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UNESCO: Site C Dam Threatens Canada’s largest World Heritage Site

March 2017

Canada has failed to protect its largest World Heritage Site. Based upon a process initiated by Sierra Club BC, UNESCO visited the Peace River Valley in the fall of 2016 to investigate how the Site C dam endangers Wood Buffalo National Park. On March 10, 2017, UNESCO released its report from the ten-day monitoring mission. The report strongly criticizes Canada and suggests the park risks the embarrassment of joining the list of UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.

The report notes that impacts on the park from development are “far more complex and severe than previously thought” and includes 17 recommendations for Canada. Canada is being given “one opportunity under the World Heritage Convention to immediately develop a structured and adequately funded response” to address the threats the Park is facing from:

  • Fractured relationships between the governments and Indigenous peoples who live on the land
  • The proposed Site C hydroelectric dam
  • Oil sands projects, contaminated rivers and wildlife
  • Lack of conservation capacity and focus by Parks Canada
  • Systemic regulatory failure to control industrial development in a manner that protects this World Heritage Site
  • Human health concerns

Peace River. Photo by Louis Bockner.

The report concluded that anything less than a “major and timely” response to these recommendations would “constitute a case for recommending inscription of Wood Buffalo National Park on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”

The fact-finding mission was prompted by a petition from the Mikisew Cree First Nation in December 2014 to have the park added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.

“We agree with the report’s finding. We brought our petition to UNESCO because our way of life is tied to the Peace-Athabasca Delta and Canada’s failure to protect this important area has put our people at risk. Canada needs to respond quickly and strongly to implement the report’s recommendations because the Delta doesn’t have much time,” says Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille.

Melody Lepine, Mikisew’s lead for the UNESCO petition, added, “This report confirms what Mikisew elders have been saying for years. Canada may have ignored the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the Mikisew Cree in the past, but now the world will be watching. It’s time for Canada to start working with us to protect the Delta.”

Mikisew’s petition has been supported by former Parks Canada officials, leading scientists, indigenous groups and numerous non-governmental organizations, many of whom participated in the reactive monitoring mission including Sierra Club BC, CPAWS Northern Alberta Chapter and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

Peace River. Photo: Don Hoffman

“We applaud the report’s unequivocal conclusion that dams on the Peace River are putting this World Heritage Site at risk,” said Caleb Behn, Executive Director of the Keepers of the Water. “The mission experts looked at evidence from all perspectives and came to the conclusion that governments aren’t properly protecting the rivers that create this unique delta. The world is saying Canada has one chance to do better.”

The report is clear that Canada hasn’t lived up to its promises to protect the outstanding universal values in Wood Buffalo National Park. Now the future of Canada’s largest inland delta is, in the words of the report, “uncertain at the very best.” Will Wood Buffalo National Park remain an object of national pride, or will it become a symbol of the impacts runaway development and disrespect for indigenous lifeways have on nature and culture? Only strong leadership and action can prevent an international embarrassment.

This damning report also demonstrates the Trudeau government should never have allowed any approvals for the Site C megadam in the first place. Sierra Club BC is calling on the Trudeau government to suspend its approval of Site C and order an immediate halt to construction, while Canada assesses the report’s recommendations and implements changes. In the long run Site C simply cannot be built.

We need you to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt construction on the Site C Dam immediately while the federal government assesses the potential impacts of the dam, and of tar sands development, on Wood Buffalo National Park.

Please donate today so that Sierra Club BC can continue to defend BC’s wild places.

 

Feature image by Jorgen Schyberg

The Site C dam fight: what keeps me going

By Galen Armstrong, Peace Valley Campaigner

March 2, 2017

Working for change can be tough. Last night I was on the phone with a hard-working volunteer, and she was feeling the pain underlying our mission to stop the Site C dam before the flooding begins, which is set to start in 2022.

Galen with photographer Louis Bockner (credit) and Peace Valley farmers Ken and Arlene Boon.

We were preparing to make outreach phone calls to new volunteers to ask them to join us at a weekly canvass. During a canvass, we talk to strangers on the street and tell them what a huge mistake the Site C dam is, and that it will impact each of us financially via our hydro bills—especially if we don’t cut our losses and stop it.

Last night, this volunteer wanted to talk about the grief she was feeling as she thought about the families who are literally facing the loss of their homes. The land of farmers Ken and Arlene Boon has already been expropriated, though they are allowed to remain in their farmhouse until May—just two months from now.

