ALCES Based Project Reports

Year Title (Author, Description) File Download

Landscape Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing Development and Operations on Surface Water and Watersheds


Quinn, M.S., M.E. Tyler, E. Ajaero, J. Arvai, M. Carlson, I. Dunmade, S. Hill, J. McCallum, D. McMartin, D. Megson, G. O’Sullivan, R. Parks, D. Poulton, B. Stelfox, J. Stewart, C. Serralde Monreal, S. Tomblin, C. Van der Byl. 2015. Landscape Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing Development and Operations on Surface Water and Watersheds. Prepared for the Canadian Water Network. Institute for Environmental Sustainability, Mount Royal University, Calgary, AB. The study explores landscape and watershed impacts of hydraulic fracturing using a multi‐disciplinary social and natural science framework. The primary learning from our multidisciplinary approach is the need for greater institutional opportunities to integrate and coordinate a spectrum of approaches to address knowledge gaps in multiple system interactions across scales and involving system threshold effects that may be social in nature as well as biogeochemical. There is a lack of operational precedents in Canada for applying a cumulative effects approach to assessment of regional gas extraction from low permeability unconventional formations using horizontal wells with multistage hydraulic fracturing. A demonstration case study was developed for this report and fully presented in Appendix A. The purpose of the case study was to demonstrate how a simulation model (ALCES Online), in conjunction with an RSEA approach, could inform regional management of hydraulic fracturing by identifying risk and mitigation opportunities. The simulation outcomes were sensitive to uncertainties, emphasizing the importance of improved understanding of hydraulic fracturing’s impacts.


Modelling Ecosystem Carbon Dynamics in Alberta: An Integrative Approach

Rider, N., M. Carlson, and B. Stelfox

Rider, N., M. Carlson, and B. Stelfox. 2016. Modelling Ecosystem Carbon Dynamics in Alberta: An Integrative Approach. ALCES Group Report. The report describes the application the ALCES Online landscape simulator to examine the effect of past, present, and potential future land use and natural disturbance on ecosystem carbon storage in Alberta, Canada. Introduction Fluxes of carbon (and other greenhouse gases) between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere are important drivers and mitigators of global warming (Heimann & Reichstein, 2008). Consequently, understanding ecosystem carbon dynamics and how land use and land use change affect them is becoming considered increasingly important. Since 2003, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has accepted greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory reports from many major nations (IPCC, 2015). Internationally binding agreements including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ensure that countries monitor their greenhouse gas emissions. Land use and land use change (LULUC) are increasingly recognized as integral to global carbon budgets (Guo & Gifford, 2002; Kaplan, Krumhardt, & Zimmermann, 2012; Macedo & Davidson, 2014). Every year, Canada submits a National Inventory Report documenting emissions from land use and land use change as well as from commercial and industrial activities to the IPCC (Environment Canada, 2015b). Each National Inventory Report includes emission trends from the energy sector, industries and product use, agriculture, waste, and LULUC. Since the IPCC is primarily interested in emissions and emissions factors, the report does not specifically document existing carbon stocks in biomass or other pools. The current report expands research on carbon emissions by providing information on existing biomass and organic carbon stocks in Alberta. Additionally, it provides forecasts and backcasts for biomass and organic carbon based on a landuse dataset which documents historical LULUC as well as future LULUC. ALBERTA The province of Alberta is located in Western Canada. In 2014, the population of Alberta totalled 4.1 million (Alberta Finance, 2015). This number is expected to increase by around 50 % by 2041. This increase will create substantial demand for goods, services, and infrastructure which will undoubtedly lead to changes in land use and alter emissions patterns. Alberta is also home to a large energy sector which has nearly half a million kilometres of pipelines and nine oil sands developments (Alberta Energy Regulator, 2015). It is important for the Alberta Government to have decision-making tools which can inform land use decisions while taking into account multiple factors. The Alberta Government is currently developing regional plans to help manage multiple uses on the landscape (Alberta Environment and Parks, 2015). Information about how LULUC and ecosystem carbon storage are related should be considered by governments during local, regional, and national planning. GENERAL APPROACH The current project integrates existing ALCES data (which was originally obtained from a variety of sources), values from the primary literature, and other available information to determine best estimates of ecosystem carbon stocks. In general, with the exception of forests, peatlands, and wetlands, carbon stocks were divided into three categories - aboveground biomass, belowground biomass, and soil organic carbon (SOC). All carbon stocks were dependent on land uses and land use changes. For Alberta’s forest area, dead wood and litter biomass were also considered to be important stock categories. For peatlands and wetlands, it is difficult to distinguish between belowground biomass and soil organic carbon, so these were lumped together into a single category, belowground carbon. The approach used differed slightly depending on specific cover types. An online tool, ALCES Online, was used to present the data and generate all maps in this report. ALCES Online uses a raster data format with a resolution of 2.5 km. Existing biomass values for natural areas were determined either from relationships to other variables from the primary literature, measured values summarized in primary literature, measured values provided by government agencies, or values predicted by a model. To determine biomass and carbon stocks for anthropogenic features, the general approach was to determine a base carbon density in a given cell based on the carbon in natural features, croplands, and pastures (Equation 1). This base carbon value included area-weighted carbon values for all natural features, croplands, and pastures. To determine what the carbon value of an anthropogenic feature in a cell was, the base carbon value was divided by the area which it represented (the total natural, crop, and pasture area), and then multiplied by a loss coefficient associated with the anthropogenic feature in question, followed by the area of the anthropogenic feature (Equation 2; α = coefficient). The sum of base carbon of a given type and all carbon associated with anthropogenic features of a given type yielded the total carbon of a given type in a given cell (Equation 3). The sum of all types of carbon in a cell yields a total ecosystem carbon value for that cell (Equation 4). As was previously mentioned, litter and deadwood carbon values only existed for forest. Since croplands and pastures are more similar to natural features in terms of how anthropogenic features impact their carbon storage, croplands and pastures were included in the base carbon stocks in the aforementioned approach. The next section (Approach by Footprint) documents how values were determined for existing biomass or soil organic carbon and how the different anthropogenic feature carbon was accounted for. The approach described above was the most common one; however, in a few specific cases, as described in the following sections, the coefficient approach was not used to determine the carbon associated with an anthropogenic feature. Integral to the approach used was the Unity Dataset, which exists in ALCES Online (see The Unity Dataset).

