7 Sep 2023 - 9 Sep 2023

The McClelland Lake watershed lies just east of the Athabasca River in northeastern Alberta about 90 km north of Fort McMurray in an area known as the Fort Hills.


Photo by J. Hildebrand

Photo by J. Hildebrand

Photo by S. Bray

In early September, two Alberta Wilderness Association staff will travel to the region for an overnight paddling trip hosted by Fort McMurray’s Borealis Paddling Club.

The McClelland Lake Wetland Complex is a hot spot for boreal wildlife, and it is an important area for migratory birds amid a region full of toxic tailings ponds.

From above, the area looks like a mosaic: long rows of peat ridges (which formed over the past 8 to 11 thousand years) are separated by shallow pools of water. The peats help pull carbon from the atmosphere, and the area acts like nature’s kidneys; it helps filter and clean water and recharges surface and underground water supplies.

AWA is in the middle of a campaign to try and protect the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex from the expansion of the Suncor-owned Fort Hills oilsands mine. The Alberta Energy Regulator approved Suncor’s plan to mine roughly half of the complex, under the condition that it guarantees the sustainability of the unmined half.

AWA reviewed Suncor’s plan to protect the unmined area and found several concerns that pose a significant risk of irreversible damage to the area. AWA are asking the Alberta Energy Regulator to revoke its approval of Suncor’s plan. Our findings resulted in the AER opening a Reconsideration Process for its decision to approve Suncor’s plan, and phase one of this process has recently concluded.


Phillip Meintzer and Amy Tucker

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