So we talked about it. We recognized that there’s a lot of grief in all of this. I can’t imagine how it must feel for the Boons, or for Yvonne Tupper or Julian Napoleon or other members of First Nations living near the Peace River Valley. We each have our own experience of what’s happening, and what could happen.

Last fall when I visited the Peace, I met a couple named Caroline and Derek, and their three boys. Recently, Caroline sent me this video of their oldest son, 12-year-old Xavier, who is facing the fact that his family’s home, which sits right next to the Peace River, will be lost if the dam isn’t stopped.

It’s important to recognize how hard this all is. For me, thinking of the people who are most directly facing the consequences of the Site C dam is what motivates me to keep going. Even when they’re people I haven’t met.

It’s not the only thing that motivates me—there is also the loss of species and ecosystems, the loss of culture, the loss of heritage, the loss of prime agricultural land, the impact on British Columbians everywhere who struggle to pay their bills—but these faces and their stories hit me in a uniquely visceral way.

The Beam family. Photo by Louis Bockner.

Even if it sometimes feels like the odds are stacked against us, I know what we are doing makes a difference, and I know it’s possible to stop the dam. I remember when the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline was approved by the federal government, and still it was stopped. It can be the same with the Site C dam.

So we took a little time last night to discuss those hard feelings, and then we got back to work. We called new potential volunteers. Some weren’t home. Some said “sorry, I can’t help.” And some said they would be there to join us on Monday, on Thursday, on Saturday.

I want to encourage everyone to take time to feel those hard feelings, and reach out for support when you need it. Then let’s shift that pain and sadness into anger and action. Let’s have it motivate us to work even harder to make a difference.

We need people to help make phone calls, to write letters to the editor, and to join us in the streets. Sign up to join our team of canvassers and volunteers—if we all do our part, we can not only stop the dam, we can stop the pain and suffering of families in the Peace Valley.

Please take action to stop the dam by sending a letter to the federal government and consider making a donation to Sierra Club BC. If you want to get more involved, you can always send me an email.

Thank you for everything you’ve already done, and that you’re doing now. It matters.

Let’s Connect It and Protect It! Completing the World’s First International Peace Park

By Bob Peart

January 30, 2017

“What do you think?  Is that a small grizzly or a wolverine?”

There were five of us from the Flathead Wild team backpacking along the BC-Alberta border when we saw this animal race across a high ridge in the distance.  Our hike was taking us along the high mountain ridges overlooking the Flathead River Valley in southeastern BC.

The Flathead River Valley is in the unceded traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation. These lands and water are Ktunaxa and they form a critical part of the treaty process that is underway to clarify and define Ktunaxa title and rights.

The Southern Rocky Mountains of BC are internationally known for their abundance and diversity of wildlife; and the waters of the Flathead River remain free-flowing and exceptionally clean, clear and cold.  Endangered and sensitive species such as grizzly bear, wolverine and bull trout still thrive in this beautiful landscape.  The Flathead Valley is unmatched in North America for the variety and density of carnivores and its extraordinary diversity of plants and animals.  It remains one of the last wild river basins in southern Canada.

However, there are no legislated wildlife sanctuaries in the Southern Rockies.  With constant threats from coal mining, highway and railway expansion, logging and off-road vehicles, there is less and less space where these wild animals can roam freely and find the food and conditions they need to survive.

To this end about 10 years ago, Sierra Club BC joined with 5 other conservation groups to form Flathead Wild. We are a collaborative international effort coordinating the campaign to designate an International Wildlife Corridor all the way from the Waterton-Glacier park complex to Banff National Park, as part of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.  Our goal is to have this wildlife corridor include a Flathead National Park Reserve and a provincial wildlife management area that would be designed to work with the interests of the Ktunaxa.

Photo by Joe Riis.

Thanks to your support we have managed to get a ban on mining and energy development in the Flathead Valley, yet the region remains under threatened by development.

We need your continuing support so we can remain an active member of Flathead Wild, to support the Ktunaxa achieving their goals, and to ensure the Flathead Valley will remain a natural jewel. Please donate today.

For more information please go to the Flathead Wild website and sign our petition to complete Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Incidentally, we never did agree whether the animal we saw was a small grizzly or a wolverine.

Feature image by Joe Riis.

