Canadian Mining Stories

Syncrude’s Bison Herd Thriving on reclaimed oil sands land

A first-time visitor to Syncrude’s oil sands operations in northern Alberta might be surprised to see a herd of wood bison grazing on grasses on the site, but they represent a symbol of the company’s promise to provide a sustainable ecosystem for future generations long after its operations have ended.

Even before production began in 1978, Syncrude understood the scale and impact its operations would have on the existing environment. Reclamation research programs were put in place to achieve the company’s long-term vision to create a landscape equivalent to that which existed prior to the disturbance, supporting a healthy diversity of plants and animals. Significant progress has been made over the last 50 years with approximately 4,400 hectares of former mine sites either reclaimed or prepared for re-vegetation activities, and more than eight million tree and shrub seedlings planted throughout reclaimed areas.

While wood bison are now a fixture on the Syncrude landscape, their presence started as a research project to assess the ability of reclaimed landscapes to support forage crops for large animals. Once native to the Wood Buffalo region and culturally significant to Indigenous people, the wood bison are a threatened species. Syncrude approached Elk Island National Park to participate in the Wood Bison Recovery Program, run by the Canadian Wildlife Service, and in 1993, 30 wood bison were released onto reclaimed land. 25 years later, the herd has now grown to 300, who graze on 300 hectares of land reclaimed from oil sands mining operations at the Beaver Creek Bison Ranch, which is managed in partnership with the Fort McKay First Nation.

Reclamation is an essential aspect of the mining process and integral to MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining program which focuses on the importance of sustainable practices, particularly with a focus on environmental stewardship, in the mining sector. Syncrude’s reclamation work has been so significant, that both the company and the Fort McKay First Nation have been honoured with multiple awards recognizing the rehabilitation efforts that have had such success.

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