Endangered Caribou and Other Wildlife Threatened by Canada’s Pipeline Plans
This is a guest post written by Stephen Hazell. Hazell is an environmental lawyer and founder of Ecovision Law, Ottawa’s green law firm. He also serves as senior conservation advisor at Nature Canada and adjunct professor at University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. He has held senior management positions in four national environmental organizations, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Many in the Care 2 community might already know about the Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project.
This Gateway Pipeline project proposes to construct and operate pipelines, 1,170 km in length, between an inland terminal near Edmonton, Alberta and a marine terminal near Kitimat, British Columbia. Approximately 500 km of the pipeline will be in Alberta, and 670 km in British Columbia.
It has potential long-term implications for the health of BC’s northern and central coastal ecosystems and communities, as well as for climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts that are important to many Canadians. Nature Canada and its provincial partner, BC Nature, received official “intervenor” status in the Northern Gateway review process that lasted for two years. During that time, we have led evidence on the project’s potential impacts on the SARA listed woodland caribou and on terrestrial and marine birds.
Of particular concern are the potentially devastating effects of oil and condensate spills from the development of an oil port at Kitimat and from tanker traffic on the north and central coast of BC. For the proposed project implies lifting the tanker moratorium which has for 37 years acknowledged the unacceptable risk of tanker traffic to these fragile coastal ecosystems, including Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and 28 Important Bird Areas in the Charlotte Basin, which are important habitat for breeding, migrating or wintering marine birds (e.g., seabirds, marine waterfowl, shorebirds and/or marine raptors). Our membership also expressed concerns about the impacts of the construction and likelihood of spills from a pipeline that would cross over 800 streams and rivers in salmon-bearing watersheds, further fragmenting caribou and grizzly habitat and potentially affecting 6 Important Bird Areas along its proposed route from Edmonton to the Pacific coast.
Thanks to donor support and the pro bono assistance of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre (ELC), experts from Nature Canada and BC Nature raised serious questions about the Northern Gateway Pipeline project at the recent hearings that just concluded a few weeks ago. We asked our lawyer, Chris Tollefson (CT) Executive Director of the ELC, for a summary of key issues raised on our members’ behalf:
NC: Enbridge has been arguing that the project poses little threat to BC’s wilderness, even as they attempt to explain spills like the one in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The evidence we submitted to the panel suggests otherwise. What did you argue?
CT: From the beginning we have argued that Enbridge has underestimated the project’s risks. First, we focused on the endangered woodland caribou. Enbridge misjudges the threat of increased mortality from predators and the impact that fragmentation of habitat will have on the caribou’s ability to feed and breed.
NC: What was so flawed about Enbridge’s science on the woodland caribou?
CT: Their assessments are far too rosy. For example:
- Enbridge relied on just a single source – an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed slide show on Yukon Caribou – to derive the ‘linear feature density’ number that they say justifies the project. The problem is that the number is unsupportable, and the source they rely on never actually approved of the number in the first place. Mark Hume of the Globe says that this error, uncovered in our cross-examination, “might just be enough to sink the project.”
- Enbridge used data that looked at the availability of caribou winter habitat without considering summer habitat availability. A robust analysis would have looked at both.
- We fought – successfully – to have new caribou research entered into evidence that raised urgent questions about the fate of caribou, wolves and the Gateway Pipeline.
NC: And what about Enbridge’s claims about the potential impact of oil spills?
CT: First of all, the company avoids looking at worst-case scenarios, such as a spill within the globally significant Scott Islands Important Bird Area. To truly understand the total risk involved in a project that would bring giant tankers into these pristine waters at the rate of one every other day, we argued that the consequences are too high to do anything but prepare for the worst.
Secondly, Enbridge has downplayed the consequences of an oil spill by arguing the “scientific literature is clear” that species inevitably recover. We forced them to concede, however, that none of the studies they cite involved marine mammals, and only one study of marine birds they cite showed post-spill ‘recovery’. Enbridge also failed to consider the potential impact of oil spills on open ocean wanderers such as albatrosses and shearwaters.
Our legal team did an excellent job at the hearings. A quick review of the numbers:
- They conducted 25 hours of cross examinations of four distinct Northern Gateway experts panels on topics ranging from caribou biology, to ornithology, to spills probability and consequence modelling
- Filed and argued four motions which have succeeded in adducing critical new evidence around caribou issues, and drawing national attention to the procedural deficiencies with the current review process
- Made five trips to northern BC to present locally on our members’ behalf during the hearings
- Completed a 92 page single spaced final written argument: see BC Nature/Nature Canada’s Final Written Argument to Northern Gateway JRP
Mounting this effort consumed well over 1000 hours of senior lawyer time, and 2000 hours of student time provided pro bono by the UVic Environmental Law Centre and its funders.
In the end, although some sixty intervenors originally signed up to participate in the hearings, there was a very high level of attrition due to the heavy and highly technical demands of the process. By the end of the hearings, there were only a small handful of conservation organizations remaining. One of the few national voices for conservation still active when the process concluded was Nature Canada.
Through its active and creative advocacy throughout the process, and its collaboration with other intervenors, BC Nature/Nature Canada played a very high profile and effective role at the hearings, providing rigorous representation for caribou, marine birds and other species imperiled by this shortsighted project. We now wait for the final report from the Joint Review Panel to the Canadian federal government due by the end of this year and, in the meantime, prepare for the next round of what looks like a lengthy battle.
Nature Canada is a national charitable organization that works for a vision of Canada as a place where threatened species are protected, wildlife habitat is preserved, and people embrace a culture of conservation in their everyday lives. We are the Canadian co-partner in BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organizations that conserve birds, habitat and global biodiversity.
Photo Credit: M. Bradley