Alberta wild spaces are disappearing faster than the Amazon Rainforest

Trees on the Alberta foothills [Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jason Hollinger]

When we think of environmental devastation, we tend to think of the tropical rainforest, which is being eradicated at a rapid pace. However, according to a new report from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI), parts of Alberta’s ecosystems are disappearing even faster than the Amazon Rainforest.

“We continue to lose ecosystems,” Jahan Kariyeva, a geographer at the University of Alberta, told the Canadian Press. “That we can definitely see.”

Athabasca Tar Sands
The Alberta Oilsands is in the Boreal Forest Natural Region, according to the ABMI report, and is a significant contributor to the human footprint in Alberta. Photo courtesy of Dru Oja Jay.

The report looked at the effect human activity has had on Alberta’s wild areas and found that while 70% of the province remains untouched by human industry and development (most of that in the north), the “human footprint” on wild areas increased by 3.51% between 1999 and 2015. That means that over 23,000 square kilometres of land — or 3.5 Banff National Parks — went from being wild to being developed. And in certain areas, such as the foothills of Western Alberta, the rate of loss was very high, with the human footprint increasing by 11.40%.

The ABMI’s study focuses on human footprint as a way of understanding the effect humans have on the environment. To figure out the extent of the footprint, researchers examined the effects of things like forestry, agriculture, and energy. But for Kariyeva, the overall effect of human development is simple to explain.

“More human footprint, less biodiversity.”

Alberta is home to large forestry and oil industries, and it was found in 2014 to the most forest disturbance of any large province in Canada. However, because it is so large and contains such a variety of ecosystems, there is still much left to protect.

“We have a lot of relatively untouched ecosystems here,” Simon Dyer of the Pembina institute said. “And we have substantive land-use change taking place.”

Kariyeva hopes that the study will push politicians and developers to make decisions that protect Alberta’s wild spaces. “We need to understand the human footprint dynamic and the trends, so we can reduce the effect of human activity.”

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