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Fall 2008

the newsletter of the foothills research institute

New name, new partners – The formula for success is the same. An expanded partnership of industries and communities is geared up to continue important land and resource management research out of Hinton, Alberta.

Hinton hosts the world at research forum

The Foothills Model Forest has changed its name to Foothills Research Institute to reflect an expanded strategic plan and a partnership that continues to grow. Energy interests have been expanded to augment strong partnerships built during the organization’s life, said Institute President Jim LeLacheur.

“Our strategic plan, based on partnerships, programs and practical science that can be used on the ground, is alive and well,” he said of the change. “We’re a vibrant organization with partners who have plenty of need for good science and management tools.” That vibrancy is reflected in the addition of five energy sector members to the research partnership: Canadian Natural Resources Limited, ConocoPhilips Canada, EnCana Corporation, Petro-Canada and Talisman Energy Inc. Each has committed $250,000 over five years. Gary Sargent, Manager of Resource Access with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the energy companies’ interest in the Institute is based on direct benefits such as timely research results and practical land-management tools. “The oil and gas industry has a lot of exploration and development activity under way on the landscape. The Institute is where we can conduct good applied research that will deliver benefits back to the companies that are operating in Alberta,” he said. The Institute is stepping up activity with new research programs and a number of new staff (see articles later in this newsletter).

For more information: Contact Jim LeLacheur at or visit

A summer forum brought more than 170 members of the International Model Forest Network from 30 countries to Hinton to build partnerships and share information. “It was a real success as an opportunity to network and exchange ideas on strengthening the model forest internationally,” said Tom Archibald, General Manager of Foothills Research Institute, the host organization. “The event allowed strong relationships and partnerships to develop among delegates representing many countries.” Improving connectivity within the network was a key win for those in attendance, said Peter Besseau, Director of the International Model Forest Secretariat which emphasizes the importance of science in developing high-level strategic direction and public policy.

“One of the key long-term objectives is to demonstrate that these stakeholder groups can play a meaningful and constructive role and illuminate some interesting policy options for sustainable forest management,” Besseau said.

Plan sets clear goals for research New projects adopted by Foothills Research Institute are carefully screened to ensure they align with the organization’s business plan. The plan defines several clear objectives, including the identification of common natural resource management issues, and the dissemination of scientific knowledge to all who work, live and play on the landscape. A new Mountain Pine Beetle Ecology Program supports these objectives, and contributes to the Institute’s major theme area of landscape dynamics research. Researchers with the Institute and a number of external partners will spend the next several years learning about the beetle’s long-term effects on forest ecology such as groundwater and regrowth of the forest, and also developing new ways to share information and tools among all stakeholders. “The program was prompted by interest from government and industry in dealing with some of the gaps in the existing

research,” says Institute General Manager Tom Archibald. “And with the beetles thriving more than ever, especially in south-western Alberta, there is definitely a need for more information about them.” Another project on the books is a user needs assessment for a proposed Online Sustainable Land Management Atlas. One of the atlas’s funding partners is Natural Resources Canada GeoConnections. GeoConnections helps decision-makers use online geospatial information, such as maps and satellite images, to tackle some of Canada’s most pressing challenges in areas such as the environment and sustainable development. During the summer, suggestions were gathered to determine what features users would like to see. Results will be compiled into a report due this fall. “This initiative plays a major role under our current five-year business plan because it conforms to the goals of developing and improving our data, our information resources and our knowledge management,” says Archibald.

New interpretive signs appeared along two creeks near Hinton this summer with the aim of informing the public and resource managers about the importance of watershed stewardship.

Nature lovers just follow the signs

At Anderson Creek Crossing, 20 km southwest of Hinton, three signs now explain the benefits of the unique “stream channel simulation” bridge that replaced a conventional culvert back in 2004. Besides opening up the creek for fish and other creatures, the bridge design allows for greater flood resistance and is quite cost effective.

The site also features a pullout area for parking, which Foothills Research Institute Fish and Watershed Program Manager Rich McCleary says is invaluable when he conducts tours for stream-crossing owners. Back in Hinton at Hardisty Creek, a small tributary of the Athabasca River that is once again a haven for local fish species, visitors can now stroll along a trail and follow the story of how the watershed was restored. Restoration began with CN Rail constructing a riffle or swift area of water running over gravel downstream from a culvert. This effectively raised the streambed and allowed fish to once again pass through the tunnel beneath the railroad tracks. McCleary says it’s a very accessible site and the interpretive signs play a valuable role in spreading the word about watershed care and protection. “The Hardisty Creek Restoration Project in Hinton is key because it provides a central showcase for school-aged youth and the general public about watershed health, and about effective streambank and fish habitat restoration techniques,”he says. A total of $46,000 in funding for the signage projects came from industry, government and Green Street Communities, a national program providing environmental learning programs to Canadian elementary and secondary school students.

A wide-ranging Mountain Pine Beetle Ecology Program is set to gather important new data on the bug, plus strengthen partnerships and develop new tools for land managers.

