Comparing Territories: Tar Sands Blanket Caribou Habitat

Tue, 2012-05-01 06:30Carol Linnitt
Carol Linnitt's picture

Comparing Territories: Tar Sands Blanket Caribou Habitat

As the controversy surrounding Canada’s proposed wolf cull in Alberta grows, the provincial government is attempting to limit criticism directed at the country’s polluting Tar Sands – the prime driver behind the region’s rapid decline in caribou populations.  Alberta’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) is the government body responsible for, not surprisingly, sustainable management of the province’s natural resources, but interestingly SRD lumps disparate things - like caribou and bitumen - together.  

As public concern increases over the SRD’s mismanagement of Alberta’s caribou herds (10 of the 13 monitored herds are experiencing decline), government spokespeople have had to work overtime to conceal the role the Tar Sands have to play in this enduring resource debacle.

DeSmogBlog has covered the extensive government-industry collusion behind Alberta’s botched caribou recovery strategies, demonstrating the extent to which the entire process is dominated by a single economic imperative – oil and gas development in, most notably, the Tar Sands. The government, however, has downplayed the role the Tar Sands have to play in the mass disappearance of Alberta’s caribou, choosing instead to place the blame squarely on the wolf.  

SRD spokesman Dave Ealey has been working the defensive for months, telling sources like the LA Times that wolf control in Alberta is unrelated to the Tar Sands. And while this argument may hold when addressing the wolf cull near Hinton, Alberta in the Little Smoky caribou range (where caribou are affected by conventional oil and gas production), it does not accurately portray the overall situation in Alberta. 
To get a feel for the overlap between caribou habitat and Tar Sands development, compare the maps (sourced from here and here) below:

 
Ealey recently told DeSmogBlog in an email that “there have been numerous reports about a so-called cull of wolves in the oil sands area. There is no such initiative underway or planned,” emphasis his.

A very cautious word choice. The point is, however, that a wolf cull is underway, just not directly within the designated Tar Sands regions. A further point would be that a provincial cull - one that stretches to caribou habitat in the Tar Sands region - is currently being proposed.
 
Ealey’s statement runs into direct contradiction with his remark to Edmonton journalist Ed Struzik that an expansion of the cull to caribou ranges across Alberta is currently on the table. Environment Minister Peter Kent took the suggestion even further with his comment on the federal caribou recovery strategy, saying, “predator control has been chosen.”
 
According to Struzik, this crisis situation has been a long time coming.
“The recovery program really has been going on for more than 30 years. In fact, one of the first stories I did in Alberta was about 30 years ago, about an aerial survey of the Grand Cache/Jasper area with a biologist who said, ‘unless we do something soon we’re going to loose these babies.’ And that story’s been continuously repeating itself over and over – except the situation is getting worse, sort of like a domino effect: its that herd and then another herd and then another herd,” Struzik told DeSmog.
 
For Struzik, the outlook is grim: “Now there’s pretty clear evidence that all the herds are in trouble. Oil and gas and forestry developments have really carved up that landscape.” The wolf cull, he says, doesn’t bode well for the wolves or the caribou.
“The only thing they have done is initiate a wolf cull which is really just a stop gap measure to stop the bleeding. Its not a solution to the problem. Its perhaps – according to some scientists – one of the solutions but its not the long term solution. That’s all they seem to be doing right now – is to cull wolves to try to protect caribou, at least in the Grand Cache area, and now there’s talk of expanding that cull to other areas so we may actually see an expansion of that program very early down the road,” Struzik said.
 
The current caribou recovery strategy creates massive opportunities for industry to sidestep productive measures to protect caribou. The proposal even allows that critical habitat “may be decreased…should jurisdictions provide a plan that will support stabilized local populations through the use of mortality and habitat management tools.”
 
This means wolf control is widely available as a caribou recovery strategy, without critical habitat protection, so long as jurisdictions ‘provide a plan.’
 
But a chronic lack of planning seems to be a part of the root problem here. And as DeSmogBlog recently reported, both government and industry in Alberta have refused to engage in critical habitat protection, while being fully aware of escalating caribou problems.
 
As Struzik put it, Alberta’s industry simply ignored caribou as a relevant issue.
“It was caribou that were never really part of the management equation as the oil sands – and not just oil sands, but all energy development and forestry development – expanded in this province. Caribou were the kind of inconvenient truth, for lack of a better term, that nobody really wanted to deal with.”
 
The attempt to separate out the Tar Sands from the wolf cull is misleading and distracts from the larger picture the caribou decline is pointing to: the effect of our addiction to oil has on the landscape and the life that land supports. Support for the wolf cull and the Tar Sands, in large part, rely on precisely this kind of misinformation.  
 
Struzik feels that without a strong public display of opposition, the problem is likely to worsen.
“I am a journalist and therefore I am not in a position to take sides or influence public policy. That's for society to decide. So far though, there has never been a very strong outcry to stop this. Until that happens, then caribou and wolves will continue to be an inconvenient truth. I would also say that there are signs that industry does want to deal with this. But until someone takes the lead, be it government or industry, I suspect the status quo will prevail.”
 
If you are interested in learning more about this issue, watch DeSmogBlog’s recent investigative documentary “Cry Wolf: An Unethical Oil Story.” 
 

 Take Action

 

You can make a difference by participating in these actions to stop the unscientific wolf cull.

Credo actionTell the Canadian government: Stop your tar sands wolf kills! - Over 200,000 voices in opposition to the wolf killings. 

DeSmogBlog petition on Change.org - Tell Canada's federal Environment Minister Peter Kent, who considers the cull “an accepted if regrettable scientific practice,” to end the reckless wolf slaughter and set aside critical habitat for caribou.  

Alberta Provincial petition - Put some pressure on at the provincial level too, by signing this petition to Frank Oberle, Minister of Alberta's Sustainable Resource Development and Fiona Schmiegelow from the University of Alberta. 

NWF Action Center - American residents can go here to send a letter to their senator or representative in order to connect the dots between the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and the wolf cull. Also watch National Wildlife Federation scientist David Mizejewski on the Today Show and read NWF's report on the plan to poison wolves to protect tar sands interests.

For more information on the tar sands, check out DeSmogBlog's tar sands action page.

Image Credit: Kris Krug

Previous Comments

Its time to swing harder at the lunatic pinyatta’s in Ottawa and see what spills out. The ecology of Caribou - Wolf .. indeed the laws of Nature and subtle balance of Ecosystems are far beyond the simplistic and dull petrocentric vision of Stephen Harper and his odd but extremely motivated associate Joe Oliver. I suggest both of them proceed directly to the Hall of Shame and Ignorance .. and Peter Kent and Keith Ashfield can join them if we ever find out where they disappeared to. I assume they are still being paid.

Seriously .. we can no longer accept nor remove these idealogues without being meaner, smarter, faster. Let me say that again more bluntly. These losers are rabid. Pure Poison. Radioactive. And they are very very smart and have a huge head start. They will not back down or re-think .. It just won’t happen. This is a government with the forsight to make a deal with the premier of BC to give away provincial environmental oversight on The Northern Gateway Pipline before he resigned.. then appoint him the High Commissioner to Great Britain ..

This is a government that is making deals with China yet not letting Canadians know this is so, or what the deals or agreements may mean. That is not what Canada stands for.. I hope when the facts become clear we are not completely horrified.. nor legally bound to honor such agreements. My fingers are crossed.. being an idealist, my heart says we’ve been sold out.

We need overwhelming numbers of open letters to essentially every federal MP and certainly to every Minister or Deputy Minister for validation that they are indeed representing the wishes of the Canadians that elected them.. rather than respresenting or caving to other interests that have nothing to do with being ‘Canadian Interests’ whatsoever.

If we do not get arrests or timely progress from Elections Canada soon, regarding the electoral fraud perpetrated against Canadians and Canada.. and seperate the imposters from legally elected candidates we will have to step up with forceful and legitimate demands for law and order to be handed over to the Canadian citizens and the current government to step down accordingly.  

 

I never met a wolf but a coyote got too close and I barely saved myself from it being too personal. I was chased by it onto my front porch. I didn’t have time to open the screen door so I whirled on it and raised my arm swinging my fist in its direction. It was 3 feet away and it stopped abruptly to figure out if I could harm it. I got in my door. 

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