 

Transboundary Environmental Coalition calls for halt to new mines in Canada’s Southern Rockies

January 30, 2017

In light of recent charges brought against Teck (TSE:TECK.B) under the Fisheries Act for fish deaths resulting from the failure of their selenium treatment plant in 2014, the Flathead Wild Coalition is renewing their call for a halt to new coal mines in BC’s Elk River Valley.

Selenium levels in the Elk River watershed continue to be a serious threat to fish populations not only in Canada but also in the Koocanusa reservoir and the Kootenai River in the United States.

Despite more than three years of operations at West Line Creek, Teck’s treatment process has still not safely solved the selenium problem from that mine. Selenium-leaching waste rock dumps at all five of Teck’s Elk Valley mines continue to grow – and selenium levels in the Elk River and downstream continue to increase.

“Teck must do more to make sure selenium levels downstream of waste rock dumps are safe for fish,” said Ryland Nelson, Wildsight’s Southern Rockies Program Manager, “and we hope Environment Canada will continue their enforcement actions to push Teck to fix their water pollution problems.”

Meanwhile, expansions at four of Teck’s five open-pit coal mines in the Elk Valley have recently been approved by the BC Government and three new mines from other companies have been proposed, with more exploration ongoing.

“Without a proven, reliable selenium treatment method, increased mining in the area is unthinkable,” said Nelson, “it is time for the BC Government to stop entertaining new mines.”

Selenium levels in the Elk River currently far exceed BC’s water quality guidelines. Levels in the Koocanusa Reservoir, which spans the border, have exceeded US Environmental Protection Agency criteria.

“Excessive selenium levels, which have been found in fish tissue on both sides of the border, threaten reproduction and cause spinal and gill deformations in trout and other fish species,” said Ric Hauer, Professor of Limnology at the University of Montana. “Absent effective treatment, selenium is expected to continue leaching from waste rock dumps for generations.”

“The BC Government needs to step up and do much more to defend clean water and the world-class wildlife connectivity and habitat in the region,” said Candace Batycki, from Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, “instead of just approving more and more mining.”

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Contact:

Ryland Nelson, Wildsight, 250.531.0445

Ric Hauer, University of Montana, 406.250.9900

Candace Batycki, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, 250.352.3830

BACKGROUNDER:

The Elk River Valley, and the adjacent Flathead River Valley in the Southeastern corner of
British Columbia, are part of a critical connectivity corridor for wildlife along the Rocky
Mountains that spans across the national border. Large open-pit coal mines and
unsustainable logging practices threaten not just water, fish and other aquatic species, but
connectivity and habitat for grizzly bears and other mammals. The Elk and Flathead valleys
are an important part of the larger Crown of the Continent region that includes the
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Flathead Wild is a coalition of six Canadian and U.S. conservation groups: Canadian Parks
and Wilderness Society – BC Chapter, Headwaters Montana, National Parks Conservation
Association, Sierra Club BC, Wildsight, and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
The groups are working to permanently protect B.C.’s Flathead valley, long recognized as
the missing piece of the adjacent Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and World
Heritage Site. They are calling for a national park feasibility study in the southeastern
one-third of the Flathead, and a Wildlife Management Area in the rest of the valley and
adjoining habitat.

For more information visit www.flathead.ca

Feature Image by Michael Ready

The Coral of Vancouver Island’s Rainforest – An unprotected underworld

By Mark Worthing

January 2017

This article was originally published in Island Parent Magazine.

Have you ever hiked through the forests of Vancouver Island and come across rivers bursting out of the ground from seemingly nowhere? Or have you followed the path of a creek to find that the rushing water disappears underground? If you have, you’re likely walking on a karst landscape with a complex cave system of limestone, dolomite or marble beneath your feet.

Photo by Charly Caproff

Photo by Charly Caproff.

Vancouver Island has more caves than all of Canada combined. These caves are a result of the large limestone deposits that span along its length. Where this soluble rock is exposed to rainwater or to the surface of the earth (epikarst), we call this a karst landscape.

Thousands upon thousands of years of rainwater carves the bedrock through alchemy and time. This forms the magical architecture of underworld sinkholes, caverns, caves and disappearing rivers. This phenomenon happens to correlate with Vancouver Island’s spectacular ancient rainforest.

If you were to take a flight above a karst forest, you’d see a richer colour in the forest canopy. The most productive salmon-bearing streams in coastal B.C. feature karst somewhere within their river system. These limestone deposits have the same basic chemistry as coral reefs, oyster shells, eggshells and antlers.

