Home / news

Restoring Caribou Habitat

March 3, 2023

Efforts by Canada’s oil sands industry to lessen its environmental footprint have resulted in globally significant work to reduce impacts to air, water and land and support biodiversity in Alberta’s boreal forest.

The industry aspires to be a world leader in environmental management.

Here’s one example of the work underway by Pathways Alliance companies: restoring caribou habitat.

Restoring Woodland Caribou Habitat

Woodland caribou are one of Canada’s most iconic animals. But today their populations are under threat. They face degradation of their habitat and are increasingly hunted by wolves, which travel along old man-made pathways that cross the northern landscape.

To help restore their habitat, Cenovus Energy is leading a $40-million project to reduce forest fragmentation in areas roamed by caribou. The company’s focus is on the Cold Lake region of northeastern Alberta, where its Foster Creek and Christina Lake oil sands projects are located.

“This is ultimately the largest caribou habitat restoration project being undertaken by a company anywhere in the world,” says Michael Cody, Cenovus Specialist, Environment.

By 2030, the company plans to treat 3,500 kilometres of “linear features” (that’s the name used to describe old corridors cut into the forest for seismic work, access roads, power lines and other activities – remnants from oil and gas activity, forestry and otherwise). One of the goals is to reduce wolf travel along these routes.

The company has also committed to plant about four million trees to help restore the habitat caribou need to thrive. When the project is completed, this work will cover nearly half of the Cold Lake caribou range, Cody says.

For more than a decade, Cenovus has taken a strong leadership role on caribou recovery—ever since Cody and others at Cenovus began to study the issue of caribou habitat loss in the boreal forest throughout the region.

“Habitat degradation is connected with linear features that have been developed over the years and still remain on the landscape,” Cody explains. “This was something we wanted to address through silviculture practices that would promote recovery of a healthy forest.”

Starting in 2008 and then expanded during 2012 to 2015, the company carried out a pilot study to evaluate different recovery techniques. Sufficiently confident with the results, Cenovus committed to expand forest habitat restoration to landscape scale. They launched the $32-million Cenovus Caribou Habitat Restoration Project (later increased to $40 million) to restore land within caribou ranges impacted by industrial activity.

These pilot efforts were shared with other companies through COSIA, the innovation arm of Pathways Alliance. In 2016, Cenovus opened up the new project to collaboration with other Pathways Alliance members.

Today, workers are carrying out a number of silviculture-based restoration techniques in the Cold Lake region to promote forest growth—cultivating ground, adding woody debris, and planting seedlings on mounds. They are also bending trees into the linear pathways. By closing in long open stretches, they hope to reduce the movement efficiency on linear features and make it harder for wolves and other predators to hunt caribou.

In addition, Cenovus has adopted an Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) goal to restore more habitat than we use in the Cold-lake range by 2030, another first for our industry.

To date, Cenovus has treated more than 1140 kilometres in this way and planted more than 1.40 million trees. Cody says these efforts have already led to important results. “We are seeing faster, more predictable return of forest cover in these areas,” he says. “We also know that predators and other wildlife are using linear features less, and when they do, they are moving more slowly on them.”

In addition to habitat outcomes, there are indications that successfully restored features will store more carbon in the soil-plant system in comparison to non-treated control areas. These indications of restoration success are getting noticed and have now been published in a host of peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Learn more about the efforts of Pathways Alliance members to advance responsible development of the oil sands industry.

× Close

Cautionary Statement: Statements of future events or conditions on this website, including projections, targets, expectations, estimates, and business plans are forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements can be identified by words such as achieve, aspiration, believe, anticipate, intend, propose, plan, goal, seek, project, predict, target, estimate, expect, forecast, vision, strategy, outlook, schedule, future, continue, likely, may, should, will and/or similar references to outcomes in future periods. Forward-looking statements on this website include, but are not limited to, references to the viability, timing and impact of the net zero plan and the development of pathways in support of a net-zero future; support for the pathways from the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada; the ability to enable net zero emissions from oil production and preserve economic contribution from the industry; the deployment  of technologies to reduce GHG emissions; the ability to create jobs, accelerate development of the clean tech sector, provide benefits for other sectors and help maintain Canadians’ quality of life; and making economic investments to ensure a successful transition to a net zero world and delivering long term value to shareholders. All net-zero references on this website apply to emissions from oil sands operations (defined as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions).
Forward-looking statements are based on current expectations, estimates, projections and assumptions at the time the statements are made. Actual future results, including expectations and assumptions concerning: demand growth and energy source, supply and mix; amount and timing of emissions reductions; the adoption and impact of new facilities or technologies, including on reductions to GHG emissions; project plans, timing, costs, technical evaluations and capacities, and the ability to effectively execute on these plans and operate assets; that any required support for the pathways from the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada will be provided; applicable laws and government policies, including climate change and restrictions in response to COVID-19; production rates, growth and mix; general market conditions; and capital and environmental expenditures, could differ materially depending on a number of factors. These factors include global, regional or local changes in supply and demand for oil, natural  gas, and petroleum and petrochemical products and the resulting price, differential and margin impacts; political or regulatory events, including changes in law or government policy and actions in response to COVID-19; the receipt, in a timely manner, of regulatory and third-party approvals including for new technologies; lack of required support from the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada; environmental risks inherent in oil and gas exploration and production activities; environmental regulation, including climate change and GHG regulation and changes to such regulation; availability and allocation of capital; availability and performance of third-party service providers; unanticipated technical or operational difficulties; project management and schedules and timely completion of projects; reservoir analysis and performance; unexpected technological developments; the results of research programs and new technologies, and ability to bring new technologies to commercial scale on a cost-competitive basis; operational hazards and risks; general economic conditions, including the occurrence and duration of economic recessions; and other factors referenced by the companies’ in their most recent respective annual reports and management’s discussion and analysis, as applicable.
Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve a number of risks and uncertainties, some that are similar to other oil and gas companies and some that are unique to the companies. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied by its forward-looking statements and readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on them. Pathways Alliance Inc. and its member companies undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained on this website, except as required by applicable law.