With an estimated $50 billion in economic development planned for Alberta in the coming years, Dr Stan Boutin sees a prime opportunity to coordinate environmental planning and sustainable development in Alberta. As the holder of a new chair funded by industry, university, and government, Boutin is at the centre of a collaborative effort to minimize the “industry footprint” on ecosystems.
“In the past there’s been a lack of coordination, and costly mistakes have been made such as the building of separate development roads that could have been shared,” he explains. “This is the first time there has been an effort among all the industries, especially forestry and oil and gas, to coordinate research and figure out the total environmental costs of development. All the parts are in place now, from scientists to industry to government policymakers, and there are no excuses.
One of Canada's greatest challenges in the 21st century will be to manage the pressures of a resource-based economy in such a way that landscapes and ecosystems are conserved and healthy biotic communities and socially and economically healthy human communities are both maintained.
An interdisciplinary group of researchers is addressing the most pressing issues of ecosystem management. The Sustainable Forest Management Network of Centres of Excellence is integral to this research, which covers conservation biology, global change in northern and mountain ecosystems, resource management and forest science, resource and environmental economics, and ecology. Strong partnerships have been established with the forestry, oil and gas, mining, and agriculture sectors in support of research, innovation, and application.
Examples of specific research projects include:
- An examination of the effectiveness of leaving riparian (near water) forest buffer strips during forest harvesting in maintaining the ecosystems of the boreal mixed wood forests. The work is supported by NSERC (National Science and Engineering Research Council), several industry partners, and a number of Alberta government departments; it is having a major impact on development of policy and regulations for the management of riparian forest in Alberta.
- A long-term multidisciplinary study to determine the effects of natural and human disturbances (e.g., oil and gas extraction, mining, and forest harvesting) on wetlands of the western boreal forest.
- Studies of the impacts of climate change and contamination on mountain ecosystems, including pioneering studies on fisheries management in mountain lakes and nutrient discharges into mountain rivers.
- Located in northwest Alberta, EMEND (Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance) is the largest controlled forestry experiment in the world. The project compares the effects of innovative human-designed harvest and regeneration practices with those of natural disturbances. Forest industries are building the research findings into their management planning.
- Examinations of wildlife and conservation ecology in order to develop an integrated ecosystem management program for northern Alberta.