After the last Ice Age, rich nutrients were left behind by receding glaciers. These provided the food today’s old-growth trees needed to develop into some of the planet’s most unique and magnificent forests. Over time, that fertile topsoil has been sucked up into the trees and other plants, carrying on the lifecycle of ancient forest ecology. This has helped create towering nutrient-rich cedar, spruce and Douglas fir trees with roots clutching coral limestone bedrock.

This gift of glacial nutrients only comes once. It now exists only within the decomposition cycles of dead plant matter and fungus on the spongy forest floor. The topsoil has also been pulled down into valley bottoms and waterways, creating healthy salmon-bearing rivers and exposing the karst bedrock below.

When a karst landscape gets this nutrient gift, one of the most endangered ecosystems on Vancouver Island is created: old-growth karst forests.

Unlike Alaska and Washington where there is stringent protection, British Columbia has absolutely no legislated protection for karst landscapes or even caves. A Cave Protection Act has been tabled for first reading in the B.C. Legislature more than once and the U.S. federal Cave Resources Protection Act was made into law over three decades ago. Yet the logging industry’s death grip on the provincial government seems to block attempts for legislation. Karst or cave protection might damper logging companies’ profit margins, so there is little political will to regulate.

Photo by Tristan Crosby.

Photo by Tristan Crosby.

There is also no protection for rivers or creeks that ‘disappear’ underground. Logging and road building is legal on top of areas that could be massive cave and karst systems. Not only is this dangerous to workers and a risk to public health, but it is belligerent negligence of a fragile ecosystem.

The logging culture on northern Vancouver Island is extremely cavalier, which is unfortunate as the north end of the island has the most caves and karst landscape features. The legendary Maquinna Cave near Tahsis has had its entrance covered and desecrated with logging and road-building debris. Logging-caused slides near Holberg have flooded out entire cave systems and clogged water drainage systems older than the country of Canada.

The forest of the Walbran Valley and northern Vancouver Island’s East Creek sit on top of karst limestone. Within the Flathead Valley of B.C.’s southern Rockies lies the deepest cave systems in North America. All of these cave systems are vulnerable without legislated cave or karst protection.

Yet there is hope for these magnificent places. First Nations leaders are asserting sovereignty over their lands and sacred cave sites. The Horne Lake Caves boast 17,000 visitors per year, and they recently received Destination B.C.’s first-ever Remarkable Experiences Award. Through ecotourism and parks, the public is becoming more and more engaged with the fascinating and fragile world below the roots of the ancient forests of Vancouver Island. So get out there and explore!

Feature image by Charly Caproff.

NGOs outraged as BC government admits culling is inhumane, yet considers cull expansion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

January 20, 2017 (Golden, BC) – A recent provincial government document that recommends expanding aerial gunning of wolves, along with increased hunting of mountain lions and deer has been met with outrage by environmental and animal welfare groups. The proposal to expand culling and hunting is a misguided attempt to recover caribou herds in the Revelstoke-Shuswap region.

The document’s authors, who are academic and government scientists of British Columbia’s Mountain Caribou Recovery Program, admit “There are no humane methods to directly reduce wolf numbers, but aerial removal is the only method of killing enough wolves (and entire packs) to reduce wolf densities with no risk of by-catch.”

Aerial gunning fails to comply with ethical guidelines set by the Canadian Council on Animal Care, as it is not considered an acceptable form of euthanasia. The BC government also accepts strangling snares as a killing method in this and other management plans. Research shows that many wolves killed by aerial gunning and neck snaring die a slow and excruciatingly painful death.

Gunning wolves from helicopters and using strangling snares on the ground have been the main tools used in an ongoing experiment to recover caribou herds protected by federal law. These herds were pushed to the brink of extinction not because of wolves, but due to continued destruction and fragmentation of their habitat by logging, resource extraction and motorized recreation.

Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said:

“Those involved in planning the expanded wolf and cougar kill disregard the considerable damage that scientists understand happens in ecosystems when top predators are removed, and callously exhibit an indifference to the suffering experienced by wolf families as pack members are killed.”

Recommendations made a decade ago (2007) by government and independent scientists to protect 34,000 hectares of habitat to recover caribou herds in the Revelstoke-Shuswap area have been ignored and eroded so much as to become meaningless. Virginia Thompson, a resident of Revelstoke formerly associated with the Mountain Caribou Project who has been monitoring land-use plans, logging, and caribou management in her local area, explains:

“Ultimately, almost no land was retained in the Timber Harvesting Land Base in the 2007 Recovery Plan.”

