Cumulative Effects of Overlapping Land Uses in the Traditional Territory of Fort McKay

Northeast Alberta is experiencing substantial and rapid development associated with both mining andin-situ extraction of oil sands deposits. The closest indigenous community to the centre of oil sandsdevelopment is the hamlet of Fort McKay, with a population of approximately 778 Cree, Dene andMĂ©tis residents (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), 2013). The territorytraditionally occupied by Fort McKay supported sustained aboriginal traditional land uses andsubsistence in the pre-industrial period (pre-1960s), but at present is under increasing pressure fromindustrial development and associated human activity. There are currently 19 surface-mining or in-situoil sands projects within Fort McKay's traditional territory that are operating or have regulatoryapproval to start construction, and tenured leases for oil sands projects occupy 70% of Fort McKay'straditional territory and 98% of Fort McKay's registered traplines ( (Lagimodiere, 2013); lease datacurrent to November 2012). The two largest and longest-standing mines in the region are locatedwithin approximately 10-20 km of Fort McKay, with two other mines operating within 5-10 km of thetown for the last decade. Associated with this industrial development, the number of people living inFort McKay's traditional territory has grown to over 100,000 (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo(RMWB), 2012).

Fort McKay's culture and traditional lands have been and continue to be affected by industrialdevelopment, with these effects linked to changes in air quality, loss of wildlife habitat, and otheraspects of land disturbance (Fort McKay Industry Relations Corporation (IRC), 2010). Acomprehensive, multi-stakeholder analysis of regional (including Fort McKay's traditional lands)environmental effects of oil sands development conducted in 2008 indicated that some ecologicalindicators are already below their pre-disturbance levels (moose, fisher, fish), with their declineprojected to continue with future industrial activity. This analysis supports the experience expressed byFort McKay community members of substantial adverse environmental effects of industrialdevelopment in their territory.

In order to better understand current and probable future effects of industrial development, in 2011Fort McKay commissioned a comprehensive cumulative-effects study focused on the community andits traditional territory. The intent of this study was to assess the environmental impacts of current oilsands development and future development scenarios, and to identify management tools that can beimplemented to meet Fort McKay's objectives for maintaining ecological integrity and traditional landuseopportunities on their reserves and within their traditional territory. The study used ecosystemsimulation modelling to evaluate the performance of selected environmental indicators on the currentand projected future landscape, and to compare this performance to pre-industrial baseline conditions.