Marie Lake Decision Brings Hope for McClelland Lake Fen

Alberta Wilderness Association

Release Date: September 6, 2007

Premier Stelmach's decision to halt seismic testing on Marie Lake indicates a shift in government priorities that may bode well for other lakes and wetlands on the brink of destruction. One such area is the spectacular McClelland Lake Wetland Complex north of Fort McMurray.

"If Marie Lake merits a second look," says AWA Conservation Specialist Danette Moulé, "then certainly the government's approval of Petro-Canada's Fort Hills Oil Sands Project needs to be reconsidered." The Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) and other groups have been working for more than a decade to preserve this outstanding and unique landscape, once set aside for protection but now approved for tarsands mining.

"This is an excellent decision," says peatlands expert Dr. Diana Horton, who spoke at the Fort Hills EUB hearing in 2002. "If the government can reverse its own decision in this case, it can reconsider past project approvals, especially those like Fort Hills, which was approved in the face of overwhelming evidence that a unique ecosystem would be destroyed."

"Approving seismic testing was a bad decision in the first place," says Moulé. "The government has rectified it, but now it needs to turn this same attention to other threatened areas."

McClelland is a unique area encompassing one of the largest patterned fens in the province. It is home to many rare plants and more than 100 species of birds, and is believed to be a staging area for the endangered whooping crane.

Petro-Canada plans to start bitumen production in 2011. This project would clear 62 km2 of vegetation and disturb 54 km2 of soil. A patterned fen has never been reclaimed and no evidence exists that it is possible. However, before mining in the fen, Petro-Canada must "develop a management strategy to sustain the unmined eastern portion of the wetland" (EUB Decision 2002-089), something that conservationists believe cannot be done.

"Very little is known about the hydrogeology of this area," says AWA Conservation Specialist Joyce Hildebrand, "so this is an experiment that is doomed to failure, with McClelland fen the victim." AWA is hopeful that the government will make another right decision and buy back the portion of Petro-Canada's lease that falls within the McClelland watershed.

"This is the most spectacular patterned fen I have ever seen. To destroy a world-class site such as this would leave Alberta with a shameful record of disregard for the environment," says Horton. "Although the government has made a good decision for Marie Lake, it must not stop here."

For more information:

Danette Moulé, Alberta Wilderness Association: (403) 283-2025
Joyce Hildebrand, Alberta Wilderness Association: (403) 283-2025