“We are utterly stunned to see such a backward wildlife strategy out of the BC government,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director for Humane Society International/Canada. “The Liberal government seems to be stuck in the 19th century as wolves are still being scapegoated at the hands of wildlife mismanagement.”

BC’s caribou recovery plan is still pitched as a great conservation commitment at the sacrifice of industrial and recreational interests, yet it has never resulted in protecting sufficient habitat to support caribou in the long-term.

“Attempting to recover caribou herds that have dipped well below the critical threshold for short-term survival in habitat that can’t support much growth is like trying to put humpty dumpty back together again,” said Sadie Parr, executive director of Wolf Awareness Inc. “It cannot be done! Killing predators, no matter how many, will not change this.”

Gross mismanagement of species at risk in BC, a province with no endangered species law, results in unethical culls of predators and competing species. To avoid such conservation dilemmas, the BC government must adequately protect the habitat of at-risk species in the first place.

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Background Information:

There were approximately 9900ha of status quo Timber Harvesting Land Base going into the 2007 Caribou Recovery Plan. 10,000ha THLB was retained in the 2007 Recovery Plan, but 2600ha was counted from status quo retained land, leaving 7400ha of new protection. Then in 2011, a Biodiversity Amendment to the Revelstoke Higher Level Land Use Plan was invoked which allowed timber companies to log a minimum of 6,000 ha of Old Growth Management Areas as compensation for what logging was lost to caribou protection in the 2007 Recovery Plan.

Media contacts:

Sadie Parr – Wolf Awareness Inc Executive Director
Ph: 250-272-4695 sadieparrwolfpact@gmail.com

Chris Genovali – Raincoast Conservation Foundation Executive Director
Ph: 250-888-3579 chris@raincoast.org

Virginia Thompson – Revelstoke resident formerly associated with the Mountain Caribou Project
Ph: 250-200-0002 vjwthompson2003@yahoo.ca

Christopher Paré – HSI/Canada: c. 438-402-0643, email: cpare@hsi.org

Groups endorsing media release:

• Animal Alliance of Canada – Liz White, Director
• Animal Protection Party of Canada – Jordan Reichert, BC Representative
• Bears Matter –Barb Murray, Executive Director
• Bear With Us – Mike McIntosh, Executive Director
• Born Free – Barry Kent McKay, Canadian Representative, and Senior Program Associate
• British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) – Sara Dubois, Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Manager of Scientific Programs
• Cochrane Research Institute – Clio Smeeton, Director
• Coyote Watch Canada – Lesley Sampson, Founder and Executive Director
• Earthroots – Amber Ellis, Executive Director
• Humane Society International – Rebecca Aldworth, Executive Director
• National Wolfwatcher Coalition – Nancy Warren, Executive Director
• Pacific Wild – Ian McAllister, Executive Director
• Raincoast Conservation Foundation –Chris Genovali, Executive Director
• Sierra Club BC – Bob Peart, Executive Director
• The Fur-Bearers –Lesley Fox, Executive Director
• Wilderness Committee – Gwen Barlee, Executive Director
• Wildlife Defence League – Tommy Knowles, Executive Director
• Wolf Awareness Inc. –Sadie Parr, Executive Director
• Wolf Conservation Centre – Maggie Howell Executive Director
• World Animal Protection – Beth Sharpe, Communications Director
Background documents:
Maintaining ethical standards during conservation crises:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272153185_Maintaining_ethical_standards_during_conservatio
n_crises

Witnessing extinction: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274320654_Witnessing_extinction_-
_Cumulative_impacts_across_landscapes_and_the_future_loss_of_an_evolutionarily_significant_unit_of
_woodland_caribou_in_Canada

 

Featured image: Jethro Taylor, Flickr Creative Commons.

Sierra Club BC statement on BC Opposition proposal to ban trophy hunting of grizzly bears

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 25, 2016

Sierra Club BC’s campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon released the following statement in response to the provincial NDP’s pledge to implement a ban on the trophy hunting of grizzly bears:

“Sierra Club BC advocates an end to the trophy hunt of grizzly bears. We recognize and respect the ban on trophy hunting of grizzly bears that First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest have already implemented in their territories.

“We commend the announcement from the BC Opposition that they will ban the trophy hunting of grizzly bears. Killing bears for sport is wasteful, opposed by a strong majority of British Columbians, and bad for our economy. These bears are worth more to our economy alive than dead.

