ALCES Based Project Reports

Year Title (Author, Description) File Download

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.

Contact ALCES for Sarah M Jordaan, David W Keith, and Brad Stelfox, 2009

A Comparison of Land Use Options for the Mbaracayu Biosphere Reserve - Final Report

Matt Carlson

Unplanned and unsustainable land use has transformed the Atlantic Forests of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. In 1991, responding to the rapid loss of Atlantic Forest, the Government of Paraguay created the Mbaracayu Forest Natural Reserve (MFNR) and established the Cuenca watershed as a mixed-used protected area. Given the land use pressures facing the region, the future existence of healthy ecosystems within the Cuenca relies on balancing land use with conservation. The Mbaracayu program, run by the Fundacion Moises Bertoni (FMB), seeks to integrate a vision of sustainable and social development in harmony with the conservation of the MFNR. In response to the recognized need for a management plan, the FMB collaborated with the Alberta Research Council on the project "Capacity Enhancement for Community- and Ecologically-based Management in the Bosque Mbaracayu Biosphere Reserve, Paraguay". As part of the project, the land use simulation tool ALCES was applied to evaluate land use scenarios in the Cuenca. Applying ALCES contributed to the development of a management plan by informing the identification of sustainable land use options. The report is intended to communicate the ALCES tool and analysis, solicit feedback, and inform training of FMB staff to apply ALCES in the Cuenca.

Contact ALCES for Matt Carlson, 2007

Modelling regional futures at decadal scale: application to the Kimberley region

Fabio Boschetti, Hector Lozano-Montes, J. Brad Stelfox

We address the question of how to provide meaningful scientific information to support environmental decision making at the regional scale and at the temporal scale of several decades. Our application is the management of a network of marine parks in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where the key challenges to environmental sustainability are slow-dynamics climate change processes and one-off investments in large infrastructure, which can affect the future of a region for decades to come. In this situation, strategic, rather than reactive planning is necessary and thus standard adaptive management approaches may not be effective. Prediction becomes more urgent than adaptation, in terms of assessing the long term consequence of specific economic and conservation decisions. Working at the interface between future studies, socio-economic modelling and environmental modelling, we define 18 scenarios of economic development and climate change impacts and 5 management strategies aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the marine environment. We explore these potential future trajectories using coupled models of terrestrial land use and marine ecosystem dynamics. The Alces model simulates the dynamics of bio-physical and socio-economic processes on land and the pressures these impose on the coastal and marine environment. This forces an Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) model used to simulate marine processes, foodweb dynamics and human activities in the marine environment. We obtain a projection of the Kimberley marine system to the year 2050, conditional on the chosen scenarios and management strategies, which is compatible with the best available knowledge of the current system state (as codified in the models’ input) and system functioning (as represented in the models’ dynamics). Our results suggest that climate change, not economic development, is the largest factor affecting the future of marine ecosystems in the Kimberley region, with sedentary species such as reef fish at greatest risk. These same species also benefit most from more stringent management strategies, especially expansion of sanctuary zones and Marine Protected Areas.

Contact ALCES for Fabio Boschetti, Hector Lozano-Montes, J. Brad Stelfox, 2019

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

Contact ALCES for Fabio Boschetti, Hector Lozano-Montes, Brad Stelfox, Catherine Bulman, Joanna Strzelecki, Michael Hu, 2017

Southern Alberta Landscapes: Meeting the Challenges Ahead - Export Coefficients for Total Phosphorus, Total Nitrogen and Total Suspended Solids in the Southern Alberta Region - A literature review

Yetunde Jeje

The objectives of the literature review were to: 1) Identify and summarize literature that provide quantitative information on Total Nitrogen (TN), Total Phosphorus (TP) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) export coefficients in the Southern Alberta region, 2) Identify and summarize literature that provide quantitative information on TN, TP and TSS export coefficients in the following landscape cover categories provided by Alberta Environment: 9 Native Prairie classes, 6 Agriculture classes, 7 Forest Area classes and 4 Miscellaneous (4) classes for input in the ALCES computer simulation model currently under development, 3) Prepare a report that presents a descriptive inventory and analysis of literature including a list of all relevant literature reviewed and abstracts of selected literature appropriately categorized, and provide a discussion of data generated, and 4) Identify and summarize literature that provides quantitative information on TN, TP and TSS export coefficients for Non-native Land Use categories in the Southern Alberta region.

Contact ALCES for Yetunde Jeje, 2006

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.

Contact ALCES for Multiple, 2015

Seeking a Balance: Assessing the Future Impacts of Conservation and Development in the Mackenzie Watershed

