Assessment Methods for Reclamation of Permanent Marshes in the Oil Sands: Handbook and Video

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  • This handbook describes tools used to assess and monitor the health or condition of reclaimed marshes in the oil sands region. It will guide users through the sampling methods, laboratory procedures, and data calculation steps necessary for measuring health indicators of permanent wetlands located on or adjacent to reclaimed land affected by oil sands mining. The four performance indicators, which estimate health by integrating several field measurements into an index score, are the (1) Stress Gradient Index (SGI); (2) Submersed & Floating Aquatic Vegetation Index of Biological Integrity (SAV-IBI); (3) Wet Meadow Index of Biological Integrity (WM-IBI); and (4) Marsh Condition Index (MCI). The first three performance indicators can either be used individually to estimate the environmental or plant community condition within a wetland, or they can be integrated into a final MCI score providing an overall estimation of wetland health. A video on sampling procedures for each performance indicator is available at the following URL The SGI measures eight physical-chemical indicators derived from basic hydrological, water quality and sediment quality parameters, which collectively represent the maximum variation measured across the range of reclaimed and natural wetlands in the Boreal Plains Region. This environmental variation reflects a gradient from high quality reference wetlands to wetlands physically disturbed by oil sands operations to oil sands process-affected wetlands, which have been contaminated by oil or other pollutants. The two plant-based performance indicators (SAV-IBI and WM-IBI) measure attributes of the indicator plant community that have a known sensitivity to the underlying environmental gradient summarized in the SGI. The performance indicators have established scientifically-derived criteria that can be used for regulatory purposes to inform reclamation certification of wetlands. Likewise, they can aid wetland management and conservation by monitoring conditions of reclaimed wetlands (i.e. improving, declining, no change), identifying remediation opportunities to improve environmental structure or enhance vegetation succession, and managing the effects of oil sands activity on wetlands adjacent to reclaimed land. The performance indicators provide several options or tools that offer standardized monitoring and assessment methods and criteria for managing wetlands, which will provide more accurate and comparable evaluations of wetland reclamation practices and outcomes in the oil sands region. These tools are simple to use and, if implemented correctly, yield consistent and reproducible assessments. Thus, these performance indicators provide important tools to consistently and scientifically evaluate reclamation success and identify adaptive management opportunities based on these outcomes. These tools can operate under the normal range of climatic variability, but sampling should be postponed in the case of events such as extreme droughts or flooding, as changes in physical and chemical structure and resultant shifts in plant community structure may influence the performance indicator scores. The performance indicators provided in this handbook are designed to evaluate permanent marshes on reclaimed open pit mining leases in the Boreal Plains Region. We recommend that future research is done to expand the application of these performance indicators to include in-situ mining sites. Similar performance indicators have been developed for permanent marshes in the northern prairies (Aspen Parkland and Boreal Transition Zone) regions, although the individual metrics and thresholds differ.

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    Conditions of Use Bayley, S.E., M.J. Wilson, R.C. Rooney and M.T. Bolding, 2014. Assessment Methods for Reclamation of Permanent Marshes in the Oil Sands: Handbook and Video. Prepared by The Bayley Lab, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. 162 pp. Permission for non-commercial use, publication or presentation of excerpts or figures is granted, provided appropriate attribution (as above) is cited. Commercial reproduction, in whole or in part, is not permitted without prior written consent. As a professional courtesy, the academic authors would appreciate being notified as to how and where their work is being used, cited and implemented. An email with particulars to is sufficient. The end user assumes all risks associated with any interpretation of, or implementation based upon, this work.