Monday, November 5, 2012

Questions for Enbridge at the Northern Gateway Hearings Today

Photo by Wayne Sawchuck
Today is a big day for Nature Canada in our campaign to protect British Columbia's wildlife from the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. Today, we finally have a chance to directly ask Enbridge some hard questions about their proposal, and whether the energy giant's plans are truly in the public interest.

We've been joint interveners with BC Nature in the ongoing federal review of this project from the beginning.  And from the beginning we have argued that Enbridge has underestimated the project’s risks to the endangered woodland caribou, using flawed methods that misjudge the threat of increased mortality from predators, and the impact that fragmentation of habitat will have on the caribou’s ability to feed and breed.

The elusive and shy woodland caribou are the ‘grey ghosts’ of Canada’s wilderness, and their numbers are in decline throughout Canada.   The southern mountain population are listed as threatened on Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act. It is similarly listed on provincial at-risk lists in British Columbia and Alberta. In particular, the pipeline could hasten the decline of the Little Smokey, Narraway and Hart herds.

Caribou need large areas of undisturbed old growth woodland. This is directly connected to their survival, as these forests not only provide a necessary food source, but by keeping caribou geographically separated from moose and elk -- other prey, in other words -- the forest offers protection from predators like wolves, lynx, cougar, coyote, and bears.

The Northern Gateway pipeline project would cut pathways into these forests, opening up networks of roads, cleared pipeline right of way and other infrastructure that penetrate their isolated habitat and provide linear corridors for predators to travel. These roads and lines also enable recreational access by ATVs, snowmobiles, hunters and poachers. Regenerated forest areas enhance tender shoots of grass shrubs and trees, which are food for elk, deer and moose. Their presence, in turn, supports predators that also prey on caribou.

At the hearings, taking place in Prince George B.C., we're calling into question Enbridge’s decision to focus only on caribou mortality on winter habitat when assessing the pipeline’s effect on population health – when summertime mortality risks are as great or greater.

We're also questioning the decision to focus only on how caribou could be affected within a 15-kilometere range on either side of the pipeline, rather than how the project would affect caribou herds throughout their entire range.

To help us, we've enlisted the aid of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre to represent us, on a pro bono basis, during the Enbridge hearings. They've been a tremendous resource for us so far, and we're grateful for their expertise!

 While the focus of the panel hearings this week is on caribou, terrestrial wildlife aren't the only ones threatened by the pipeline. Marine birds and other wildlife face risks from increased tanker traffic and potential oil spills -- something we look forward to questioning Enbridge about later on in the hearings.

We also need to appear two other times to submit to questioning from Enbridge's lawyers. We're ready, and we're more than willing -- but all of this travel does add up. You can help make sure we're at these hearings making the case for Canada's wildlife by voting for our project in Mountain Equipment Co-op's Big Wild Bucks contest. If our project earns the most votes, we'll win a $5,000 grant to help cover the costs of participating in the Northern Gateway hearings.  Cast your vote!