ALCES Based Project Reports

Year Title (Author, Description) File Download

ALCES III Scenario Modeling Report - Athabasca Landscape Area, Appendix III

Terry Antoniuk, John Nishi, Karen Manuel, Mika Sutherland, Cornel Yarmoloy

ALCES III Scenario Modeling Report - Athabasca Landscape Area, Appendix III


A Strategic-Level Comparison of Urban Footprint Associated with Alternative Population Growth Strategies for the City of Edmonton (2001 - 2031)

Brad Stelfox, Richard Levy, and Heather Gariepy

The City of Edmonton has enjoyed impressive historical expansion in both population and area, growing from a small community of 2,626 people occupying 23 km2 at the turn of the century to a large city supporting approx. 716,515 people on approx. 363 km2 in 2004. Edmonton has maintained an average annual growth rate of 2.6% in population over the past 50 years, and 1.6% over the past 30 years. ALCES (A landscape simulation model) was used to explore the consequences of different potential growth rates and distributional patterns. The purpose of this project is to provide information to the City of Edmonton on the historical (past 100 years) and projected future growth (2001-2031) of the City of Edmonton. The two basic questions this report seeks to answer are: 1) How might the Edmonton Urban Footprint differ given four different (low, moderate, high, very high) population growth scenarios? And 2) How might the Edmonton Urban Footprint differ given three different distributional patterns (status quo, Downtown focus, Mature Neighborhood focus, Suburban Area focus) for a moderate population growth scenario?


Upper Bow River Basin Cumulative Effects Study - Modeling Report

Terry Antoniuk and Cornel Yarmoloy

The Upper Bow River Basin Cumulative Effects Study (UBBCES) was initiated by concerned citizens, groups, and organizations to investigate and better understand the potential cumulative effects that all land-uses could have on water availability, water quality, and other natural values in the Upper Bow River basin. The Steering Committee directing this study identified five primary concerns about social and environmental health and, in consultation with the authors, selected seven ecological and social indicators to represent these concerns: 1 - Will our children and grandchildren be able to rely on the Bow River and its tributaries for clean drinking water? 2 - Will there be enough water to meet the future needs of industry, acreages, Calgary residents, ranchers, farmers, and fish? 3 - Will there be undisturbed natural areas that supply clean water and provide places in which our children and grandchildren can visit, hike, bike, and watch wildlife? 4 - Will groundwater levels remain stable, decline, or increase? 5 - Will working farms and ranches remain? The ALCES landscape cumulative effects (A Landscape Cumulative Effects Simulator) dynamic landscape model was used for this study to forecast the response of the seven indicators to different development approaches. Work was conducted in two phases. In Phase 1, relevant information was collected and the ALCES model was used to forecast potential outcomes of a ‘business as usual’ scenario. For Phase 2, the model was used to evaluate the potential benefits of applying ‘best practices’ identified by the Calgary Metropolitan Plan and Southern Foothills Study.


Cumulative Effects of Overlapping Land Uses of the Cold Lake First Nations

Dr. Brad Stelfox, Cornel Yarmoloy

The Cold Lake First Nations (CLFN) ALCES project described in this report was triggered by one of the most recent applications among a long series of past heavy oil and oilsand projects. The OSUM Taiga project is not necessarily unusual in technology, scale, or scope. 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. What is unique about the OSUM project, however, is that it is directly adjacent to undeveloped reserve lands obtained as part of the CLAWR compensation settlement, to Cold Lake Provincial Park, and to Cold Lake itself. The proposed development footprint will degrade one of the last vestiges of relatively intact boreal landscape (described as “Awne” or “ąne”) easily accessible to CLFN which remains south of the CLAWR and north of the agricultural lands. 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. 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 AWNE (ąne)), and for quarter township (5 x 5 km) grid maps.


