2.1 Landscape condition and human development in the oil sands region

Jim Herbers, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute







The conversion of native land-cover to support human development is the greatest threat to biodiversity in the oil sands region. Empirically measuring additions and deletions in human development is important to making smart stewardship choices. Understanding (or lack of understanding) affects how we develop policy and regulation, evaluate planning trade-offs, and invest in restoration. Therefore, knowing the amount, type, location and duration of human development is required to manage biodiversity along with economic and social interests.

We define human development (i.e., human footprint) as the temporary or permanent transformation of native ecosystems to industrial, residential or recreational land uses. Human development was determined at two spatial scales:


i) coarse: evaluation is conducted at a spatial scale of 1:15,000 for the entire province circa 2012;


ii) fine: evaluation is conducted at a spatial scale of 1:5000 for each of 1656 sample plots of 21 km2 spaced evenly—every 20 km—throughout Alberta. In addition, we are involved in monitoring programs designed to evaluate the effectiveness of successional recovery and reclamation in the forest and energy industries.


Collectively, this information provides the foundation for an integrated, long-term human development information system for the oil sands region of Alberta.




Jim Herbers has been actively sharing the story  and the science of biodiversity in Alberta through his work at the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) since 2004. As the Director of the ABMI’s Information Centre, Jim focuses primarily on outreach and communication tools that are relevant to industry, government, ENGO’s, and the public.