Mapping and Characterization of Cutover Peatlands for Reclamation Planning

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  • Several hundred hectares of peatlands in Alberta have been harvested for horticultural peat moss since the 1960s and have been left unreclaimed. The need to reclaim them to a suitable land use is now recognized. Various kinds of information are required in order to assess land use alternatives for cutover peatlands. This study was initiated during the summer of 1991 with the objectives of developing a methodology for cost-effective soil survey and sampling of cutover peatlands, and of obtaining baseline chemical information and data interpretation for peat materials at one site. The overall purpose is to establish effective methods for obtaining the information required to examine alternatives for reclamation. This report is presented in three parts. In Part I a methodology and protocol for adequate, cost effective soil survey and sampling of cutover peatlands is outlined. The approaches and procedures that are presented were derived principally from established soil survey practices and are supplemented by information derived through an actual survey as documented in Part II of this report. This survey was carried out in an area of about one and one-half quarter sections (107 ha) near Evansburg, Alberta. Methods used in the survey consisted of aerial photographic interpretation of the study area, application of existing soil and vegetation classification systems, field soil and vegetation survey, elevation survey, soil sampling, development of a digital base map in a geographic information system, digitizing of spatial information, application of computer contouring and geostatistics, and laboratory analysis. Map products comprised elevation, peat soil/vegetation, peat isopach, mineral subsoil elevation, drainage system, inspection site location, and peat isopach error maps. Detailed vegetation data were obtained for a number of field sites. The maps along with analytical data were discussed in terms of appropriateness of methods used and usefulness of the information obtained. The various maps produced in this project provide an effective means of describing the cutover peatland landscape. Geographic information systems enable overlaying of different types of information and generation of different types of maps. Such maps can be produced manually as well but in either case, it is highly important that a common base map for field survey and subsequent map compilation be developed at the beginning of a project in order to avoid possible problems with registration of maps and location of sites. A high intensity level of mapping with presentation of information at a scale of 1:5000 seemed appropriate for this study although lower mapping intensity levels presented at smaller scales would be appropriate for mapping areas with relatively low spatial variability in soil and vegetation types. Emphasis in laboratory analysis should be placed on measures of pH and rubbed fibre as these have been shown in the literature to correlate with several other properties. Standard nutrient analyses are difficult to interpret for peat soils and suitable techniques for nutrient evaluation still need to be developed. Inclusion of soil and water samples from carefully selected sites enables preliminary assessment of environmental impacts, particularly with respect to quality of outflowing waters. Systems for classifying and describing peat and peatlands are presented in Part III of the report. Terminology and definitions are presented to assist in developing familiarity with this area which is mostly addressed in specialized literature that may not be readily available.

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