Phase 1. An Assessment of the Cumulative Effects of Land Uses within the Ghost River Watershed, Alberta - Report

Cornel Yarmoloy and Brad Stelfox

Society is increasingly aware of how our rivers, and the landscapes that support them, deliver not only water, but a suite of societal and ecosystem services which are needed to sustain our quality of life. Eastern Slope watersheds, such as the Ghost, supply diverse recreational needs, timber products, energy resources, support biological diversity and provide ecosystem services such as carbon storage, drinking water and flood control. Human land use development and recreational activities can potentially reduce the effectiveness of these valued services through incremental negative impacts on natural processes. Reductions in the ability of natural systems to provide clean water to downstream communities, such as Calgary, results in an increasing need for water treatment infrastructure and associated monies. Such costs are passed onto consumers through increasing taxes and metered water costs. As demonstrated in other geographies, the significant burden on downstream tax payers for potable drinking water can be reduced through the effective management of headwater areas rather than building and maintaining increasingly larger and more costly water treatment facilities. To support their vision of preserving and enhancing the integrity of the ecosystem functions in the Ghost watershed, the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society (GWAS; sponsored a quantitative assessment of how past, current and future cumulative impacts of land use on multiple-use forest reserve and private lands within the Ghost-Waiparous watershed could potentially affect sustainability of forests, water, wildlife and recreational resources (Phase 1). The GWAS engaged ALCES Landscape and Land-use Ltd. (ALCES� Group; to conduct this initial assessment.


Quantifying land use of oil sands production: a life cycle perspective

Sarah M Jordaan, David W Keith, and Brad Stelfox

Methods for the inclusion of land use in life cycle assessment are not well established. Here, we describe an approach that compares land disturbance between spatially compact and diffuse activities that contribute to the life cycle of a single product, in this case synthetic crude from Alberta’s oil sands. We compare production using surface mining and in situ extraction technologies. In situ technologies disturb less land per unit of production than surface mining, but the spatial footprint of in situ production is more dispersed—increasing landscape fragmentation—and in situ production requires more natural gas which increases land use due to gas production. We examine both direct and peripheral land use of oil sands development by quantifying land disturbance using a parameterized measure of fragmentation that relies on ‘edge effects’ with an adjustable buffer zone. Using a life cycle perspective, we show that the land area influenced by in situ technology is comparable to land disturbed by surface mining when fragmentation and upstream natural gas production are considered. The results suggest that land disturbance due to natural gas production can be relatively large per unit energy. This method could be applied to other energy developments, for example, a comparison between coal mining and natural gas production when both fuels are used to generate electricity.


Determining Appropriate Nutrient and Sediment Loading Coefficients for Modeling Effects of Changes in Landuse and Landcover in Alberta Watersheds

