Category Archives: Species At Risk

BC Hydro breaks promises in logging eagle’s nest for Site C Dam; May have lacked permits

As the fog lifted on the Peace River Monday morning, it revealed this clearcut island (Donald Hoffmann)
As the fog lifted on the Peace River Monday morning, it revealed this clearcut island (Donald Hoffmann)

BC Hydro’s clearcut logging this past weekend at the location of the proposed Site C Dam appears to have broken a promise about care for active eagles’ nests and may have lacked federal permits, critics charge.

See no eagle, hear no eagle

The work came within days of the Union of BC Municipalities’ (UBCM) call for a halt to Site C Dam construction until proper independent reviews have been conducted. While Hydro has provincial permits to cut down eagles’ nests on islands in the Peace River, spokesperson Dave Conway has stated it would “take great care to avoid or mitigate effects on active bald eagle nests during Site C construction.”

Yet, based on evidence captured and provided by local photographer Donald Hoffmann, an apparently active eagle’s nest was cut down over the weekend.

A statement issued by Hydro on “protecting” eagles said the following:

[quote]What does inactive mean? Inactive means the nest is no longer being occupied by a bird or an egg.[/quote]

Yet an eagle was still clearly seen occupying the nest as of Friday, September 25 (pictured below with machinery operating behind the nest). By Monday, the nest, along with every tree on the island, was gone.

A bald eagle sits in its nest on a Peace River island on Sept. 25 (left); Logging occurring near the same eagle's nest on Sept. 26 (Donald Hoffmann)
A bald eagle sits in its nest on a Peace River island on Sept. 25 (left); Logging occurring near the same eagle’s nest on Sept. 26 (Donald Hoffmann)
The same island - site of the proposed Site C Dam - on Sept. 28 (top arrow shows location of former eagle's nest; bottom arrow shows where logging equipment crossed river channel) - Donald Hoffmann
The same island – location of the proposed Site C Dam – on Sept. 28 (top arrow shows location of former eagle’s nest; bottom arrow shows where logging equipment crossed river channel) – Donald Hoffmann

Not only was Hydro to leave active nests in place, but it promised “300-metre no activity buffers will be implemented around active bald eagle nests”. The above photo clearly shows a feller buncher machine working in far closer proximity to a nest with an eagle sitting in it.

Conway confirmed in comments emailed to the Alaska Highway News that the nest was removed, but maintained that “a qualified environmental professional was on-site to determine the nest was inactive, and no eagles were present or harmed in the process.” How the “qualified environmental professional” missed the eagle captured in photographs by Hoffmann is a unclear.

Hydro may have lacked permits

The path built on the north side of the Peace River to move equipment across a channel, onto an adjacent island - work that may have lacked federal permits (Ken Boon)
The path built on the north side of the Peace River to move equipment across a channel, onto an adjacent island – work that may have lacked federal permits (Ken Boon)

Ken Boon of the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association was partaking in a wooden boat race on the river this past Saturday when he learned of Hydro’s construction work on the island – where he ventured to see it for himself. He is concerned that BC Hydro moved equipment across a side channel in the river without proper permits.

“Two pieces of logging equipment were moved to the island by crossing the river during the best low water conditions possible, in co-ordination with the Peace Canyon Generating Station,” Conway told the Alaska Highway News. “This was done in accordance with our provincial permits, and an environmental monitor was on site.” Boon counters, “That may be so, but to our knowledge, there are no federal permits issued that would allow for the crossing of a main river channel with that equipment.”

This notion is backed up by lands staff for the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, who told me yesterday that Hydro acknowledged during recent injunction proceedings Hydro that it did not have the necessary federal permits to impact a fish-bearing river. 

Hydro’s poor track record

“This incident highlights again the fact that BC Hydro, as a public crown corporation, cannot be trusted to be doing self-monitoring and self-reporting,” adds Verena Hofmann, a Peace Valley resident working with Treaty 8 on Site C-related issues.

She points to Hydro’s poor track record with environmental studies. The crown corporation committed a series of missteps throughout its filed studies and investigative work leading up to the Join Review Panel hearings – including “archeology infractions that resulted in an RCMP investigation, improper sampling methods, test holes that were too shallow and had to be redone, and improper baiting for wildlife studies.”

In each of these instances, Treaty 8 members had to intervene and insist of problems being addressed, maintains Hofmann. “We’ve seen that it’s BC’s practice to allow industry to police itself, but Hydro does not have the same deal with the federal government. Where are the federal agencies whose responsibility it is to monitor fish habitat and fish-bearing watercourses?”