Alberta Ecosystem Carbon Dynamics - draft report.pdf

Assessing the Potential Cumulative Impacts of Land Use and Climate Change on Freshwater Fish in Northern Ontario

Chetkiewicz, C-L B., M. Carlson, C.M. O’Connor, B. Edwards, F.M. Southee, and M. Sullivan

Chetkiewicz, C-L B., M. Carlson, C.M. O’Connor, B. Edwards, F.M. Southee, and M. Sullivan. 2017. Assessing the Potential Cumulative Impacts of Land Use and Climate Change on Freshwater Fish in Northern Ontario. Wildlife Conservation Society Canada Conservation Report No. 11. The study is the first to project the potential impacts of development on freshwater systems in a 440,000 km2 region of northern Ontario over the next 50 years. The study examined the impact of high- and low-growth development scenarios that incorporated forestry, mining, and hydroelectric development, as well as climate change and forest fire. The response of fish populations was assessed by applying expert-derived models that describe relationships between simulated stressors (e.g., roads, dams, forestry activities, temperature) and species-specific fish sustainability indices (FSI) for walleye, lake sturgeon, lake whitefish, and brook trout. All four species exhibited increased risk over the simulation period, although lake whitefish were more tolerant of simulated changes in land use and climate change. Overall, climate change was the most influential driver of risk to freshwater fish, followed by hydroelectric dams. Climate change consistently exacerbated the effects of land use and natural disturbance changes under both scenarios – FSI declined faster or further when land use was combined with climate change.


The Future of Wildlife Conservation and Resource Development in the Western Boreal Forest

Carlson, M., and D. Browne

Carlson, M., and D. Browne. 2015. The Future of Wildlife Conservation and Resource Development in the Western Boreal Forest. Canadian Wildlife Federation, Kanata, ON. Canada’s western boreal forest is a region of national and international interest due to its immense economic and ecological values. The region’s hydrocarbons, timber, arable land, and minerals are a source of great economic potential, but also carry risks to wildlife and their habitat due to the cumulative effects of dispersed and often overlapping impacts of resource development. The aim of the project was to start a national dialogue about options for wildlife conservation in this rapidly developing region, with the ultimate goal of creating a comprehensive land-use plan for wildlife conservation and resource extraction in the western boreal forest. The analysis of the potential cumulative effects of the next 50 years of development in the region is a first step in this process.


Alces Online Hawaii Workshop, April 2016

Stelfox, J.B.