Dr. Bill Donahue

Alberta is engaged in creating watershed management plans throughout the province, that can be relied upon to provide direction for management of future development and landuse change, while attempting to protect the health of Alberta’s rivers and lakes. Because of widespread and growing nutrient enrichment problems and their effect on ecosystem health, and increased downstream water treatment costs, the reduction or avoidance of excess loading of organic matter and nutrients into rivers is a common goal of water resource managers in Alberta and elsewhere. Sources of these deleterious substances include easily identified sources, such as a wastewater treatment plant (point sources), and diffuse non-point sources associated with human landuse and changes in landuse.1-4 Informed landuse and watershed management that does not harm water quality and freshwater ecosystem health demands an understanding of the effects of landuse change on aquatic systems. Models that link landscape change and changes to water quality or aquatic ecosystem health are therefore relied upon to inform decision-makers, rather than simply tracking changes in water quality, which provides no insight into the sources of various chemicals. Most commonly, catchment export coefficients and loading rates are modeled to estimate the effects of landuse change on pollutant delivery and water quality, because it is input loads tied to particular sources or landuse change that permit either the avoidance of effects or remediative action to mitigate them. These are generally derived from small-scale field studies, and can range from simple regression models5 to more complex mechanistic models.4, 6-12 However, loading rates or export coefficients derived from small-scale catchments are often of limited use in estimating the effects of large-scale land use changes on water quality, or when applied to other locations. Similarly, modeling of export coefficients and pollutant transport based on detailed, site-specific hydrogeological, climatic, and landcover information acquired from field studies is generally not possible because of the exceptional expense and time needed to acquire such data.13, 14 Because the utility of coefficients determined somewhere else is uncertain, it is recommended that regional or local pollutant export coefficients be developed for estimation of pollutant loading in water bodies if sufficient landuse, water chemistry, and flow data are available.11 Unfortunately, in most regions, including Alberta, there has been insufficient environmental monitoring or effort to quantify effects of landuse change on nutrient and sediment export and water quality, in ways that enable land and water managers to make informed decisions to reduce the negative impacts of broad and large- scale landuse change or planning on water quality. Consequently, watershed managers must model estimates of risks of landuse change to aquatic ecosystems from commonly available information, and incorporate the use of loading coefficients developed elsewhere.3 In the absence of site- or region-specific studies and export coefficients, modelers and managers must rely on literature-derived export coefficients to assess the costs and benefits of past, current, and future landuse decisions, in terms of the potential for reducing water quality. However, notwithstanding that this necessity is driven by insufficient monitoring and environmental assessment, there often remains resistance to the conclusions of negative impacts of human landuse from the modeling of effects of landuse change on water quality that has been based on export coefficients developed elsewhere. Many studies elsewhere have provided export coefficients for nutrients and organic matter for forested, agricultural, and urban landscapes.4, 13, 15-17 The goal of this review is to assess the suitability of literature-based nutrient and sediment loading coefficients for modeling the potential for landuse 1 change to affect water quality in Alberta streams and rivers. In assessing the effects of landuse - or landuse change - on chemical loading in freshwaters, it is important to keep in mind two important caveats that were highlighted by Beaulac and Reckhow (1982)13: • As watersheds shift from natural, undisturbed conditions to increasing levels of human disturbance, the ecological mechanisms controlling nutrient flux become more complex and less understood. Therefore, the ability to accurately quantify or predict interactions between land use and aquatic conditions or responses becomes less precise and more uncertain. • For management of water resources, the use of nutrient loading coefficients for predicting changes in water quality conditions that follow changing land use is highly subjective. To reduce uncertainty in this use, the user of these coefficients must be familiar with the biogeochemical processes that influence nutrient fluxes. This is especially the case when there are insufficient local landuse and water quality data to determine loading coefficients. However, because of the breadth of scientific literature on the topic, the absence of local data should not be considered an absolute barrier to estimation of impacts of landuse change on water quality, for the purposes of landuse or watershed planning. This becomes more clear when considering the fact that landuse decisions will proceed whether or not local data are available to inform them definitively about non-point source pollution dynamics. It is arguable that the goal of any environmental modeling exercise is to quantify the nature, scale, and probability of risk, and provide the foundation for reducing environmental risks associated with particular management decisions. Therefore, modeling of non-point source pollution dynamics associated with landuse is a valid and valuable exercise, even in the absence of local data. With that in mind, the approaches and loading coefficients presented here are intended to aid landscape modelers, by providing a starting point for assessing environmental risk and the potential mitigations strategies that may be pursued to reduce them.


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

Chernoff, Greg; Stelfox, Brad; Greenaway, Guy

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.


Be Ready, or Be Left Behind. Report of the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton’s Future


