Conklin wetlands

Community-Based Environmental Programming

DATE: Ongoing

There are several environmental programs that CRDAC either managed or facilitates on behalf of Conklin Métis Local 193. These programs are funded by either the provincial or federal government and allow for the collection and analysis of data, identification of traditional species, community training, and development of monitoring methods that will ultimately contribute to a regional database.

These programs aim to observe and monitor any changes noted in wetlands and water impacting Conklin Métis’ harvesting activities. They provide a baseline of environmental data that monitors changes and determines whether these are caused by oil sands development. Further, they provide local employment and participation by incorporating a capacity-building component for Conklin Métis residents to learn Western science-based monitoring techniques.

These environmental programs help our community and CRDAC better understand the impacts of oil sands activity and developments. This information feeds into the decision-making process, encouraging action to protect and conserve the environment, creating a lasting positive effect.

Community participation is key as it not only provides insights on the environmental changes throughout the year, but also what places and species of wildlife and vegetation are most valued.

Conklin Environmental Monitoring Program

The Conklin Environmental Program is a program offered through the Oil Sands Monitoring (OSM) via Alberta Environment Protected Areas (AEPA). This program includes multiple field shifts annually that are attended by community members. Field work begins in the Spring with program setup and initial data collection, followed by multiple trips for Spring and Summer, fishing, and then finally a Fall takedown and site clean up trip.

Overall, the program exists to understand the impacts from and how the community views the impact through the observations of the physical environment around Conklin and how it may be impacted by the industrial projects that are in close proximity. The understanding of the impact and how the community views the impact is at the heart of these programs.

AEPA, through the OSM program, provided a grant to the CRDAC to conduct community-based environmental monitoring in the surrounding wetlands and region of Christina Lake, AB.

Monitoring Locations

There are a total of 11 wetlands sites, 13 stream sites, and 4 lake sites. All of the wetland and stream sites have a shallow groundwater well and most have wildlife cameras and ARU’s installed. The stream sites are located around the lake near tributary streams. The lake sites are located near the deepest parts of the lake. The wetland sites are dispersed around the Conklin area.


Water Quality & Quantity

It is important that water quantity remains fairly consistent over time and there are no constituents that impact the community use of the lake as well as exceed the guidelines for Alberta surface water as a metric for environmental impact.

Water quality observations remain within guidelines for surface water with exceedances of naturally occurring metals (e.g. iron). Field parameters of wetlands remain within the expected range of values based on wetland type. Water quantity continues to have seasonal fluctuations with streams seeing drier conditions in the past couple years.

Vegetation

Vegetation indicators include health, biodiversity, and traditionally valued species abundance. Vegetation assessments revealed that the health of each strata of wetland species remains in good condition with species abundance and diversity growing that is in relation to the number of sites in the program.

There is medicine everywhere you walk in the bush.

Jerry Quintal, Conklin Elder

To the right, is a photo of a Purple Pitcher Plant, a species of Trumpet Pitchers (Sarracenia). Conklin Elders refer to this plant as “Frog Pants” and is considered one of the main medicinal plants in the traditional area.

Traditionally Valuable Vegetation Species
Rat Root (wîhkês)
Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus)
Three Leaved Solomon (Maianthemum trifolium)
Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)Rabbit Root “Hupic”
Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
Beaver Root
Water Lily Roots (Nymphaea odorata)
Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum)
Diamon Willow Fungus (Haploporus odorus)Rose (Rosa acicularis)
Sweetgrass (Anthoxanthum hirtum)Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
Cedar Tree (Cedrus sp.)Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Bear Root Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum)Laboom Wild Mint (Mentha canadensis)
Blueberry Root (Vaccinium myrtilloides)Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana)
Black Root (neep-see-wa)Spruce (Picea sp.)
Senega Root Milkwort (Polygala senega)Common Yarrow (Achillea borealis)
Frog Pants
Leaves of the Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpea)
Reindeeer Lichen (Cladonia rangiferina)
Cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos and Vaccinium vitis-ideaea)Mosses (Sphagnum sp.)
Wildlife (Cameras, ARU’s, Fish Study)

Wildlife cameras, Autonomous Recording Units (ARU’s), and fish studies are tools that are used to assess species health and prevalence.

Mammals

Wildlife cameras capture the different wildlife/mammal species present through motion detectors. WildTrax is used to aid in species identification. Here are the wildlife species that were observed in the monitoring areas:

  • Moose (Alces alces)
  • White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
  • Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • Beaver (Castor canadensis)
  • Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
  • Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
  • Common Raven (Corvus corax)
  • Coyote (Canis latrans)
  • Fisher (Pekania pennanti)
  • Magpie (Pica hudsonia)
  • Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  • Marten (Martes americana)
  • Mink (Neovison vison)
  • Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
  • Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
  • Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)
  • Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)
  • Sandpipers, Curlews, Snipes and Allies
  • Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)
  • Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)
Fish

A fish study was completed to ensure the internal and external organs of the fish in Christina Lake are healthy. All fish observed were healthy.

Sandhill Crane
Birds

ARU’s capture bird species present through their distinctive calls and songs. The bird species detected thus far include: Clay-coloured Sparrow (Spizella pallida), Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis), Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza Georgina).

Wetland Monitoring

Wetland site selections for monitoring have been established through communication with Elders and knowledge keepers from the Conklin community. These sites typically hold significance and incorporate both traditional understanding and western methodology. In total there are 12 wetland sites with a focus on petlands, such as fens, bogs, and swamps. Fens and bogs are predominant wetland types in the Conklin region.

Fens

Fens are highly diverse wetland ecosystems, driven primarily by surface water and shallow groundwater flow, they are sensitive to changes in the local hydrological regime (Krebs 1989).

Bogs

Bogs are almost completely dependent on precipitation and exists as hydrologically isolated ecosystems on the landscape (Vitt and Chee 1990).

Swamps

Swamps are nutrient rich and fluctuating water levels throughout the year and they may or may not have peat accumulation (Government of Alberta 2015).

Are Oil Sands having an impact on wetlands and water bodies surrounding Conklin?

The program has not observed regional-scale wetland impacts or surrounding water bodies that can be attributed to the Oil Sands to date. A robust level of baseline information has been collected which will be used to look into more acute environmental impacts as the program continues. We continue to assess various indicators for each component within the program (Wetland, Vegetation, Water, Wildlife, etc.)

The program continues to work towards integrating traditional indicators that reflect observed changes to the health of the environment.

Indigenous Community Based Monitoring Advisory Committee (ICBMAC)

A program sponsored by the Government of Alberta through the OSM program, the ICBMAC focuses on gathering and centering indigenous knowledge to encourage and support indigenous led environmental projects within the oil sands region of Alberta. It supports the Oversight Committee, which provides recommendations to the OSM to help guide the overall strategic vision of the program.

Findings & Future

Through this environmental monitoring program, we have collected a substantial amount of baseline data. In the future, this data will serve as a foundation for analyzing impact of industry. As industry continues to have localized effects, ongoing monitoring is crucial to preserve the environment as a habitat to many.