David Suzuki: Can caribou and industry coexist?

The economy-versus-environment debate is wrong-headed in elevating a changeable human construct to the same level or above the natural systems on which our health and well-being depend. And in many cases, it would be more accurate to characterize it as “environment versus corporate interests”. Although those interests often align with economic benefits and jobs, sometimes they just mean bigger profits for company CEOs and shareholders at the expense of the common good.

When “economy” is regarded as more than just profit-taking, it can be compatible with environmental protection. With caribou conservation, there can be room for both.

Caribou-protection measures are based on research and evidence, and even so, the 65 percent disturbance threshold only gives herds a 60 percent chance of persistence. Boreal caribou are threatened with extinction from coast to coast to coast, their populations continuing to decline since the federal Species at Risk Act was introduced in 2002.

Caribou are an “umbrella’ species. When populations are healthy, so are many other animal and plant species and the forests they share. Healthy forests provide services such as filtering water and sequestering carbon, which means protecting caribou and their habitat can safeguard water supplies and help reduce climate-altering carbon buildup in the atmosphere.

Room for Both, a new study by the David Suzuki Foundation, Alberta Wilderness Association, and Ontario Nature, demonstrates that caribou conservation and industrial-resource activity need not be mutually exclusive. It examines ways for caribou and industrial activity to coexist, and it concludes that effective habitat restoration can create economic opportunities and help advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

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The report synthesizes research from three studies on boreal caribou in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. It calls for more science-based discourse, better analytic models that take into account caribou conservation values to optimize “least cost” solutions, and recognition of the potential employment value of forest restoration. Past decisions often focused solely on the economic benefits of timber and oil and gas extraction. MORE

Agreements mark ‘turning point’ for six B.C. caribou herds, but leave most herds hanging

Caribou maternity penCaribou cows and their calves from the Klinse-Za herd in a maternity pen in northeastern B.C. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal

A new southern mountain caribou protection agreement is being heralded as a landmark measure to protect six highly endangered herds in Treaty 8 traditional territory in B.C.’s northeast.

But scientists say a second, new conservation agreement aimed at protecting the rest of B.C.’s imperilled southern mountain caribou herds is “vague,” and some conservation groups are calling it a roadmap for the potential local extinction of herds already in sharp decline.

Both long-awaited draft agreements were announced Thursday by the B.C. government. The B.C. press gallery was given 30 minutes notice of a lunchtime technical briefing and news conference, and the government did not issue a press release.

A widely praised caribou partnership agreement for B.C.’s Peace region — forged among Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations and the federal and provincial governments — features habitat protection, including the designation of a new protected area for caribou and areas that would have interim moratoriums on industrial development such as logging.

It also includes an Indigenous guardian program, building on complex efforts by the two First Nations to save the spiritually important Klinse-za caribou herd — part of the Pine River caribou population unit — through a five-year-old maternal penning project. Details about the program, which West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations will take the lead in planning, have not yet been released.

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B.C. approves 314 new cutblocks in endangered caribou habitat over last five months

Image result for B.C. approves 314 new cutblocks in endangered caribou habitat over last five months
As more caribou populations flicker out, and pressure mounts on the province to protect the species’ habitat, logging approvals have almost quadrupled since mid-October

The B.C. government approved 314 new logging cutblocks in the critical habitat of southern mountain caribou over the past five months, while simultaneously negotiating conservation plans to protect the highly endangered species, according to maps released Thursday by the Wilderness Committee.

The new cutblocks cover almost 16,000 hectares in total, an area almost eight times the size of the city of Victoria.

The Wilderness Committee discovered a sharp spike in logging approvals in the critical habitat of B.C.’s eight most imperilled caribou herds, where last October the group documented an additional 83 new cutblocks covering an area the equivalent of 11 Stanley Parks in size.

“On the one hand B.C. says it’s protecting caribou while on the other they’re handing out permits to log habitat as fast as they can,” said Charlotte Dawe, the Wilderness Committee’s conservation and policy campaigner.