“While their announcement will require a significant investment in monitoring and enforcement, in order to ensure trophy hunters don’t simply pretend to hunt for food, the announcement is an important step in the right direction and, if implemented, is good news for these majestic bears.”

For more information on the importance of a trophy hunting ban, visit BearsForever.ca.

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Contact:

Caitlyn Vernon

Director of Campaigns, Sierra Club BC

(250) 386 5255

UNESCO in the Peace: Shining an international light on Site C

October 7, 2016

The eyes of the world were focused on Site C this week as UNESCO visited the Peace River Valley. The international agency was there to investigate how Site C endangers a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Wood Buffalo National Park.

There is still time to stop the Site C Dam, and Sierra Club BC is fighting it with every tool at our disposal. We initiated the process that led to the UNESCO decision to send a delegation to investigate the impacts of Site C.

On October 3, Sierra Club BC campaigner Ana Simeon joined the Mikisew Cree, many prominent scholars and environmental organizations from BC and Alberta, and national groups in Edmonton during the 10-day UNESCO mission. Together, they held the undivided attention of the delegation for nearly four hours as they spoke out about the destructive impacts of Site C and tar sands development on Wood Buffalo National Park.

Peace River. Photo by Larry Peterson.

Peace River. Photo by Larry Peterson.

The Mikisew Cree are highly concerned about the growing threats posed by development to water levels in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, the world’s largest inland freshwater delta. The area provides critical habitat for fish, moose, bison, and migratory birds including the endangered whooping crane. The Mikisew Cree have depended on this area for their livelihoods for millennia. They have asked the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to list the World Heritage Site as “In Danger.”

Presentations and submissions by Ana Simeon, Candace Batycki of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and the Peace Valley Environment Association covered every angle on Site C – including the violations of First Nations’ rights, the impacts happening right now in the Peace valley, and the drying of the Peace Athabasca Delta. In the face of the federal government’s lack of vigour in protecting Aboriginal rights and the environment, we called for the mission to deliver a wake-up call that international obligations must be respected.

site-c-drummers

Action to protect the valley. Photo courtesy of Peace Valley Environment Association.

Ana Simeon told the delegates, “We believe Canada needs support in maintaining a strong and principled course on respect for Aboriginal and Treaty rights as well as international treaties and international law. We believe this support would be best delivered by the international community in the form of ‘tough love.’ This ‘tough love’ includes declaring Wood Buffalo National Park a World Heritage Site in Danger, as well as calling for an immediate halt to Site C construction until First Nations legal challenges have been heard and a full inquiry has been conducted into treaty rights violations.”

What happens next?

The mission will release its report in six weeks, and Canada will need to respond within six months. Based on the mission report, the World Heritage Committee will make a decision next July, which may or may not include the finding that Wood Buffalo National Park is a World Heritage Site in danger. We need your help in calling on our federal government to act to protect Wood Buffalo National Park.

Please, send a letter help protect this special region from further devastation. If you want to do more, consider making a donation today to support Sierra Club BC. We rely on contributions from supporters like you to keep up the fight. Thank you!

Feature image: Flickr Creative Commons.

Good news for Skeena salmon threatened by Petronas. Or is it?

In August, federal fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc announced a renewed commitment to acting on the Cohen Commission’s recommendations, as well as the government’s 2005 Wild Salmon Policy. He also confirmed that Ottawa will restore protections to salmon habitat that were removed by the previous government.

On the surface, this sounds like good news for B.C.’s wild salmon, including the Skeena population that is threatened by the Petronas liquefied fracked gas plant proposal.

But is it?

The devil is in the details—and LeBlanc confirmed this by revealing the government would take time to consult on how it would restore protections to habitat. It could be years before the resulting legislative and regulatory changes come into effect. And who knows how strong the protections will end up being?

The Wild Salmon Policy alone should provide ample reasons to reject Petronas. The policy dictates that:

  • Conservation of salmon and their habitat must be the highest priority in resource management;
  • Decision-making is to be an open and inclusive process that honours Canada’s obligations to First Nations;
  • Fisheries are to be managed sustainably so that future generations of British Columbians can continue to harvest salmon;
  • And human activities are to be regulated to avoid harms to fish habitat and maintain ecosystem integrity.

In any sane world, Ottawa’s Wild Salmon Policy would make the Petronas proposal a non-starter.

