Owl River Riparian Restoration and Enhancement Project 2023 Interim Report
Lance Engley and Garret McKen
Syncrude Canada Ltd. (Syncrude) is expanding its operations at the Mildred Lake site, collectively described as the Mildred Lake Extension Project (MLX). The Owl River Project, described herein, is one of two Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) authorized offsets for the MLX project. This MLX offset builds on related habitat offset and restoration activities already conducted on the Owl River by Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) on behalf of Syncrude from 2011–2017 for the Base Mine Lake Project.
As part of this offset, Syncrude agreed to negotiate the isolation of livestock grazing from 21 kilometres (km) of riparian zone along the Owl River by installing wildlife-friendly livestock fencing, and associated replacement livestock watering systems, in cooperation with local landholders. ACA agreed to undertake these activities on behalf of Syncrude since ACA has successfully implemented previous riparian projects on the Owl River, as well as riparian projects in other regions of Alberta. Syncrude is providing the funding for all aspects of the project.
Since 2020, we have contacted all 11 private landholders in the Owl River Project area and met with most in person. In 2023, we signed one new 25-year Riparian Habitat Enhancement Agreement, bringing the total number of agreements signed to five since this project was initiated in 2020. This new agreement protects an additional 39.70 hectares (ha) of riparian habitat along the Owl River. From 2020–2023, we have protected a total of 144.63 ha of riparian habitat and 11.74 km of riverbank with the cooperation of local landholders. Signing agreements with landholders proved more challenging than anticipated. Reluctance and skepticism about signing agreements seems to have increased over the past few years.