Northern BC grasslands are rich, diverse systems about which very little is understood except that they can have an important role in restoring the environment, especially after oil and gas exploration.
Valerie Huff, Dipl ’05, and Carla Burton, MSc ’03—graduates of the Continuing Studies Division’s Restoration of Natural Systems program—along with Royal BC Museum botanist Richard Hebda are cataloguing northern grasses and developing a template for using them to restore the ecosystems near pipelines, well sites and test sites. “They bind the soil,” says Hebda. “Their root systems tend to reduce erosion and of course they provide food and forage for various animals.”
“The grasses up there have not been particularly well studied,” says Huff, the first master’s student for whom the Division of Continuing Studies has helped to secure research funding (from the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources).
At oil and gas well sites “the soil gets scalped off and stored while the well is active, then replaced and reclaimed,” says Huff. She has been studying all the varying disturbances in order to understand natural recovery processes and how they can be used in restoration projects.
Her master’s work builds on her final RNS project: an online interactive key to the grasses of the Columbia Basin. It’s comprehensive, accessible and, according to Hebda, far ahead of anything of its kind.
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