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Now’s our chance for smarter environmental and energy reviews

Right now, we’ve got a once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise our voices for stronger environmental protections. The federal government is reviewing key laws and processes including the environmental assessment process and the National Energy Board.

These changes will impact Canada’s environmental and energy decisions for years to come. Please add your voice. Together we can let our MPs know we care about making these changes!

Let’s make sure Canada fixes the National Energy Board

The NEB review of Kinder Morgan was hopelessly biased towards corporate interests and denied many people the chance to speak. Sierra Club BC’s Credibility Crisis report outlined its many flaws, revealing an industry-captured regulator determined to approve the project.

Right now, the NEB review process makes it almost impossible for community voices to be heard. The NEB has far too much power when it comes to reviewing projects like pipelines. It should respect the rights and authority of Indigenous peoples and work for people, not industry.

You can help make sure upcoming changes to the National Energy Board go far enough to restore public trust in the NEB.

Tell your MP: “Keep Canada’s climate promise and fix the NEB” 

Let’s make sure environmental reviews of pipelines, dams and mines are strong and fair

We also have an opportunity to provide input into the federal environmental assessment review to improve protection of Canada’s natural environment.

It’s time for governments to get serious about climate action by incorporating a scientifically rigorous climate test in environmental assessments. A climate test would analyze greenhouse gas emissions related to a project (both upstream and downstream) and assess whether a proposed new energy project fits within national action towards decarbonization, or if instead it will prevent us from hitting climate targets. It asks “does it make climate change worse?” If the answer is yes, the project doesn’t get built.

Environmental assessments should also advance reconciliation and co-governance with Indigenous peoples, respecting Indigenous rights by engaging communities early in the process.

Tell your MP: “I want a next-generation environmental assessment law for Canada” 

Want to do more?

The federal government has also mandated reviews of other environmental laws. Learn how you can advocate for strengthening Canada’s Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act.

This public comment period closes August 28. To learn more about this process, visit the government’s feedback website.

Want to help take Sierra Club BC’s climate action work to the next level? Sign up to volunteer or become a member today.

It doesn’t have to be a carbon offset

Take climate action by supporting Sierra Club BC’s campaign to protect Vancouver Island’s carbon-rich old-growth rainforest! 

It’s summer, and that means a lot of travel for families and communities. Have you considered buying carbon credits to offset some of your emissions?

Carbon offsets run the gamut from good to bad. Credible offsets can contribute to climate solutions – if they are combined with concrete steps to reduce emissions. Unfortunately there are many examples of dubious projects, making it important to verify whether standards are met.

As an alternative to buying carbon offsets, consider supporting Sierra Club BC’s work toward lasting protection of Vancouver Island’s carbon-rich endangered old-growth rainforest.

Wood waste from a clear cut. Photo by TJ Watt.

BC’s old-growth rainforests store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare, one of the highest rates on earth. They’re like a carbon bank, accumulating carbon in soil, trees and organic matter over millennia. Reducing emissions by avoiding logging of this old-growth has immediate benefits for the climate.

Sadly, about half of the carbon stored in these ecosystems gets released in clearcut logging. This is often combined with slash burning, an egregious practice that releases millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases annually and must be phased out.

It can take centuries until the biomass reaches previous levels—time we don’t have.

 

While improving forest management will help in the fight against climate change, the most urgent step is to simply leave carbon-rich and resilient forests alive and standing.

This is why Sierra Club BC is working so hard to protect ancient forests.

By becoming a member of Sierra Club BC, you can help protect British Columbia’s forests and our climate.

Vancouver Island: The last stand for carbon-rich old-growth

In BC, Vancouver Island is Ground Zero for logging of endangered old-growth rainforest. A recent Sierra Club BC analysis showed that destruction of the Island’s original old-growth rainforest is occurring three times faster than primary forest loss in tropical rainforests.

Clear cut logging in East Creek, Vancouver Island. Photo by TJ Watt.

