27 Aug 2015
At first glance, Eastern Alberta’s landscape seems pretty homogeneous and unspectacular to an untrained eye – stands of grey-green aspens, pastures full of prairie grasses, clumps of berry bushes and countless fields of wheat, barley and canola.
Fortunately, experienced plant researchers like AITF’s Jay Woosaree and Marshall McKenzie, and Alberta Environment and Parks’ Pat Porter see things much differently.
Jay, Marshall and Pat led a group of reclamation specialists from Alberta’s pipeline industry on a day-long tour of four different reclamation sites on August 20 in Eastern Alberta, where native plants have been put to good use.
Here’s what they saw:
|Caution: Plant Research Area. The group started their tour with a visit to Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper pipeline area. The area, which was first disturbed by pipeline construction in the late 1950s, has largely returned to its pre-disturbed condition. AITF and Alberta Environment and Parks have worked with Enbridge on the use of native plants in the company’s reclamation projects for 21 years. Native plants abound, but they’re difficult to spot. In some instances, tour participants had to crouch low to get a good view of the many different species of native plants that grow in Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper pipeline research area. Here, Sand nut-grass (Cyperus schweinitzii) was re-introduced at the site and can be seen growing. This species is considered imperiled, meaning it is at high risk of extirpation due to very restricted range, very few populations (20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors.|
|Native plants abound, but they’re difficult to spot. In some instances, tour participants had to crouch low to get a good view of the many different species of native plants that grow in Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper pipeline research area. Here, Sand nut-grass (Cyperus schweinitzii) was re-introduced at the site and can be seen growing. This species is considered imperiled, meaning it is at high risk of extirpation due to very restricted range, very few populations (20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors.|
|Some plants thrive in a semi-arid environment. The second stop on this tour was a sandy pipeline reclamation site near Metiskow, Alberta, where research has been conducted for almost 20 years. These species – fringed sage, prairie sand reed, and siccata sedge – retain moisture the way a floor sponge soaks up water, despite the native plants’ semi-arid surroundings.|
|Cacti grow well in Eastern Alberta. These hardy prickly pear cacti grow throughout the sandy reclamation site near Metiskow.|
|The tour group stopped for a short break beside this rustic barn and paddock. This year’s tour was led by AITF’s Marshall McKenzie (L) and Jay Woosaree (second from L), and Alberta Environment and Parks’ Pat Porter (fifth from L).|
|Jay Woosaree (C) and TransCanada Pipeline’s Darwin McNeely (R) walk up the Keystone pipeline corridor on their way to a reclamation research site, while Pat Porter (L) brings up the rear.|
|Comparing reclamation techniques. TransCanada Pipeline has worked with AITF and Alberta Environment and Parks in reclamation research for seven years. Here, participants compared the effectiveness of planting plugs of plains rough fescue (an erratic perennial bunch grass species that’s difficult to establish) to planting seeds with a conventional seed drill and plains rough fescue mulch. The plugs of plains rough fescue delivered a quicker result (within five years) but conventional seeding may give a similar result within eight to ten years at a lower cost.|
|Native plants create a habitat for all kinds of wildlife. If you look closely, you’ll see a small wood-nymph butterfly (Cercyonis oetus) amid the native plants in reclamation sites such as this one in Eastern Alberta’s Neutral Hills. This species of butterfly prefers very dry short-grass prairie habitat.|
|Two native plant experts out standing in their field! Pat Porter (L) and Jay Woosaree (R) showed participants the root systems of nodding brome grass, a native brome grass, which is much preferred over the invasive smooth brome grass. Reclamation at this site in the Neutral Hills began 20 years ago. At this point, the reclaimed areas are virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding undisturbed environment.|
|The cows came home. Reclaimed areas in the Neutral Hills have been open (fence surrounding the plots removed) for more than seven years, providing livestock and wildlife grazing. Here, a curious herd of cattle crests a hill near the reclaimed site.|