Funding of $4 million announced for biodiversity conservation chairs program

Scott Nielsen and Stan Boutin Scott Nielsen and Stan Boutin, the two Alberta Conservation Biodiversity Chairs, will conduct research that examines the cumulative impacts of industrial development on biodiversity. Their research will inform policy decisions and ensure industry has the information it needs to develop and implement solutions.
The Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs program received more than $4 million in funding for five years to examine the cumulative impacts of industrial development on biodiversity, including in the Lower Athabasca region.

The two chairs, the University of Alberta’s Scott Nielsen and Stan Boutin, will conduct a number of research projects focussed on key biodiversity challenges related to the energy sector. Their goal is to understand how the combined effects of human activities affect biodiversity, and to design and test mitigation strategies.

“We have unprecedented changes in our landscape and trying to find solutions is important for sustaining our biodiversity and our international reputation,” said Nielsen. “The chairs are an approach to build the needed collaborations to make that happen and to communicate solutions to the public and industry.”

The chairs will act as the hub of a broad-based research program that will extend the province’s research and innovation network, providing that dedicated science capacity for testing cause-and-effect relationships related to the monitoring information generated in the province.

“We’ll use our own data, supplemented extensively by data from monitoring agencies such as the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency to identify biodiversity conservation challenges and determine potential solutions,” explained Boutin. “The research will inform policy decisions and ensure that industry has the information it needs to develop and implement solutions.”

One issue the chairs will work to address through research projects is woodland caribou conservation. Industry is interested in reversing the decline of herds and is looking at options it can undertake to make a difference. Boutin will design and test the effectiveness of various strategies.

Nielsen will be leading a project to understand patterns of natural reforestation in the area of seismic lines for mineral, oil and gas exploration and what can be done to speed recovery. His project will result in software that categorizes areas and tells decision-makers where they should focus restoration efforts to get the most benefit.

Funding for the program comes from Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions, Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions, the University of Alberta and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.