To inform recommendations to Edmonton region mayors on how to make the region globally competitive, ALCES Online was applies to explore the long-term (50 year) consequences of alternative urban development strategies to landscape composition and greenfield development. The scenario analysis, presented as an appendix to the report, identified significant environmental and fiscal benefits from pursuing urban densification in the Edmonton region. Executive Summary The Metro Mayors Alliance asked our Panel to consider whether a globally competitive Edmonton region is achievable and, if so, to provide advice about how to make it happen. Over the course of several months we talked to experts, reviewed literature and listened to those with experience in municipal governance. We spoke with a wide crosssection of people in the private, public and non-profit sectors of our Metro Region communities. All of their views informed our analysis. Our advice to the Mayors is this: a globally competitive Edmonton Metro Region is achievable, but it will require municipalities planning, delivering and acting as one Metro Region in certain key areas. Our emphasis on those words is deliberate. Municipalities have become skilled at discussing issues and undertaking planning as a region. These have been the productive fruits of their participation in the Capital Region Board (CRB). But it has been challenging to translate those discussions and plans into collaborative actions with on-the-ground results. Despite years of interaction around the CRB table, municipalities still deliver services and infrastructure individually and compete with each other for land, resources and investment. When making choices, the costs and benefits to their individual municipality take precedence over the benefits to the overall region. Provincial policies and legislation have played a significant role in cultivating current practices. Municipalities are playing within the confines of a system that has evolved over decades – a system that drives competition among municipalities and doesn’t provide adequate mechanisms for their collaboration. This is understandable, but it’s not sustainable. Modelling commissioned by our Panel indicates that if municipalities continue to develop the Metro Region under a “business as usual” approach our region won’t just fail to be globally competitive, it will fall backwards, with serious implications for taxpayers and for the quality of life we all take for granted.1 If municipalities don’t change their current trajectory, the model shows as much as 87,700 additional hectares of agricultural land and 50,200 hectares of natural areas could be lost to uncoordinated development over the next 50 years. What’s more, the settlement footprint across the region could double in size from 135,900 hectares to as much as 273,900 hectares. Taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $8.2 billion to service that larger footprint with roads and other public infrastructure. The good news is that there is a far better way forward – without amalgamation or the creation of a new layer of government. The modelling commissioned by our Panel indicates that if municipalities plan, decide and act as one Metro Region through an integrated approach, the expansion of the overall settlement footprint could be cut by approximately half. This would save precious agricultural land and natural areas. Municipal servicing costs would be cut in half, reducing upward pressure on municipal tax rates and saving money for taxpayers. All of this would help make the Metro Region globally competitive and improve its quality of life. So how should things change? From a functional standpoint, there are many options for municipal collaboration. One of the most promising ways is for municipalities to take a regional systems approach. A regional systems approach doesn’t mean delivering all aspects of a municipal service through a regional body. It means strategically bringing together elements of services that are regionally significant to create highly functioning systems across the region. Any aspect of a service that isn’t regionally significant would continue to be locally planned and locally delivered by each municipality. What are those regionally significant services that are important to our competitiveness? Our Panel identified many recognized drivers of competitiveness in city-regions, but three stood out as “cornerstones” for the Edmonton Metro Region: 1. Economic development 2. Public transit 3. Land use and infrastructure development. These three cornerstones are the primary factors considered by investors when deciding where to locate new industries and major facilities. Therefore, they are the areas of highest priority and greatest risk for the Metro Region. As inter-related areas, they should “snap together” to build a strong backbone that will enable the Metro Region to achieve its social, economic and environmental goals. And all three are areas where action is achievable, essential and urgent.


Watershed Simulation Tool – Methods and Outcomes for the Bow River Basin

Carlson, M., R.J. MacDonald, and M. Chernos

Carlson, M., R.J. MacDonald, and M. Chernos. 2018. Watershed Simulation Tool – Methods and Outcomes for the Bow River Basin. Submitted to the Bow River Basin Council. Established in the wake of devastating floods in southern Alberta in 2013, the WRRP applies an integrated watershed approach to improve natural watershed function with the goal of building greater long-term resiliency. To inform this decision-making process in the Bow River Basin, the ALCES Online land use simulation model was applied to assess current and future risks to watershed function and the mitigation potential of conservation and restoration options. The scenarios incorporated the major land uses in the basin —- forestry, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, aggregate extraction, and urban and rural residential development — as well as forest fire. During the 50-year land use simulation, the expansion of land use was associated with elevated risk to watershed function, particularly in the central portion of the basin. The assessment of relative effectiveness of conservation and restoration strategies identified the strategies with the greatest potential benefit, and where to apply them for maximum effect. The hierarchical assessment of trade-offs among mitigation options is delivered to managers and stakeholders through a set of web-based dashboards, composed of dynamic maps and figures that convey future risks to watershed integrity and the effectiveness of mitigation options.

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