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Wetlands, mainly peatlands, cover more than half of the landscape in northeastern Alberta. Significant efforts are focused on recreating wetland ecosystems within the landscape disturbed by oil sands mining. Early wetland reclamation efforts in the oil sands focussed on constructing marshes using mining byproducts, like tailings – an aqueous solution of silt, sand, clay and residual bitumen, to evaluate the potential of wetlands as water treatment systems. Some marshes developed where water collected in depressions within the reclaimed landscape (“opportunistic wetlands”). The do not contain tailings, although they may be saline if the surrounding soils are sodic. Opportunistic and oil sands process material (OSPM)-affected wetlands, those containing tailings and/or oil sands process water (OSPW), were monitored to determine whether these reclaimed water bodies functioned in a similar manner to natural wetland ecosystems in the region. Recent efforts in wetland reclamation have focused on the following: (1) improving best management practices (i.e. using bioindicators for assessment, habitat design, and revegetation strategies); (2) reclaiming wetland watersheds instead of building individual wetlands in isolation; and (3) design and construction of fen peatlands, the most common wetland type in the region. This paper summarises the history of wetland reclamation in the oil sands region, trends over time in wetland reclamation research, critical findings and the latest wetland reclamation initiatives, such as fen watershed research, design, construction and monitoring.
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