Globally, the loss of primary forests – characterized by ecological processes largely undisturbed by human activity – is threatening species, carbon storage and environmental services. In some countries this is primarily in the form of deforestation; in other countries such as Canada, this is primarily through the replacement of rich ancient forests with even-aged young forest.

Sierra Club BC’s data shows that between 1990 and 2015, Vancouver Island’s primary old-growth forest has declined by thirty per cent.[1] (Three times higher than the ten percent decline for primary forests of tropical countries over the same time period.[2]) Only about ten percent of the biggest trees remain standing. In the last few years the annual old-growth logging rate was 9,000 hectares per year or twenty-five hectares a day.

We have estimated the impact of one year’s worth of old-growth logging on Vancouver Island on our climate. We found old-growth logging on the Island alone essentially eliminated BC’s progress in reducing carbon emissions in the same year, releasing approximately 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and nullifying the province’s progress in reducing annual emissions by the same amount.

Solutions are possible when we work together

The 2016 Great Bear Rainforest Agreements show that solutions are possible. The agreements met science-based conservation levels, strengthened First Nations rights, enabled conservation financing and forest carbon credit projects, and gave forestry companies certainty for logging under stringent standards. The Great Bear Rainforest carbon project documentation showed that the reduced rate of logging is resulting in 600,000 tonnes of carbon emissions reductions annually, benefiting the region’s First Nations with revenue from carbon.

The Great Bear Rainforest lies within a particularly rich region of the province – and North America – for carbon retention. Map source: BC Ministry of Environment.

New protected areas and conservation measures for Vancouver Island must respect First Nations rights and interests, enable a transition to sustainable second-growth forestry and support diverse economic activities such as tourism and reduce carbon emissions. The Ahousaht Nation in Clayoquot Sound is leading the way in demonstrating alternatives to old-growth logging, with their land use vision that includes an end to industrial logging in their territory.

Sierra Club BC mapping shows approximately 1.5 million hectares of remaining old-growth forest on Vancouver IsIand and the South Coast area that are currently unprotected. Within this area, there are 600,000 hectares of relatively productive stands, with significant carbon storagecapacity and a higher likelihood of getting targeted for logging. These forests alone store the equivalent of thirteen times BC’s annual emissions.

Sierra Club BC will work with the new BC government, First Nations and the forestry sector to increase protection of ecosystems with high carbon and species habitat value, in particular temperate rainforests, as a key element in its response to global warming. Old-growth rainforest is more resilient than younger forest, and BC’s ecosystems and species habitat are shifting rapidly in a changing climate. That’s why ecologists consider the remaining old-growth a “non-renewable” resource.

Join us today

We will only get there with your support. We cannot tell you exactly how many tonnes of carbon will remain stored in ancient trees as a result of our work, instead of getting chopped and partly burned in slash piles. But we can assure you that our role has been and will continue to be critical to ensure progress for new protected areas and our climate.

Please consider supporting Sierra Club BC’s work toward lasting protection of Vancouver Island’s carbon-rich endangered old-growth rainforest.

You can do this by becoming a member of Sierra Club BC. The best way to support our work is with a monthly contribution of $8, $15 or $25.

So, are you in?

 

Feature image by Andrew S. Wright.

Footnotes:

[1]  The original extent of old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island was 2,600,000 hectares, of which anestimated 1,082,000 hectares were remaining by 1990. By 2015 the remaining old-growth was reduced to 748,000 hectares, adecline of 30 percent over the course of just 25 years.

[2]  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, tropical countries showed an overall decline of 10 percent of their primary forest in the last 25 years (from 1990 to 2015).

The Future is Here for the New Government of British Columbia

Record-breaking wildfires and heat waves are a reminder that we have little time to save nature, phase out fossil fuels and leap to a low-carbon economy, all at the same time.

Abnormally high temperatures in BC, August 3 2017. Image courtesy of TropicalTidbits.com

British Columbia’s unprecedented wildfires are still not under control. August is beginning with a new heat wave and no reprieve from the climate crisis for the new BC government. This ongoing state of emergency is a reminder that our planet is changing rapidly – and that our governments have to act like they mean it, to save our world as we know it.

