Bison and the oil sands industry

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 92, No. 1026, 1999

R.W. Pauls, Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Many tens of thousands of hectares of forested land will be disturbed and reclaimed in the surface mineable Athabasca oil sands area during the next few decades. The surface area disturbed by Syncrude’s Mildred Lake development alone exceeds 10 000 ha to date. It is not clear that reforestation of disturbed areas will best accommodate the aspirations of all stakeholders, particularly traditional users of the land. A five-year research program by Syncrude Canada Limited and the Fort McKay First Nations has examined the feasibility of raising bison on land reclaimed after disturbance by oil sands development. Forage productivity and carrying capacity for bison was comparable to that of grasslands elsewhere in Alberta. Concerns regarding compaction of newly rebuilt soil by bison traffic proved unfounded. Bison demonstrated weight gains typical for ranched bison and calving rates averaged 90%, a value typical for ranched bison. The animal husbandry problems encountered were typical of those occurring on bison ranches elsewhere in Alberta. An economic analysis indicates that a 1000 ha bison ranch on reclaimed land has a net present value that compares very favourably with a similar area supporting commercial forest. Subject to approval by Alberta Environmental Protection, the current research project will be expanded as a pilot commercial ranching venture in order to explore its commercial viability as a business venture by the Fort McKay First Nations. At the same time, measures will be implemented to resolve various regulatory issues associated with commercial bison production in the oil sands area.
Keywords: Reclamation, Oil sands, Surface mining