Better Environmental Management Through Monitoring 2015: ABMI Speaker Series day

On February 17, more than 300 people attended the ABMI’s second annual Speakers’ Series, Better Environmental Management Through Monitoring 2015. Facilitated by Brian Keating, host of the program Going Wild and former head of conservation outreach at the Calgary Zoo, the day brought together presenters from the ABMI and other organizations to talk about their work and its value to the province’s land-use and natural resource decision-makers.

Kirk Andries, ABMI executive director, kicked off the talks around “The ABMI and the Alberta context” with a discussion on the link between monitoring and management. “We manage what we measure and measure what we value,” pointed out Andries, adding, in Alberta, that usually includes the economy, human life, safety and health. The good news is that Alberta is also committed to environmental monitoring, including land and biodiversity. “Monitoring brings focus, which drives performance and accountability,” he emphasized.

Jay Nagendran, CEO of AEMERA (Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency) gave an update on the organization, including its new online data portal, its goal of incorporating traditional ecological knowledge from Alberta’s aboriginal populations, and an introduction to how AEMERA can work collaboratively with other monitoring agencies, such as the ABMI.

Dallas Johnson of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development spoke about the development and structure of the Biodiversity Management Framework (BMF) for the Lower Athabasca Region. These frameworks are a new concept for Alberta and the Lower Athabasca BMF is the first to be developed. It will be finalized in the spring and then similar frameworks will be developed for the South and North Saskatchewan Regions.

To launch the “Old Challenges, New Ideas” session, Tyler Cobb, director of the ABMI Processing Centre, spoke about the importance of taxonomy (the science of classification) in biodiversity monitoring, the intense workloads that often outweigh resources in the field, and the 501,742 (!) specimens processed to date by ABMI taxonomists. ABMI communications manager Tara Narwani introduced the audience to NatureLynx, the Institute’s new venture in citizen science. NatureLynx—currently in development—is a mobile and desktop application that will allow individuals and groups (from novice to expert) to ask questions about their local biodiversity by collecting and posting photographs of species of interest, and receiving feedback from the larger community. Dan Farr, director of the ABMI Application Centre, then provided an overview of the latest generation of automated recording devices used to monitor vocalizing wildlife, such as birds and amphibians.

This segued into a series of talks on the work occurring at the ABMI’s Application Centre itself. A video presentation from Tom Habib described the ABMI’s Ecosystem Services Assessment project to map and measure the hidden value of the province’s ecosystem services, i.e. the benefits we receive from nature. For example, field data on the number of wild bees in a region can be used to calculate an expected boost in canola yield based on the additional pollination provided by these bees, which, in turn, can be converted to an estimate of the economic value of pollination by wild bees—100s of millions of dollars per year. Delinda Ryerson spoke about the ABMI’s work to monitor the ecological recovery of reclaimed wellsites, which preliminary data shows have often not fully recovered, for example, in the boreal even 30 years after wells were decommissioned. Scott Nielsen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta and ABMI collaborator, then explained his work on Alberta species and climate change, stating that most species will have to either adapt or move to cope with changing conditions.

Talks on the work of the ABMI’s Science Centre were introduced by its co-director Jim Schieck. He discussed the information the ABMI tracks—not just species, but also habitats and human disturbance—emphasizing that the scope of data (which is publicly available on the ABMI website) collected by the ABMI is unprecedented globally. This led to a talk by Peter Solymos on the change in human footprint (including agriculture, mining, forestry, urban development, etc.) in Alberta from 1999 to 2013. Dave Huggard then spoke about the relationship between species’ abundance and habitat types, and the relative effect that different kinds of human footprint can have on populations.

A group session on ABMI’s Geospatial Centre wrapped up the day. Jahan Kariyeva outlined how the 14 staff at this centre use remote sensing to explore relationships between land use and biodiversity outcomes by collecting data on land cover and human footprint across the province. Branko Hricko elaborated on the human footprint work. ABMI has generated wall-to-wall human footprint maps for 2007, 2010, 2012, and detailed human footprint datasets from 1999 to 2013 for the ABMI’s 1656 monitoring sites. Cris Gray described her work updating the extent and location of linear features such as roads, pipelines, powerlines, railroads and cutlines for the Oil Sands Region of Alberta. Bryce Maynes and his team map vegetation cover in the province using stereo imagery produced from air photos. Finally Jerome Cranston discussed his work to identify high priority seismic lines in the Oil Sands Region to target for ecological recovery, a key step to support efforts to stabilize and hopefully increase caribou populations in the area. “Maps can change the world,” Cranston proposed. “We like to think our maps will do so, too.”

Please enjoy all the linked videos of the presentations here. And stay tuned for updates on the next ABMI Speakers’ Series! (anticipated October, 2015)

Written by Janet Harvey.