Matt Carlson, Erin Bayne, Brad Stelfox; Canadian Boreal Initiative

This study explored how development of the Mackenzie watershed’s natural resources may transform the region over the next 100 years. Our intention was two-fold. First, at a general level, we sought to increase awareness of the Mackenzie watershed and how impending economic development may alter one of the world’s most intact ecosystems. Second, and more importantly, we evaluated the capacity of the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework to balance economic development with conservation of the watershed’s ecological integrity. To explore the future effects of development to the Mackenzie watershed, land-use simulations were conducted for the AlbertaPacific Forest Management Agreement area (Al-Pac FMA) in northeastern Alberta and a southern portion of the Dehcho Territory (southern Dehcho) in the Northwest Territories. The Al-Pac FMA is one of the most heavily developed portions of this watershed and contains a substantial portion of the Athabasca oil sands, which is the second largest oil deposit in the world. The southern Dehcho is rich in gas deposits but, unlike the Al-Pac FMA, development has been limited to date. Together, these two study areas provided an opportunity to assess and compare development impacts and conservation opportunities in areas where the allocation of natural resources to development is currently high (Al-Pac FMA) and low (southern Dehcho). The effects of development over a 100-year time frame were assessed using the ALCES computer model. ALCES simulated land use in each study area under two development scenarios. A business-as-usual scenario was simulated to explore the effects of expected resource development and conventional conservation strategies. A Boreal Forest Conservation Framework (Framework) scenario was also simulated to explore the effects of an increased conservation effort. In keeping with the Framework, the scenario consisted of increased levels of protection and strategies to mitigate disturbance from resource development. The conservation strategies implemented in the Framework scenario reflected those proposed by Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries and the Dehcho First Nations. In the Al-Pac FMA, the strategies were to increase the area protected from three percent to six percent of the study area, to maintain old forest in the managed landscape, and to minimize the area impacted by industrial disturbances. In the southern Dehcho, the strategies were to increase the area protected from zero to 48 percent of the study area and to minimize the area impacted by industrial disturbances. In both study areas, the business-as-usual scenario resulted in an increased density of linear disturbances and a decreased area of older productive softwood forest. Changes to the density of linear disturbances and area of older productive softwood forest often exceeded disturbance thresholds that have been proposed to protect against negative effects to wildlife, which suggested that business-as-usual development is not sustainable. The conservation strategies that formed the Framework scenario reduced landscape disturbance, often to within the boundaries of disturbance thresholds. In the southern Dehcho, the density of linear disturbances remained below the disturbance threshold and half of the study area was kept free from industrial disturbance. Decline in the area of older productive softwood forest was not avoided because non-productive forest dominated the protected areas, thus illustrating the importance of adequately protecting all forest types. In the Al-Pac FMA, application of the Framework scenario was able to avoid decline in the area of older productive softwood forest. The linear disturbance threshold was exceeded, however, demonstrating that it will be challenging to avoid negative ecological effects of development in the southern Mackenzie watershed. The ecological implications of simulated landscape transformations were evaluated in greater detail by assessing impacts to woodland caribou and bird populations. The assessment was completed using wildlife models based on data collected from northern Alberta. Five bird species were included: the blackthroated green warbler, bay-breasted warbler and Canada warbler, which are species associated with older forest; the ovenbird, which is a species associated with mature forest; and the white-throated sparrow, which is a species associated with younger forest and much more common than the others. Simulations of a business-as-usual scenario predicted that the woodland caribou population would decline in both study areas, indicating that the species is likely to be extirpated unless conservation strategies are improved. In the southern Dehcho, the simulation predicted a 21-percent decline in ovenbird and bay-breasted warbler populations and a 32-percent decline in a

Contact ALCES for Matt Carlson, Erin Bayne, Brad Stelfox; Canadian Boreal Initiative, 2007

Grizzly Bear Habitat Selection and Mortality Coefficients of Southern Alberta: Estimates for the Southern Alberta Regional Strategy (SARS)-ALCES Project

Scott Nielsen and Mark Boyce

Southern Alberta has witnessed substantial recent growth in local human population concurrent with an increasing demand on natural resources. This growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. A Southern Alberta Region Strategy (SARS) was formed to address potential economic and ecological benefits and/or impacts of projected regional change. To examine these relationships in a quantitative and structured manner, SARS settled on the use of A Landscape Cumulative Effects Simulator (ALCES). One resource sector outlined in SARS and modeled in ALCES is wildlife, with grizzly bears (Ursus arctos L.) chosen as one focal conservation species for the process. Grizzly bears are a species of special concern in Alberta, currently considered 'may be at risk'. For the ALCES modeling process, information on habitat relationships or habitat suitability indices (HSI) are required. In this report we describe the results of empirical modeling exercises undertaken to provide coefficients of habitat selection and mortality. We further provide suggestions for incorporating the two indices into a single synthetic index we refer to as exposure.

Contact ALCES for Scott Nielsen and Mark Boyce, 2003

The Changing Landscape of the Southern Alberta Foothills

Southern Alberta Land Trust and Brad Stelfox

Report of the Southern Foothills Study Business as Usual Scenario and Public Survey

Contact ALCES for Southern Alberta Land Trust and Brad Stelfox, 2007

State of Baptiste Lake Watershed

Matt Carlson, ALCES Group - for the Baptiste Lake Watershed Stewardship Group

In response to concerns regarding the health of lakes in the region, summer villages at Baptiste, Island and Skeleton Lakes have formed the Baptiste, Island, and Skeleton Lakes Watershed Management and Lake Stewardship Council (BISL). BISL's vision for Baptiste Lake is to "maintain a healthy lake and watershed, recognizing the importance of living within the capacity of the natural environment and providing sustainable recreational, residential, agricultural, and industrial benefits". The State of the Watershed report contributes to achieving the vision by describing the current condition of the Baptiste Lake and its watershed, and assessing potential strategies to improve the health of the lake and watershed.

Contact ALCES for Matt Carlson, ALCES Group - for the Baptiste Lake Watershed Stewardship Group, 2008
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