12/05/2013 06:00 EST | Updated 02/04/2014 05:59 EST

Oilsands Environmental Impacts Growing, Says New Report

Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Suncor Energy Inc. oil refinery and storage facility stands near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Canadian oil companies have benefited as the gap between oil-sands crude grade Western Canada Select and U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate narrowed from a record $42.50 a barrel in December. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
EDMONTON - A report by an environmental monitoring agency has found the variety of plants and animals in the oilsands area is largely healthy.

But the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, an agency funded by industry and government, has found that animals that prefer old-growth forests, such as marten, are deserting the region in favour of those such as coyotes, which are found everywhere.

In general, the institute found that about 94 per cent of the oilsands area still has the same birds, plants, bugs and animals that it did before development.

But some effects are becoming apparent.

About half the bird species surveyed that depend on old-growth forest are less abundant over the region than they would normally be.

As well, nearly one-third of the sites in the study showed invasive plant species.

The report also found the region is increasingly threaded through with disturbances such as lease roads and seismic lines.

Many animals refuse to come near those areas.

Less than half of the region is more than 200 metres away from some sign of human activity. Only five per cent of it is more than two kilometres away.

How this human activity is affecting the forest appears to be accelerating.

From 2007 to 2010, the last year studies in the report, the amount of impacted land increased by .7 per cent, 1.3 per cent, and 3.8 per cent.

It also said that land reclamation is not keeping pace with development.

The report steers clear of making predictions or forecasts, so it doesn't consider that the current level of development is about one-fifth what's planned for the oilsands.

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