Another project links Institute researchers with members of the Foothills Growth and Yield Association in building a decision support system around how forest stands are likely to regenerate after a major die-off caused by the beetle. Not all such areas will be harvested, and there may be no wildfire, which raises questions as to how and when various tree species will grow back in. “It could well evolve into a modeling project, but initially we want to establish some patterns as to how this process occurs,” Podlubny says. “It’s vital information for resource and wildlife habitat management.”

Program marshals forces against destructive beetle In one part of the program, Foothills Research Institute is pooling resources with the University of Alberta and the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta to determine how mountain pine beetle infestations affect groundwater. If areas of beetle-killed trees cause run-off and groundwater patterns to change dramatically, managers in charge of roads, culverts, bridges and aquatic habitat need to know how, when, and by how much. “The lack or loss of transpiration will affect groundwater for a number of years until new growth comes back,” says Program Manager Don Podlubny. “Resource managers need clear data so that they can plan in advance for the challenges that are likely to occur.”

The multi-year beetle ecology research project will also look at forums, compendiums and other tools that can be used to pool experience and knowledge from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and various regions of Alberta, so that researchers and industry are on the same page and not duplicating each other’s efforts.

Recent months have seen three new staff members join the Foothills Research Institute.

Institute welcomes three new staff

Tom Archibald, with more than 27 years’ experience in the resource management field, was named the Institute’s General Manager in January. He was previously a Forestry Manager in Peace River with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. “Certainly, climate change and water are on the radar screen for everyone right now,” Archibald says. “I see real opportunities for us as an Institute to get involved in new areas of cutting-edge research.” Also signing on in January was Ngaio Baril, Project Coordinator for the Foothills Stream Crossing Program. Being able to work outdoors and near water, a resource she feels will soon be seen as Canada’s most valuable resource, is what originally drew Baril to the field. “Working outside every day is great,” says Baril, “especially on the days we’re working hands-on with the area’s fish populations.”

Katie Yalte has been recruited as a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Technician. She graduated from the University of Alberta with an undergraduate degree in Environmental Earth Sciences, and also holds a Masters in GIS from the University of Calgary. “I love my job because every day is always a new challenge,” says Yalte. “When you wake up each day, you never know what you are going to encounter.”

Users help shape land management atlas

Website opens the door on science

Foothills Research Institute has canvassed its members to find out what they want most in a proposed Online Sustainable Land Management Atlas.

Foothills Research Institute has a new website. It’s expected the site will evolve to become a one-stop portal to everything the Institute is and does.

The user needs assessment survey was sponsored by Foothills Research Institute, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. Jasper National Park, the Town of Hinton, West Fraser Mills and GeoConnections, a national initiative led by Natural Resources Canada. The survey determined what features prospective users would find most useful. The next step is developing a full proposal to secure funding for development of the regional atlas.

The site will prove an invaluable resource to internal and external users, says Communications and Extension Coordinator Joan Simonton. Most important, it will play a crucial role in the Institute’s mandate to make practical scientific information available – and understandable – to a broad range of public, professional and policy stakeholders.

The aim of the atlas is to pull together important land-use information for the area so that it’s accessible in one web-based location. The resulting atlas would help land managers in their daily decision-making. The problem is not lack of information, so much as lack of a good way for everyone to share the information. It’s a need that has been noted in Alberta’s draft Land Use Framework, says Geographic Information Systems Coordinator Debbie Mucha. “There is quite a bit of information out there on the mountain pine beetle, for example,” says Mucha. “But often the flow of data stops at jurisdictional boundaries and isn’t shared in a simple manner.” She added that the needs assessment went a long way in finding out what information users need to make good land management decisions. Users expressed their interests throughout the summer, with a final report on the findings to be available online by late September.

“Through the development process, we learned that we are a trusted and respected source of information,” says Simonton. “And with over a million hits last year, our website is the most effective and cost-efficient knowledge transfer tool we have available to communicate that information to others.” The site includes new features such as global and publication search tools as well as the ability for people to register online for upcoming Institute events, conferences and workshops. Future upgrades should allow even greater access to data. “It’s an ongoing process,” says Simonton. “Working with other program leaders within the Institute, we will be able to further refine the site as we move along.”

Foothills Research Institute Annual General Meeting The Foothills Research Institute’s Annual General Meeting is October 15, 2008 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. All of the programs under the umbrella of the Foothills Research Institute will be presenting on their research and findings to date. To register, contact Judy Astalos at 780-817-3781 or email

Box 6330 Hinton, Alberta Canada T7V 1X6 T: 780.865.8330 F: 780.865.8331

The Foothills Research Institute core landbase is located in west-central Alberta, and is based in the resource community of Hinton, some three hours west of Edmonton. It covers roughly 2.75 million hectares (27,500 square kilometres), and embodies Jasper National Park of Canada, Willmore Wilderness Park, William A. Switzer Provincial Park and the Forest Management Area of Hinton Wood Products, A division of West Fraser Mills Ltd. It also includes some provincial “crown forest management units” and the Hinton Training Centre’s Cache Percotte Training Forest. Within its boundaries are three forest areas – boreal, montane, and sub-alpine – and many forest uses including timber, petroleum, and coal extraction, tourism, and recreation.

Footnotes Newsletter - Fall 2008  

Footnotes Newsletter - Fall 2008

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