ConocoPhillips and other members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) are developing and supporting innovative approaches to caribou population growth and habitat restoration. Recently, ConocoPhillips, Devon, Nexen, Suncor and Athabasca Oil completed the Caribou Recovery Pilot Project, which has advanced the concept of a large fenced area, safe from predators, for caribou rearing.

The intent of this concept, if implemented, is to increase caribou survival, providing immediate recovery benefits to complement habitat restoration and other management actions. Ultimately, it is up to provincial governments to determine if, when, and how caribou rearing facilities may be implemented as part of the ongoing caribou range planning process.

The pilot project team engaged with Aboriginal communities to discuss the location, design and operation of potential fenced areas in the area south of Fort McMurray.

Scott  Grindal,  ConocoPhillips Canada's senior coordinator, biodiversity and water, led the Caribou Recovery Pilot Project

“The use of fenced areas to protect caribou is a promising concept, and the input of Aboriginal communities is valuable in ensuring any potential application of this population management tool considers traditional knowledge and best practices for supporting caribou population recovery,” says Scott Grindal, senior coordinator, biodiversity and water.

The use of fences to protect wildlife populations isn’t a new one. Visitors to Banff National Park, for example, can see fences along highways, which guide wildlife to use wildlife crossings rather than risk crossing through traffic. But the Caribou Recovery Pilot Project went many steps further in advancing the science for a proposed 100 km2 area, safe from predators, to increase adult and calf survival rates.

The research gathered through the project covers everything from the best design for a fence for keeping caribou safe — and predators out — to how local communities could be involved in operating the fenced area.

Population management tools like this one are part of a multi-faceted approach to caribou recovery, which also includes habitat restoration and integrated land management. COSIA companies are active in these areas through many efforts to manage potential impacts and address historic land disturbances.

“We believe resource development and habitat and species recovery can be accomplished together,” says Scott. “We’re using a multi-pronged approach to manage our potential impact, which includes low-impact seismic, controlled site access and reclamation.”

The pilot project’s Summary Report and Aboriginal Engagement Report can be found on the COSIA website here. More information on COSIA efforts to reduce the footprint intensity and impact of oil sands operations on the land and wildlife of northern Alberta are available here.