Wildlife Response to Above-Ground Pipeline Infrastructure
In-situ methods of oil extraction are increasingly used to access subsurface bitumen and are accompanied by associated infrastructure including surface wells, roads, processing facilities, and most importantly, a network of above-ground pipelines used to transport steam and extracted bitumen to and from central processing facilities. Above-ground pipelines have the potential to be a barrier to movement of some wildlife species. A number of wildlife studies have shown that habitat connectivity increases persistence over time and population size. Free movement of individuals dispersing from high quality habitat supporting source populations is a key to long-term persistence of meta-populations. Currently, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the response of wildlife to above-ground pipelines and associated infrastructure in the Boreal Plain of Alberta. The majority of the information available, as it relates to wildlife response to this type of potential barrier, is related to barren ground caribou.
In this multi-year study, snow tracking methods are being used to assess the occurrence and response of winter active mammals to above-ground pipeline infrastructure in northern Alberta. This multi-species approach provides considerably more information on animal behavior in relation to pipelines compared other techniques (e.g. game camera surveys). The objective of this above-ground pipeline (AGP) assessment program is to (1) determine factors associated with successful crossing (e.g. pipe height), (2) determine the circumstances by which different wildlife species either crossed or were deflected from the pipeline and/or the associated right-of-way (ROW), and, (3) suggest mitigation/design improvements for the development of future above-ground pipeline infrastructure to reduce barrier and fragmentation effects to wildlife.
A manuscript is currently under development and the work is ongoing.