“It’s as if the B.C. government is holding a clear out sale for logging companies to ‘get it while you can!’ It’s the great caribou con from our very own B.C. government.” MORE

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Doug Ford is reviewing Endangered Species Act to find ‘efficiencies for businesses’

Doug Ford seen at his swearing in ceremony on June 28, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Canada’s most populous province has launched a sweeping review of a law protecting endangered species in order to find “efficiencies for businesses.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government announced the review of the provincial Endangered Species Act through a new discussion paper released Friday afternoon by the provincial Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

The paper’s wording suggests that Ford’s Progressive Conservatives — who promised in the 2018 election campaign to make Ontario “open for business” — are eager to soften the existing legislation and reduce onerous obligations on businesses. These obligations were put in place to help protect endangered species like the caribou — the iconic species featured on Canadian quarters — that are at risk of disappearing from regions of Ontario and other provinces due to industrial development.

Another environmental law, Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, requires the government to begin a 45-day public consultation period as part of what it is calling its 10th-year review of the endangered species law. The consultation is now open. MORE

Canada won’t perform an environmental review of most new oilsands projects. Here’s why

The future of development in Alberta’s oilsands lies in underground, steam-assisted operations that represent some of the country’s fastest growing greenhouse gas emissions. These projects have never been subject to federal environmental reviews and that’s not expected to change with Ottawa’s new-and-improved assessment rules

Image result for Cenovus in-situ oilsands mining

Unlike the pronounced nature of open-pit mines, with the accompanying heavy haulers and seemingly endless horizons of tailings ponds, in-situ — meaning in ground or in place — operations have a much less visible footprint.

Cenovus has gone so far as to dub these operations — which require the injection of steam underground to heat viscous oil, allowing it to be pumped to surface — “a different oil sands.”

While they certainly do represent the future of the oilsands — in-situ projects have already outpaced mining production and are set to increase by one million barrels per day by 2030 — they also come with their own set of problems.

To have the country’s main environmental assessment law leave the highest-carbon projects off the list is just unacceptable

In-situ oilsands operations are incredibly greenhouse gas-intensive — requiring copious quantities of natural gas, often obtained from fracking, to produce the steam that’s injected underground. MORE

Canada, First Nations express concern over U.S. Arctic drilling plans

Calving grounds of caribou herd among areas to be opened to drilling, despite protection agreement


Wild caribou are seen near the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut on Monday, March 23, 2009. The federal government, two territorial governments and several First Nations in Canada are expressing concerns to the U.S. over plans to open a massive cross-border caribou herd’s calving ground to energy drilling, despite international agreements to protect it. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian government, two territories and several First Nations are expressing concerns to the United States over plans to open the calving grounds of a large cross-border caribou herd to energy drilling, despite international agreements to protect it.

“Canada is concerned about the potential transboundary impacts of oil and gas exploration and development planned for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain,” says a letter from Environment Canada to the Alaska office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Yukon and the Northwest Territories have submitted similar concerns as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump drafts plans to study the environmental impact of selling exploration leases on the ecologically rich plain. MORE

Arctic Drilling Is “Ecocide on an Incredible Diversity of Wildlife”

Pregnant female caribou from the Porcupine River Herd migrate over the frozen Coleen River on their way to calve in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Pregnant caribou from the Porcupine River Herd migrate over the frozen Coleen River on their way to calve in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.SUBHANKAR BANERJEE, 2002

“What side of history do you want to be on?” Indigenous Alaskan Tonya Garnett asked the Department of Interior officials seated at the dais. “What legacy do you want to leave behind for your children?”

Garnett had journeyed from her small Gwich’in community of Venetie, Alaska, to speak on behalf of her people. “Our way of life is at stake,” she explained. “We speak for our ancestors, and we speak for our children’s children. I want to see my son — my 9-year-old son — be able to get his first caribou. I want to see his sons or his daughters get theirs.” MORE

Canada won’t perform an environmental review of most new oilsands projects. Here’s why.

The future of development in Alberta’s oilsands lies in underground, steam-assisted operations that represent some of the country’s fastest growing greenhouse gas emissions. These projects have never been subject to federal environmental reviews and that’s not expected to change with Ottawa’s new-and-improved assessment rules. MORE