president of the Alberta Wilderness Association. Bradley’s letter conveyed a proposal to create a protected wildland at Rumsay, Alberta. The product of wide-ranging collaboration, the AWA had consulted with representatives of the Canadian Petroleum Association, the Energy Resources Conservation Board, and Alberta’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources.

The document described 70 sections of land near Rumsey as “the biggest continuous block of undisturbed Aspen Parkland remaining in Canada, perhaps in Canada.” This was “alarming,” she said, because “Aspen Parkland once stretched over 100,000 square miles in the Prairie Provinces.” The AWA recommended “Ecological Reserve designation” for the 13 sections in the northern part of the block “for scientific research purposes,” she said. “The remainder of the block (57 sections) is an attractive mosaic of grasslands, woodlands and wetlands, on a rolling glacial moraine, and constitutes a unique scenic wildland heritage.”

Concerned about potential land disturbance from seismic activity, oil and gas drilling, road building and pipeline construction, the AWA proposal was a masterpiece of diplomacy. It recognized that oil and gas companies had valid leases in the area, and therefore the right to develop those resources. So working with the industry it made careful and thoughtful recommendations. Drill sites should be “topographically positioned to minimize the amount of cut and fill required to level the site and to minimize detrimental aesthetic impact,” it said. “Some areas may preclude drilling because of particularly steep terrain.”

The AWA recommended avoiding wetland habitats and sites with “rare or sensitive flora and fauna.” The group also recommended directional drilling “if a significantly more environmentally suitable site can be used because of it,” and suggested modifying size and shape of drilling site to minimize surface impact. The organization’s recommendations were extensive, and extremely knowledgeable. For example, drilling in winter would eliminate “the need for large clearing to satisfy fire safety standards.” Elsewhere, it recommended that the cleared area “be allowed to revegetate with native vegetation rather than exotic species….Where erosion of a site poses a serious problem then species should be selected which allow subsequent natural invasion by natural species.”

The AWA saw road-building as potentially the most destructive of the major activities associated with petroleum development. “Impacts can be long-term in that motorized access is provided to areas which were previously inaccessible,” the AWA said.  Therefore, operators should use existing roads and trails “unless they were poorly planned environmentally.” Recognizing that new roads and trails would likely be needed, the group recommended blending into the landscape by “following natural contours, keeping cut and fill to a minimum…and making roads no wider than absolutely necessary.”

Peter McKenzie-Brown
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