ALCES-based Habitat Simulation Modeling for Greater Sage-Grouse in Southeastern Alberta

In support of the Sage Grouse Recovery Action Group’s efforts to identify and quantify the potentially adverse effects of anthropogenic land use on sage grouse habitat, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (Fish and Wildlife) retained the Miistakis Institute at the University of Calgary and Brad Stelfox of Forem Technologies Ltd. to develop, populate, and parameterize a cumulative effects simulation model for a 7X7 township region in southeastern Alberta. This model was subsequently used to conduct landscape-scale simulation modeling over a 50-year time period. The goal of the modeling is to generate plausible future scenarios based on current knowledge of landscape, ecology, and human use which explore potential trajectories for sage grouse viability, and to identify the drivers of change in a virtual environment.

The modeling presented in this report is based upon the ALCES® software (Forem Technologies Ltd.). ALCES® is a landscape simulator that enables resource managers, society, and the scientific community to explore and quantify dynamic landscapes subjected to single or multiple human land use practices and various natural disturbance regimes. The model was identified in the Alberta Greater Sage-grouse Recovery Plan (2005) as a decision support tool allowing the Recovery Action Group to determine priority areas for focusing recovery efforts.

Land use information (inputs) for the model were derived from existing data collected for the Southern Alberta Landscapes (SAL - formerly Southern Alberta Sustainability Strategy (SASS)) Project’s ALCES®-based cumulative effects modeling, and modified into a format appropriate for sage grouse modeling. ASRD Fish and Wildlife convened a workshop to collect the data required for the wildlife module of the model (i.e., sage grouse data). The Alberta Conservation Association (ACA)-supported workshop brought together sage grouse experts from Canada and the United States.

Currently there is no comprehensive model to support decisions with respect to land use in the sage- grouse range of the province. Creation of such a model will greatly assist with integrating decisions for activities such as oil and gas development with sage-grouse conservation activities. This modeling approach may represent a prototypical method for recovery planning. By incorporating wildlife data, land use parameters, and management goals into a participatory process, alternate land use and management scenarios can be explicitly compared with reference to their impact on a target species.

Along with the generation of a realistic base-case scenario for current landscape composition and future planned land use, this research has examined the impacts of changing future land use trajectories related to the energy sector as an example of the type of sensitivity analysis that is possible in the ALCES® modeling environment, and of the capacity of this type of analysis to provide valuable information about the impact of different types of land use on sage grouse breeding occurrence and success.