Alces Hawaii Workshop April 2016.docx

Knowledge Integration and Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) Modelling

Fabio Boschetti, Hector Lozano-Montes, Brad Stelfox, Catherine Bulman, Joanna Strzelecki, Michael Hu

Knowledge Integration and Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) Modelling report. Prepared for the WAMSI Kimberley Marine Research Program Final Report. The Kimberley Marine Research Program (KMRP) Project 2.2.8 represents the first attempt to integrate a large amount of data, knowledge and state-of-the-art understanding of the bio-physical, ecological and social processes affecting the Kimberley marine environment drawing in new information generated by several of the KMRP projects within the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) program. This information was used to parameterise two computer models (ALCES and Ecopath with Ecosim [EwE]) to simulate land, coastal and marine processes. A careful examination of a large volume of publications from the academic, private and public sectors allowed a number of climate and social economic development scenarios that the Kimberley region may experience in the decades to come to be developed. Computer simulations were used to test the Kimberley system’s responses to these alternative scenarios under a number of management strategies including current and proposed marine parks under different options of zoning and multiple uses. Both the scenarios and management strategies were selected and agreed upon in consultation with a number of stakeholder groups, including the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (formerly Department of Parks and Wildlife), The Kimberley Development Commission, WA Department of State Development, Department of Primary Industries and Resources (formerly Department of Fisheries), Department of Mine, Industry Regulation and Safety (formerly WA Department of Mines and Petroleum), among others. The analysis of the impacts of these scenarios and management strategies sheds light on a range of future states the Kimberley marine environment may experience during the 2015 to 2050 period. Before the core results are summarised, it is important to remind the reader that a model simulation is not an absolute prediction (a ‘prophecy’) of how the Kimberley region will look in 2050. Rather, it is an attempt to say something of decision-making significance about how the system may respond to the specific conditions summarised in the scenarios and management strategies, which is consistent with our current scientific knowledge and our current understanding of how the Kimberley system functions. It follows that while insight on system behaviour gained from consideration of these scenarios can provide guidance on potential patterns of responses, care must be taken when considering circumstances outside the specifics of the scenarios and management strategies modelled and particular account must be made of the uncertainty in our current knowledge. The outcome of this project is a very large set of simulation outputs representing the dynamical evolution of the land, coastal and marine environments over 35 years. This includes hundreds of regional maps and thousands of time series of environmental, social and economic indicators. All these results are now publically available and can be viewed at

MSE final report v4.pdf

A Biophysical and Land Use Atlas for Maui, Hawaii

Stelfox, J.B.

A biophysical atlas of physical features (soils, climate, topography), plant communities and land use sectors (croplands, residential, transportation, mining, industrial and tourism) was assembled in Alces Online and then used to prepare an online Atlas. This atlas is now available for the educational sector (primary, secondary, post-secondary) for the State of Hawaii. These materials were presented to local governments, land trusts, and the University of Hawaii.

Alces Online Atlas for Maui, Hawaii for Univeristy of Hawaii; reduced resolution.pptx