Early signs of Site C’s disruption

From further west on the Peace River comes this account from homeowner Caroline Beam:

[quote]A bald eagle was hit on the highway near our riverside home outside Hudson’s Hope a few days ago. My husband came upon the scene as the driver was trying to figure out how to capture and contain the obviously injured bird. He was attempting to use a coat, which my husband explained to him would not be adequate for safely containing such a large, strong and well-armed bird. My husband then called the local RCMP, who asked him to retrieve a large animal crate from our home and meet him at the scene to try to capture the bird properly, after which it would be transported to a facility in the lower mainland. If it survived its wounds and the journey, trained professionals would try to heal it and hopefully release the bird back into the wild. Chances of success: unknown.

It turns out that, upon returning to the scene, my husband discovered that the eagle was nowhere to be found. Hopefully, the bird was not as injured as it initially appeared and simply flew off once it regained its bearings. I’d rather not dwell on darker possibilities.

The whole incident got me thinking about the raptors in this valley, and the effect we humans have on them. Every day, we encroach on their habitat, endanger them with our contraptions, disrupt their food sources, and threaten their futures. And all the while, we celebrate them for their beauty, grace, and fierce spirits. Our southern neighbors have even adopted the bald eagle as their national bird! It all seems so incongruous.[/quote]

Clark’s hurry-up offence

This early work on Site C Dam comes as the project faces increasing scrutiny from a litany of reputable individuals and groups, as summarized recently at The Common Sense Canadian. The list includes a former head of BC Hydro, the retired chair of the official Joint Review Panel into Site C, and now BC’s mayors and councils with the recent UBCM resolutions.

Given the anticipated decade-long construction process for the project and the legal opposition it still faces, critics are questioning the hurry-up approach to controversial logging of sensitive areas, eagles’ nest, etc.

Referring to the mounting calls for an independent review of the project by the BC Utilities Commission and Agricultural Land Commission (both deliberately excluded from Site C’s review), Boon notes, “The BC government’s response has been to ramp up the destructive clearing of old growth forest, road building and other costly work associated with the project.”

[quote]Premier Clark should instead show real leadership and halt all work right now.  Until that happens, we will continue with our legal challenge, and pressure will continue to mount on the premier to stop construction as more ‘scorched earth’ images emerge.[/quote]

With news that Site C will be debated int he BC Legislature today, Treaty 8 First Nations and their supporters are staging a rally today at the Legislature.


Rafe: What Tom Mulcair must do to become Prime Minister



Can Tom Mulcair become the next prime minister of Canada?

Barely 6 months ago that question would have brought loud guffaws but the Alberta election and recent polls showing the NDP slightly ahead of its two main rivals have reduced the guffaws to nervous coughs.

I think Mulcair can do it but he needs BC to do it.

A mug’s game

Let’s back up a bit. If one had all of the up-to-date polls from every constituency in Canada with expert analysis on each, it would still be a mug’s game to pick the winner of the next election. One can only really go on a “tummy feel” from information gained from a media which is none too bright and considerably less than politically independent.

The polls aren’t always helpful for the obvious reason that they are only snapshots of the moment the poll is taken, along with the fact that people may not always tell the truth.

Having  completed my advance excuses, let me say why I think that Greater Vancouver may decide this issue.

Truman defeats Dewey

Often elections are simply a rehash of the previous one with the same players, similar issues, and similar outcomes. Every once in a while, though, a big change takes place and it seems to catch us all by surprise, even though a tiny bit of 20/20 hindsight tells us we should have known.

The two classics one thinks of are the British election of 1945 and the US presidential election of 1948 – both long ago but still apropos to today.

In 1945, Clement Attlee and the Labour Party threw out the great war hero, Churchill. It was considered a huge upset but when one looks at the result it’s obvious that the polls had the election much closer than the Conservatives and mainly Tory pundits did.

Moreover everyone forgot that the Tories had been in power since 1935, that there had been huge changes and a world war. There were substantial social issues to be dealt with, something the Tories weren’t noted for being enthusiastic about.

dewey-defeats-truman- copyThe second was 1948 in the United States. The odds-on favourite was Thomas Dewey, Governor of New York, who had run against Roosevelt in 1944 and lost. The largely Republican press tried to convince the people that Truman was a combination of incompetence and crookedness and played up Dewey, a famous crime-busting District Attorney, as a knight in shining armour. Truman went to the people by train, with speeches at every whistle stop, where a plant would holler “give ’em hell, Harry!”. When he eventually beat Dewey, he had the pleasure of holding up a headline from The Chicago Tribune saying “Dewey Defeats Truman” –  one of the more famous 20th Century photographs.

