Canadian Military Facing Invasion At Suffield

Alberta Wilderness Association

News Release: March 14, 2007

Internal government documents reveal alien weeds at Canadian Forces Base Suffield threaten to overrun a federally protected wildlife area, and oil and gas activity is to blame for the spread of these invasive species, announced a coalition of environmental groups today.

"No military equipment can halt the invasion of alien weeds in the Suffield National Wildlife Area," says Cliff Wallis of the Alberta Wilderness Association. "Their spread is aided and abetted by oil and gas activity and threatens to destroy this internationally significant native prairie ecosystem." The government documents, many obtained through the Access to Information Act, show Base personnel have grave concerns about the poor restoration record at Suffield.

"The extent of the problems and the failure to comply is absolutely shocking and unconscionable in such a globally significant area," says Reg Ernst of the Southern Alberta Group for the Environment (SAGE). Invasion of non-native species from industry access trails and pipelines poses a big threat to native plant communities and is identified as one of the biggest management challenges. The goal in the National Wildlife Area is to restore native prairie, not simply reclaim disturbances to equivalent land capability. Industry is resisting Base directives on restoration.

Another pressing concern is well site remediation. There are about 12,000 well sites, including 600 abandoned wells without reclamation approvals. Also, there are numerous access roads and pipelines which act as conduits for invasive species, multiple access routes to single wells, and a lack of access coordination. One-third of pipelines constructed from 1997 to 2005 had crested wheatgrass, an aggressive invasive species, established on them.

Over 1,100 gas wells were drilled in the Suffield National Wildlife Area prior to 2004 when the Base Commander implemented a drilling moratorium due to environmental sensitivity and impacts on biodiversity. The Base Commander's attempts to halt further damage in the National Wildlife Area have been resisted by EnCana. The company claims an obligation to shareholders and proposes to drill at least 1,275 more gas wells (up to 16 or more wells per section) and install more than 200 km of new pipeline with associated access roads and other infrastructure.

In 2005, EnCana attempted, without Base approval, to reclaim about a dozen eroding sites along trails. At least one such site is dominated by non-native plant species and adjacent vehicle trails are expanding the disturbance. EnCana is allowed to do land spraying of toxic drilling fluids in CFB Suffield, even though it is prohibited on provincial lands. There have been problems with high application rates harming native vegetation and habitat for breeding birds as well as encouraging weeds.

A 2006 Suffield Training Area Management Plan noted that oil and gas activity is having significantly more impact than military training including habitat fragmentation, spread of invasive species, poor reclamation practices and a lack of recovery in most areas. Military activity has not occurred in the National Wildlife Area since 1971 because of its sensitivity yet industry use continues despite a litany of environmental impacts documented in the government record.

"The Army had only good intentions in protecting the Suffield National Wildlife Area," says Daniel Casselman of Nature Canada. "But nearly 40 years ago, no one would have guessed that oil and gas development would have a greater impact on the environment than military tanks and artillery shells."

The Base's rangeland advisors note that the native prairie's integrity is being threatened by industrial activity and that impacts are accelerating. They recommend minimum disturbance procedures, compulsory re-vegetation with native species and consequences for non-compliance.

The coalition is calling for a halt to EnCana's proposal to drill more wells in the Suffield National Wildlife Area. Coalition members include:


Cliff Wallis, Alberta Wilderness Association

Reg Ernst, Southern Alberta Group for the Environment

Dawn Dickinson, Grasslands Naturalists

Daniel Casselman, Nature Canada
613-562-3447, Ext 225,

Sandra Foss, Federation of Alberta Naturalists