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Applying the forest health approach to monitoring boreal ecosystems in the Athabasca oil sands redion

Percy, K.E., D.G. Maynard and A.H. Legge. 2012. Developments in Environmental Science, Vol. 11. (Elsevier)

Abstract

The increased development in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) has raised concerns about elevated emissions of air pollutants and the potential for negative effects on terrestrial ecosystems. A forest health monitoring program was established in 1998 by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA). Field sites were sampled in 1998, 2004, and 2011. To date, while there is evidence of increased elemental concentrations in plant foliage with increasing predicted deposition levels, there was no evidence of a negative effect on nutrient cycling processes or forest productivity. However, differences in site factors confounded interpretations of the potential effects of air emissions and bioassays suggested that modeled PAI (potential acid input) values used in data analysis were insufficient to link cause and effect. As a result, the network of monitoring sites was expanded and enhanced in 2011 with updated science-based monitoring concepts to better support decision making and regulatory processes. A forest health approach to terrestrial monitoring was adopted and built upon the existing terrestrial monitoring network in order to determine cause/effect relationships between air pollution and forest ecosystem health in the AOSR. This enhanced design will also serve Alberta government regulatory expectations under cumulative effects management, and regional land-use planning.