BC has a unique opportunity and must play a crucial role in the fight against global warming. The province is outstanding due to its large size, spectacular beauty, and vast natural resources which together confer wealth on a relatively small human population. Our use of this abundance, however, has been in many cases short-sighted and unfair.

A new vision is needed. It is justified by the recognition that critical change is now coming at an increasingly visible rate.  We have significantly overstepped the planet’s capacity to provide what we demand, absorb the pollution we produce and heal the wounds we have inflicted on its natural systems. In many parts of the world, lives and business-as-usual are already being disrupted by an increasingly unpredictable climate.

Fortunately, solutions exist that enable us to save our natural systems while offering a sustainable lifestyle. Wind and solar are now beating the price of fossil fuel energy in a growing number of countries. Grid and battery solutions are being developed at a mind-boggling pace.

Renewable energy systems, improved resource and energy efficiency, mass transit, materials recycling and new service models like the sharing economy are contributing more and cleaner jobs than resource extraction sectors. Our province, like so many other parts of the world, needs the leadership necessary to quickly phase in solutions and phase out destructive activities. History shows that ecosystem breakdown makes societal collapse more likely. Now is the time to make the changes we need to make while relatively stable conditions prevail.

A coherent response to the climate crisis requires far reaching steps to reduce climate pollution, moving to low carbon economy and saving nature at the same time without pretending we can take one step at a time. Stopping the pollution from our old economic system is crucial to maintain a healthy environment as a basis for the new economy. Increasing protection of ecosystems on land and in the sea to safeguard environmental services is also tied to maintaining the foundations for long-term prosperity.

BC’s new provincial government made far reaching policy commitments for people and the planet. Sierra Club BC has developed a vision called The Future is Here to support the needed policy changes.  To defend our communities and environment now and into the future, BC needs to show leadership in three key areas – climate action, nature conservation and a low carbon economy.

Climate action

BC must follow climate science, meet existing emissions reduction targets and set new ambitious targets to exceed the Paris Agreement. We must expand and increase the provincial carbon tax and declare the majority of our vast fossil fuel reserves off-limits to extraction, based on the newest carbon budget research. We have sufficient renewable energy sources and low carbon solutions to become carbon neutral before 2050.

Nature conservation

Our environment is healthy enough that we can set aside fifty percent of it in support of nature. We need an expanded network of protected areas with new and existing land use designations that address Aboriginal title and respect cultural values, and give priority to species and carbon sinks while allowing appropriate uses.  We can allow species the means to adapt to the changing climate while protecting clean water, air and soils for our children. BC’s globally rare temperate old-growth rainforests are a particularly spectacular example of resilient ecosystems with outstanding values for species, communities and climate that we can save if we act today.

Low carbon economy

By redirecting resources and political priorities, we can create new, better and safer jobs and build a low carbon economy that maintains our high quality of life with a greatly reduced resource footprint.  We can and must phase out oil and gas activities such as fracking and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker proposal that destroy our environment and are increasingly uneconomic as international climate agreements are implemented.

Sierra Club BC’s The Future is Here vision includes ten recommendations outlining more detailed steps to address these three areas of action.

No government will be able to implement the scope of change required once the costs of environmental crisis and climate impacts become unmanageable.  As a wealthy industrialized country with a high carbon footprint we have the ability – and the responsibility – to pursue an alternative path. The new BC government has promised to start the change we need, so that we can avoid turmoil such as this year’s terrible wildfires in the future.

Check out The Future is Here and let the new BC government know you expect strong climate leadership.

We have to protect all of the world’s rainforests, not just tropical rainforests

By Alys Granados

May 2017

Most of us have heard about how rainforests are in trouble and the rapid rate at which we are losing these spectacular ecosystems, along with the incredible diversity of species that depend on them. Globally, most of these reports focus on tropical rainforests and there has been too little awareness about the fate of temperate rainforests. Close to home, very few know that the remaining old-growth forest on Vancouver Island is disappearing faster than natural tropical rainforests.