A Fork in the Road: Future Development in Ontario’s Far North

Carlson, M., and C. Chetkiewicz. 2013

Ontario's Far North contains some of the world's most intact subarctic terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. It is a stronghold for a number of fish and wildlife species such as woodland caribou, wolverine, and lake sturgeon. The region is also the homeland of Ojibwe, Oji-Cree and Cree First Nations who have established longstanding traditional cultural values and a unique relationship with this land that they have used and occupied for thousands of years. The environment in the Far North provides important "services" to people such as climate regulation, food, cultural values, and clean and abundant water supplies. The Far North also includes a wealth of natural resources such as minerals, hydropower development potential, timber resources, and other resource development opportunities. In 2010, the Government of Ontario committed to working with First Nation communities to develop land-use plans that support conservation and development of the Far North. An important step in the planning process is assessing whether the cumulative effects of the full suite of potential future developments are compatible with the aspirations of First Nations and Ontario. To support decision-making in this unique region, we applied a simulation model (ALCES®) to explore changes in the composition of regional landscapes associated with potential future mining, hydroelectric development, and forestry activity as well as forest fires, and the implications for woodland caribou, wolverine, moose, and the intactness of watersheds. Our study focused on the James Bay Lowlands, which includes the large mineral reserves in the Ring of Fire, numerous kimberlite deposits, including the Victor Diamond mine, and major rivers with hydropower potential such as the Attawapiskat, Moose, and Albany. To encompass the full extent of the Pagwachuan Caribou Range, the study area extended south of the James Bay Lowland thereby also incorporating portions of five Sustainable Forest Licenses that are managed primarily for timber production. The simulated development scenario resulted in a three-fold increase in anthropogenic footprint over 50 years, primarily due to road and transmission corridor expansion to support industrial developments. The spatial pattern of the simulated footprint differentiated between the dispersed road network associated with forestry in the south and the more isolated, but intensive, mining and hydroelectric Executive Summary To support decisionmaking in this unique region, we applied a simulation model (ALCES) to explore changes in the composition of regional landscapes associated with potential future mining, hydroelectric development, and forestry activity as well as forest fires, and the implications for woodland caribou, wolverine, moose, and the intactness of watersheds. vi Canadian Boreal Initiative | Wildlife Conservation Society Canada developments in the north. The simulated forestry activity in the south had consequences for the Pagwachuan Caribou Range where the risk to herd survival approached the high category and range disturbance exceeded a threshold of 35% – a guideline in the national caribou recovery strategy. Simulated impacts to wolverine were also greatest in the south, where expansion of the road network caused habitat suitability to decline. Land use impacts to wildlife such as caribou and wolverine may be exacerbated by climate change. As an example, the moose population was simulated to increase twofold when climate change was incorporated, which would likely cause the region’s wolf population to grow with negative implications for caribou herd viability. Simulated mining and hydroelectric developments were sufficiently isolated at a regional scale to avoid large impacts to caribou and wolverine. A greater concern, however, may be the consequences of these developments to the integrity of aquatic ecosystems. The watershed impact score increased for a number of northern watersheds, demonstrating that risk to aquatic ecosystems is likely to increase in watersheds that contain important natural resource regions such as the Ring of Fire due to the presence of multiple mining and hydroelectric developments. The outcomes of this pilot project offers important considerations when addressing cumulative effects in northern Ontario, including: the benefit to wildlife of limiting land use to isolated regions within an otherwise intact landscape; the need to improve understanding of the cumulative effects to aquatic ecosystems of multiple large-scale developments (e.g., mines, dams) within northern watersheds; and the potential for climate change to increase the sensitivity of wildlife to industrial land use. We hope these findings will inform land-use planning at both the community and regional scale and motivate additional analyses that are needed to comprehensively assess cumulative effects in Ontario’s Far North.


Cost of Construction and Maintenance of Infrastructure relevant to the Upper Bow Basin

Mr. Jonathan Holmes

Contains metrics pertaining to cost of construction and maintenance of infrastructure. Summary. This analysis is a comparative study of three different documents (see below under “studies used”) to find the best available estimates of costs and revenues of new development from the perspective of municipalities. The above estimates are certainly not perfect, but hopefully detailed review of the assumptions underpinning these numbers will show that they are realistic for the Upper Bow Basin. These coefficients are meant to be used for both the BAU simulation as well as for best practices. In particular, they are sufficient to estimate the capital costs of denser or “clustered” development. From a municipality’s perspective, the key change from clustered development is a reduction in the costs of constructing roads and water pipelines to connect far-flung areas. Since water pipeline length is very closely related to urban roadway length, it is possible to estimate the cost-savings of urban development using the quantity of roadway required for these communities as the driver. Another way of showing the consequences of best practices is to measure the substitution of one landuse type for another. Because rural development has different rates of revenues and costs, an 3 of 15 increase in density of residential development would have consequences on a municipality’s financial position, and this can be captured using the information provided here. However, best practices which alter the costs impacts of a specific landuse without changing its landuse type are not analyzed in this report. For example, the additional costs of water conservation for a given piece of land are not quantified. If required, this can be done separately. (Note: For a discussion of a limited number of best practices, we recommend reading the CMHC report).


Valuaton of Recreation Attributes

Jonathan Holmes

This report by Jonathan Holmes lays out an approach for computing recreational value of landscapes Summary. Two concrete methods for calculating the non-market recreational value of a land base are presented: One based of landscape types, and the other on the mix of recreational activities used in the landscape. Both provide relatively easy and effective ways of quantifying the value of recreation in a given area over and above the total costs that recreational users had to pay, but I recommend the second method where possible because it is more precise and benefits from better regional estimates. In addition, I have included a discussion about how these estimates could be projected into the future using estimates derived from the ALCES model. The easiest way to do this is to assume that per hectare landscape values will remain constant over time for different landscape types, and to adjust the non-market value estimate based on landscape change. However, this assumes that other factors such as road penetration or the quantity of big game (in the case of hunters) have a small or negligible effect on the value of a landscape. While it would take more work, I believe that a more detailed projection of value (and therefore a better idea of what tradeoffs are in play) is possible in the case of hunting, and I discuss a few ways of doing this in a separate section. Unfortunately, projection of value for other types of recreation is difficult, because the relationship between landuse change and the recreational value of a landscape has been subject to few studies and reports to my knowledge.

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