In 2006, Petro-Canada (a Suncor Energy Company) indicated an interest in supporting the development of a conservation program focusing on innovations in sustainable land-use management in Alberta’s grasslands. As one of four projects delivered under the Petro-Canada Sustainable Grasslands Program, Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) examined whether encroachment by shrubs and trees has resulted in significant losses of grasslands in the southwest foothills of Alberta.
A phased approach was used, where the first phase focused on data collection and development of program support. This phase included collecting historical and current vegetation information, obtaining literature from past projects in the area, meeting with land managers in the area, and talking to stakeholder groups and landowners.
The second phase focused on developing a technical group, identifying key focal areas in the southwest foothills, and analyzing data to assess the level of encroachment by shrubs and trees onto grasslands. We used black-and-white imagery from 1949 and colour infrared images from 2006 to determine changes in grassland cover in three study areas located along the east slopes of southwestern Alberta.
Data analysis was completed in July 2009, and final results revealed significant changes in grassland cover in all three study areas. To validate the accuracy of the land-cover classification, ACA conducted a ground-truthing exercise in the Porcupine Hills study area in September 2010.
Future project direction initiatives are discussed.