Hey bear – you CAN stay there!

October 2023 – Our oil sands sites are nestled deep within northern Alberta’s boreal forest, which means we share the space with a lot of animal neighbours. In fall 2022, we discovered a den close to our Christina Lake oil sands operations that was home to a black bear and, to our surprise in the spring, we met its other occupants: three cubs! 

Given the location of our operations, our Environment teams at site are focused on conducting “wildlife sweeps” in and around our operations to consider potential impacts to wildlife so they can be avoided, minimized or mitigated.

“A wildlife sweep means walking the perimeter of a newly proposed development area and accompanying buffer area, where we’ll note and record any signs of wildlife and wildlife features such as, dens, nesting sites, critical habitat or cavity trees,” shares Scott MacDonald, Senior Coordinator, Environmental Operations at our Christina Lake operations. "As part of our fall 2022 sweep, we came across a potential animal den located within a soil stockpile adjacent to a proposed development site, but we couldn’t identify if it was inhabited, or what might be living there.”

Post-sweep, the potential den site was marked for further observation and thermal cameras were used to help identify any animals inside. 

“Once we saw the heat signature from the thermal cameras, we knew it was most likely a bear,” says Scott. “Once the presence of an assumed bear was confirmed, we made the decision to delay winter clearing activities until the spring to minimize any impact to the bear.”

Over the next few months, and well before bears would be active again, the team at Christina Lake continued their monitoring and installed two wildlife cameras to see if they could catch a glimpse of their new neighbour.

“During our early spring observation, we saw a black bear pop its head out a couple times and, once the snow had melted, it made a full exit and hung around the entrance of the den,” says Scott. “And then to our surprise, we saw three cubs accompanying mama bear out of the den.”

As vegetation becomes readily available, bears will leave their den sites to venture out in the search for more substantial food. As the bear family started leaving the den for longer and longer periods, the team continued to monitor the site and eventually confirmed that the family did not return, meaning the proposed development activity adjacent to the den site could recommence. 

A huge part of the team’s role is mitigating disturbance to wildlife in the area. By conducting sweeps and monitoring the area, they can ensure they are doing their best to minimize environmental impacts.   

“Since leaving the den, a mama bear and three cubs have been seen numerous times around the same general area,” shares Scott. “We remain optimistic that the bear family we’ve been monitoring are still calling the Christina Lake area their home.” 

A biodiversity first – fully reclaiming a Christina Lake borrow pit
Borrow pit 8 has officially received a reclamation certificate from the Alberta Energy Regulator. Learn more.
All eyes and ears on wildlife

We've been keeping a close eye on the wildlife at our northern oil sands operations. Watch this video to see what we found.

ESG report

Read our environmental, social & governance (ESG) report to learn more about our ESG targets and performance.

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