The plant would be right in the Skeena River estuary, which acts as a nursery for up to a billion young salmon during their migration to sea. There is an extremely high risk that destroying this critical habitat would collapse the Skeena population and the $110 million Skeena salmon economy.

Few coastal areas in B.C. are more critical to the survival of the Skeena’s salmon than the Flora Bank eelgrass beds. Situated right off Lelu Island, where the Petronas plant would be built, Flora Bank offers rare and critical habitat for more than 40 populations of salmon and other species such as halibut.

Lelu Island was already assessed and rejected as a development site in 1975 because this habitat is too important to risk.

First Nations throughout the watershed have already gathered together in opposition to the plant by signing the Lelu Island Declaration.

It’s always been clear that the right thing to do is to reject Petronas. If the federal government’s commitment to protecting wild salmon is real, it has no choice but to say no.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s watershed moment is coming in the coming weeks. He will need to choose: the profits of a foreign multinational versus B.C.’s iconic wild Pacific salmon, the economy they support and the future livability of our climate.

Featured image by Al Harvey.

Letter to Minister LeBlanc regarding Site C permit approval

Dear Minister LeBlanc,

Thank you for your invitation to meet with you and the other ENGOs working on marine issues next week. We appreciate the opportunity to share our concerns and hear your perspective on the next steps needed to protect the health and productivity of marine ecosystems.

As you may know, Sierra Club BC has a long-standing interest in marine conservation. For many years our organization was an active member of the Marine Protected Areas caucus. Our pioneering work on Blue Carbon, conducted by Dr. Colin Campbell, highlights the potential of estuarine and saltmarsh habitats to function as highly efficient carbon sinks. We continue to advocate for protection of Blue Carbon as a key plank of Canada’s strategy to mitigate climate change.

Right now, our focus is strongly on preventing severe and permanent ecosystem impacts from the proposed Site C dam to a number of aquatic species in the Peace River. The Site C dam would also interfere with ice jam formation and spring flows into the Peace Athabasca Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important carbon sink in its own right.

On July 28, we were shocked and saddened to learn that DFO has issued permits for continued construction of the Site C dam, despite strong opposition by Treaty 8 First Nations, multiple court challenges, and an unprecedented Statement of Concern from over 350 scientists and the Royal Academy of Canada, who unanimously called on the federal government to revisit the Order in Council approving Site C, and to suspend the issuance of further permits pursuant to the Order in Council until it has completed an analysis of the project’s impact on Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

As you are aware, the Joint Review Panel on Site C found that Site C would cause significant adverse effects to fish and fish habitat, and significant cumulative adverse effects to fish. DFO anticipates the extirpation of the Arctic Grayling and a near-extirpation of Peace River Mountain Whitefish (loss of 90 percent of population). While BC Hydro proposes to mitigate effects on Bull Trout, a species of special concern under COSEWIC, by means of fish ladders, similar at-tempts in other jurisdictions have met with scant success to date due to Bull Trout’s reluctance to use man-made structures. The release of methylmercury from decaying vegetation, and its bioaccumulation in Bull Trout is also of concern, given the cultural importance of this species to Treaty 8 First Nations. Contamination of the remaining Bull Trout in the Peace watershed with methylmercury would severely and permanently undermine First Nations uses of the land.

Regarding Site C’s impact on the Peace Athabasca Delta and Wood Buffalo National Park, the prima-facie scientific evidence, presented to the World Heritage Committee by the Mikiseew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, was sufficient to trigger a UNESCO Mission to Canada to investigate these impacts. The ecological health of the PAD is supported by a complex interaction between the Athabasca River, the Peace River, the Birch River, and Lake Athabasca. Pending the completion of the Mission, the UNESCO Heritage Committee has requested that Canada refrain from proceeding with any project that would cause irreversible damage. Approving continued construction of Site C is contrary to Canada’s international obligation to protect the Peace Athabasca Delta and Wood Buffalo National Park from adverse effects of upstream development.

We respectfully request that you respond to the following questions:

1. How do you, as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and a member of the federal Cabinet, plan to redress the burning First Nations issues arising from the approvals given so far to Site C, which are at odds with the federal government’s commitment to reconciliation with, and legal obligations to, First Nations?

2. How do you, as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and a member of the federal Cabinet, plan to comply with Canada’s international obligations to protect the Peace Athabasca Delta, a World Heritage Site?

We thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.

 

Sincerely,

Bob Peart, Executive Director

Sierra Club BC