Nature Canada Welcomes New Report
December 2, 2008 (Ottawa) - Nature Canada welcomed the release of a new report today that highlights the dangers tar sands production poses to bird populations in Canada. The report, “Danger in the Nursery: Impact on birds of tar sands oil development in Canada's Boreal forest", was released Tuesday by a coalition of environmental groups.
“The argument against the tar sands operations is growing,” said Ted Cheskey, an ecologist with Nature Canada. “It’s not just that tar sands oil releases three times as many greenhouse gases as conventional oil, or that massive amounts of water are consumed and polluted in its production, or that the boreal forest is being destroyed. This report clearly shows the grave danger that the tar sands pose to migratory birds and other wildlife.”
Every spring, millions of birds flock to Canada's boreal forest, which runs from Quebec to the Yukon. It's estimated every 2.5 square kilometres of the forest can support as many as 500 breeding pairs of migratory birds. At 1.3 billion acres, the Canadian Boreal Forest is one of the largest intact forest and wetland ecosystems remaining on earth, yet it is coming under increasing pressure from logging, mining, and oil and gas operations.
According to the report, approximately 14 million hectares – an area as big as Florida -- could eventually be developed for tar sand developments, of which 300,000 hectares (3,000 km2) would be for strip mining, 10,000 hectares (100 km2) for toxic settling ponds, and 3.5 million hectares (35,680 km2) for deep oil sands development. Despite industry claims that the mined areas are “reclaimed,” there is no evidence that this is occurring adequately.
“There is every reason to believe that once an area has been stripped of its vegetation, soils and life support systems, “reclaiming” it to even a ghost-like facsimile of its previous state is much more complex than simply spreading soil over the gaping wound and planting it in a monoculture,” said Cheskey.
What is happening is a dramatic decline of many Boreal Forest bird species. The Olive-sided Flycatcher, which was added to the official list of Canadian Species at Risk in 2007, is one example. The population of this exclusively insect-eating bird has declined almost 80 percent in the last 40 years in North America. Most of its world population occurs in the Canadian Boreal Forest. Like many other boreal dependent species, it is being assaulted on many fronts, both on its breeding grounds, non-breeding grounds in the Amazon basin and Andean slopes of South America and during its extremely long migration in between.
The Olive-sided Flycatcher lives exclusively off flying insects, catching them in flight. Climate change adds an additional stress for this and other migratory species, altering hatching dates for the insects, leading to desiccating droughts and contributing to subtle changes in habitat that have not-so-subtle impacts. The tar sands are the biggest single contributor by far to greenhouse gases in Canada.
This report continues a debate over the tar sands operations that reached a high point earlier this year, when a series of bird deaths took place, including 500 ducks that were severely oiled when they landed on a toxic tailings pond in northern Alberta in April.
“Incidents like these show that even with preventive efforts in place, tailings ponds continue to pose a danger to birds,” said Cheskey. “This report should be a call to action for those concerned about nature. It is time to put a moratorium on tar sands developments.”
The full report, produced by Boreal Songbird Initiative, the Pembina Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, is available online at http://www.borealbirds.org/birdstarsands.shtml
For Comment on the Report: