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Soil Salvage and Refugia 

 

For oil sands companies land reclamation is a major environmental issue.  One of the best ways to reclaim land is to recycle it.  Mining and in-situ production operations carefully salvage soil, muskeg and other organic material disturbed by cut line construction, overburden removal and other operations.  This salvaged material speeds up regeneration of reclaimed land.  Seeds, spores, even bacteria and fungi, contained in soils and muskeg help recreate natural ecosystems more quickly.  Scientists have also found that recycling slash and deadfall from land clearing operations, instead of burning it, adds nutrients to the soil and provides habitat for birds and small mammals.  What used to be seen as waste now is seen as a valuable resource.

Leaving areas of undisturbed forest around disturbed land in mines or other developments is also a way to encourage recolonization by native plants and animals.  Environmental scientists call these undisturbed areas "refugia", and they can have a major impact on the success of reclamation efforts.  Ecosystems are dynamic and always changing.  Plants and animals live and die and decomposers, such as bacteria and fungi, recycle organic material.  Undisturbed ecosystems evolve over time through a series of stages.  This is called succession and it is completely natural.  For example, after a fire in the boreal forest small plants and bushes will begin to grow before trees, and after trees begin to appear aspen forest will gradually change to pine a spruce.  Refugia can help the process of succession to begin and make it more rapid.

Reprinted with permission of Alberta Community Development, Cultural Facilities and Historical Resources Division.  For more information on the Oilsands and the Environment, visit the Oilsands Discovery Centre!

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