Few of us have the opportunity to visit tropical forests in person, which can make us feel disconnected from the problems of deforestation and degradation of tropical countries. I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work in tropical rainforests over the past seven years, as part of my graduate work in wildlife ecology. Most of this has been in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo where I investigated how selective logging disrupts interactions between trees and mammals.

Central Walbran Valley. Photo: TJ Watt.

The loss of intact tropical forests continues to be a serious threat. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently estimated that globally, ten per cent of the remaining primary forests in tropical rainforest countries were lost between 1990 and 2015. These forests are home to many species which exist nowhere else on the planet and protecting their habitats is critical to their survival. Further, the livelihood of millions of people depends on intact forests and they play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change by storing massive amounts of carbon.

While all of this may be well known to many, few of us in Canada realize just how fast old-growth rainforest is being logged on Vancouver Island. I was very shocked to learn from recent Sierra Club BC data that over that same period (1990 to 2015), thirty per cent of the remaining old-growth forest on Vancouver Island was logged. In other words, the rate of loss of so-called “primary forests” (forests that were largely undisturbed by human activity) on Vancouver Island is actually three times greater than in the tropics.  In the last few years the rate of old-growth logging on the Island has actually increased by twelve per cent to 9,000 hectares per year (25 hectares a day).

So what’s behind this forest loss? Similar to the tropics, logging plays a central role. One difference is that in many tropical countries logging often results in deforestation, while in other countries such as Canada logging generally leads to the replacement of rich ancient forests with even-aged young forest. Much of the old-growth forest on Vancouver Island has already been lost to clearcut logging and the remaining patches of old-growth (called variable retention by foresters) are too small to maintain enough habitat for species that depend on old-growth forest.

Logging in East Creek on Vancouver Island. Photo: Mark Worthing.

In response to the Sierra Club BC data, the BC government stated that it is misleading to compare the problem in tropical countries to Vancouver Island, because in British Columbia logging companies are required by law to reforest logged areas. While this is true, old-growth ecosystems with trees that are many hundreds of years of age are not growing back at a meaningful timescale and climate change means we will never see the same type of forest grow back in the first place.

Species that rely on old-growth forest such as the marbled murrelet are negatively affected by the loss of old forest stands. In addition, the resulting large areas of young trees are not offering the type of habitat that most of the typical plants and animals on Vancouver Island depend on.

Similar to tropical forests, coastal temperate forests play an important role storing carbon dioxide. In fact a single hectare of temperate rainforest can store up to 1000 tonnes of carbon, a much greater amount than most tropical rainforests. Even if replanting is carried out, along the coast it can take centuries for reforested areas to reach a similar capacity in carbon storage potential as that of intact old-growth forest stands.

Tropical forest loss rightfully deserves the attention it gets, and we are lucky here in BC to have equally amazing rainforest habitat. Given that we are living in a relatively rich part of the world compared to many tropical countries, it is remarkable that we are failing to do a better job of protecting the remaining rare and endangered ancient forests on Vancouver Island and inspire other parts of the world. Coastal temperate rainforests exist only in very small areas on the planet and very little intact areas are left. Solutions exist, for example, in the Great Bear Rainforest north of Vancouver Island. Increasing the area of forest protected and halting destructive logging practices are both vital to ensuring the continued survival of these ecosystems and for a diverse economy. They should be a primary concern to us all.

Alys Granados

Alys Granados is a PhD student in zoology at UBC. She is working as an Intern for Sierra Club BC under UBC’s Biodiversity Research: Integrative Training & Education (BRITE) program. For her PhD, Alys is studying the effects of selective logging on plants and mammals in Malaysian Borneo. Previously, Alys completed a Masters at Concordia University in QC, where she studied park-people interactions in relation to human-elephant conflict in Cameroon. As an intern with Sierra Club, Alys will help with efforts to increase awareness about threats facing old growth forests on Vancouver Island. 

 

Feature image by Andrew S. Wright

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.

– 30 –

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.