Cumulative Effects of Land Uses in the Cold Lake First Nations Traditional Territory

The Cold Lake First Nations (CLFN) ALCES project described in this report was triggered by an understanding  by CLFN that individual environmental impact assessments (EIA) are inadequate in scale, scope and temporal dimension to properly inform the community about both benefits or liabilities of multiple overlapping land uses. An individual project is not necessarily unusual in technology, scale, or scope in comparison to others. It is but one example of many that have preceded it, and one of dozens to hundreds of projects that will emerge on the CLFN traditional lands in decades to come.  

Like many stories dealing with aboriginal culture and modern land-use, this one is neither simple nor linear. It involves a First Nations whose landscape has changed rapidly, who continue to aspire to maintain a culturally rich ability to participate in traditional activities (hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering), but also recognize the need to embrace components of Alberta’s contemporary economies and society. This community has growing anxiety about the integrity of their Traditional Territory. Ultimately, CLFN argue they deserve a meaningful conversation about their destiny based upon a scientifically credible and realistic examination of the existing state of cumulative impacts upon their Traditional Territory. CLFN is also mindful of the probability of significantly more encroachment in the future. With this in mind, the CLFN have commissioned the CLFN ALCES project to determine the ecological, economic, social and cultural impacts of current and future oil extraction.

This report presents results of the CLFN ALCES® land-use scenario modelling for the Cold Lake First Nations Study Area (CLFN SA), which has been completed at the request of the Cold Lake First Nations (CLFN). It uses the ALCES® landscape cumulative effects simulation model ( to examine and understand the collective impact of the region’s growing population, residential, agriculture, oil, military, park, and transportation sector footprints, and to account for the historic, current and future growth trends in population and industrial activities. By tracking the impact of plausible future growth scenarios (currently driven by the energy sector) on leading indicators such as water quality and demand, employment, air emissions, and wildlife habitat, the ALCES® model can determine the potential economic, social and ecological outcomes of each growth scenario. The model also investigates the relative influence of important natural processes, such as fire, on ecological indicators.<o:p></o:p>

The results of each landscape simulation are presented at multiple spatial scales, and include CLFN Traditional Territory, CLFN SA (Alberta side only; hereafter referred to as CLFN SA), specific sub regions (CLAWR, north of CLAWR, agricultural white area, region south of CLAWR and north of White Area), and for quarter township (5 x 5 km) grid maps.

An analysis of the outputs of the ALCES® model illustrate that the current CLFN SA landscape has undergone a profound transformation during the past 100 years. Key historical land-use drivers have been the settlement of non-aboriginal peoples, growth of the cropland/livestock sectors in the south, the military land-use in the central portions of the CLFN SA, and, more recently, the infrastructure of the hydrocarbon sector throughout the study area where heavy oil and bitumen deposits occur. Relative to the pre-industrial era, few areas within the study area that are accessible to CLFN have maintained their ecological integrity. As CLFN shares strong cultural linkages to these remnants, they are concerned that ongoing land management and industrial activities will hinder their aspirations to pursue traditional activities.<o:p></o:p>

The results of future simulations indicate that the CLFN landscape will continue to change at a rapid rate, and that future transformation will be lead by the bitumen sector. Of the 6.3 B m3 of bitumen that is considered recoverable given current technologies, only 0.3 B m3 (4.7%) has been extracted to date. The remaining 95% yet to be extracted will require an extensive network of seismic lines, wellsites, access roads, pipelines and processing plants. Simulations conducted in the CLFN ALCES® model indicate that moose, fisher, fish, and edible berry populations are highly likely to decline in response to an increasingly industrialized landscape. It is not uncommon for individual In Situ projects in the region to produce ~71 M m3 (35,000 bpd for 35 years). To emphasize why we need to broaden the discussion about regional land management, ~88 projects of similar scale will be required to extract the remaining proven bitumen reserves. Furthermore, it is generally understood that the volume of recoverable bitumen will increase through time as new extraction technologies are developed and refined.<o:p></o:p>