Future of Shrubs in Oil Sands Reclamation Workshop

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  • A group of 48 people from government, academia, consultants and the oil sands and plant production industries gathered on November 25, 2013 to discuss the current state of knowledge about shrubs and their current and future use in oil sands reclamation. The Workshop was organized around four key topics: • Session 1: Regulatory Requirements and Policies • Session 2: Current State of Knowledge • Session 3: Knowledge Gaps and Policy Needs • Session 4: Next Steps In Session 1, participants noted a number of regulatory requirements and policies that support shrub use. However, a far larger list of impediments was identified. These can be roughly divided into two main themes: (1) impediments to efficient and effective use of shrubs; and (2) impediments to effective ecological use of shrubs. In Session 2, participants said we know which species to use but maybe not why – current planting density rules require x stems/ha and species doesn’t matter so there is no incentive for diversity or selection of species attributes that could be exploited to enhance reclamation success. Participants felt collection, storage, growing and seeding issues are understood for 50% to 75% of species but some are very difficult to germinate and grow. They noted that shrubs are not produced commercially in the volumes needed, and this will be even more of a problem when reclamation ramps up in terms of area per year. Participants felt that we have a relatively good understanding of shrub reclamation for regular reclamation sites (no inhibiting factors) for both early and late successional species but we are not as advanced for early successional stages in challenging sites and have little knowledge and experience with late successional species in challenging materials. Finally there was the sense that there are lots of people and sources of information available. Much of the information is in grey literature; the comment was made that we also need to recognize grey knowledge – the knowledge (generally operational experience of growers and company reclamation staff) that isn’t even written down. A better mechanism is needed to access and share the information. In Session 3, participants provided a long list of characteristics that could be used to determine successful shrub reclamation, but noted that success was seen to be determined by the goal, policy, scale, or timeframe. A long list of research needs was identified, mostly grouped into categories such as: (1) synthesis of existing knowledge, (2) developing how to guidance, (3) developing and improving seed management practices, and (4) monitoring outplanting results. In terms of scale of research needed, lab and greenhouse tests could be used to pinpoint the causes of problems observed in the field, while landscape level studies are required to understand the interaction with environmental variables (soils, climate, other species) and provide proof of concept / ability / success. Participants provided some context for revising policies and then provided specific changes that are required to improve efficiency and effectiveness of shrub reclamation. In Session 4, participants suggested that a shrub research roadmap be developed (an alternative for a broader revegetation roadmap was also suggested). The roadmap would begin with a compilation of existing knowledge which would lead to development of an Action Plan. A team would have to be established to steer development of the roadmap and to secure funding; similarly a home for the project would be required – COSIA, OSRIN or CEMA were suggested as potential homes. Some key projects suggested to be included in the Action Plan are: • A gap analysis (flowing from the compilation of existing knowledge) • Recommendation to government of policy changes necessary to support effective and efficient use of shrubs for reclamation • Confirmation of reclamation goals and criteria relative to shrubs to allow for focused research and development work • Retrospective analysis of existing reclaimed sites • Best Management Practices for shrub use (collection, propagule management, deployment) • An evaluation of the feasibility, location(s) and costs of seed orchards / stoolbeds • A shrub monitoring program, including protocols that all operators will follow to ensure a common set of data • Establishing a system to share existing and developing knowledge and coordinate future work • Inventory of experts who can / will share knowledge • Identification of training needs, and development and deployment of training programs • Review the role of the Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative, particularly if the rules governing plant and seed collection and movement are changed

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    Attribution 3.0 International