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The purpose of the Wildlife Effectiveness and Connectivity (WHEC) program was to consider the overall efficacy of setbacks for corridors as a conservation tool and make recommendations on appropriate widths. We determined the function and importance of the Athabasca River and its main tributaries as corridors for wildlife in the Athabasca Oil Sands region. Moose and wolves were selected for detailed study using GPS collar technology and this was augmented with a multi-year camera trapping program to assess use near mines and in river valleys by a wider range of mammal species. At present, there is no indication that the pattern of mines on the landscape has led to some wildlife populations being isolated because continuous accessible habitat exists to the east and west of the mines that allow populations to remain contiguous. There is also no indication that river valleys in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region do not represent natural corridors for mammal species in the region. We have made a strong scientific case for abandoning the designation of setback distances from the Athabasca River and its main tributaries as an important conservation tool in the Oil Sands Region. There may be important reasons to limit how close to rivers mining can occur but there is no scientific case for these limitations being set on the basis of maintaining river valleys as important habitat corridors for wildlife. Recommendations of appropriate setback distances would not be appropriate given their limited utility as a conservation tool in this circumstance.
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