Again, with 20/20 hindsight it becomes clear that the polls were much closer than reported and that the win by Truman wasn’t nearly as much an upset as everyone thought.

In both of the above cases, there was a public mood that transcended the stated issues.

In the former, the British people, while grateful indeed to Churchill for his war efforts, saw the “boys” coming home and wondered where their jobs were, where their homes would be and how they were going to exist in a society that was still very much run by the elite. Ennui dominated and an overriding mood for some new brooms to begin sweeping.

In the second case, the people of the US suddenly saw Dewey as Alice Longworth Roosevelt saw him, “the little man on the wedding cake”; at the same time they saw Truman as their kind of guy who would stand up and fight for them. There was a mood that the status quo, dominated by the establishment, was out of date and it was a new era where the “little guy” needed an ordinary guy as champion.

Trudeau’s C-51 mistake

I think our election in October is going to be a “mood” election more than one of issues. Canadians from coast-to-coast are fed up with Harper and the right wing who have marginalized themselves with Bill C-51.

Trudeau, has not only failed to catch on, he has shot himself in both feet over Bill C-51. In spite of the 1970 War Measures Act, the public sees the Liberals as usually strong on civil liberties and remember that Trudeau’s father brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don’t think I’m alone in being put off by Justin Trudeau suddenly deciding to support C-51, then loftily promising to change it “when” he’s  elected.

Mulcair has been the consistent one on this file, along with Elizabeth May. The public has swung from being about 80% in favour of the bill to being very much opposed, catching Trudeau with his backside exposed.

Harper the chicken

Harper, whose unpopularity increases by the moment, has not done himself any good by ducking the debates. He looks like a “chicken” and that’s exactly what he is. There is no substantial reason for him not to face his opponents and the public doesn’t like cowardice in a leader one bit, nor should they.

Mulcair has benefited from the fact that Elizabeth May must take votes from him in order to have a substantial result. Not long ago it seemed pretty clear that Ms. May would do just that, but as happens so often in politics, things changed – suddenly she’s no longer the only option for environmentalists. The best perhaps, but not the only.

Kinder Morgan is key to Vancouver votes

Mulcair, far from being a sure thing, will need the Greater Vancouver seats and, unless he hustles his ass on the Kinder Morgan pipeline issue, he risks abandoning that area to the Greens.

We know that Mulcair supports a West-East Tar Sands pipeline and that he is dead against the Northern Gateway line, however the votes in Greater Vancouver are not about the West-East pipeline or Northern Gateway but Kinder Morgan.

Mulcair is partway there with his criticism of the National Energy Board and a pledge to do something about it. But that’s not specific enough to gain votes.

As it sits right now – and remember, as Harold Wilson said, in politics six weeks is an eternity – Mr. Mulcair can win or lose the election based what he decides on Kinder Morgan. He’s in a good position to take a strong stand against it in light of recent studies and information. If he does that, he could join Attlee and Truman.

If, however, Mulcair continues to waffle, the people of Greater Vancouver will not support him and that could cost him the big banana.    

Suzuki- Time to end grisly trophy hunt

Suzuki: Time to end grisly trophy hunt

Suzuki- Time to end grisly trophy hunt
NHL hockey player Clayton Stoner posing with dead grizzly (Coastal Guardian Watchmen)

Watching grizzly bears catch and eat salmon as they swim upstream to spawn is an unforgettable experience. Many people love to view the wild drama. Some record it with photos or video. But a few want to kill the iconic animals — not to eat, just to put their heads on a wall or coats on a floor.

Foreign hunters bag BC bears

The spring grizzly kill starts April 1 and extends for several weeks, followed by a second fall season. By year’s end, several hundred will have died at the hands of humans, close to 90 per cent shot by trophy hunters — many of them foreign licence-holders, as the B.C. government plans to enact new regulations to allow hunters from outside B.C. to take 40 per cent of grizzlies slated for killing. The government also plans to allow foreign interests and corporations to buy and run guide-outfitting territories previously run only by B.C. residents. Local hunting organizations say the new rules put them at a disadvantage.

Government takes money from hunting lobby

According to the Vancouver Observer, hunting guide associations donated $84,800 to B.C. political parties from 2005 to 2013, 84 per cent to the B.C. Liberals.

In the controversy over regulatory changes, we’ve lost touch with the fact that the grizzly trophy hunt is horrific, regardless of whether bears are killed by resident hunters or big-game hunters who pay thousands of dollars for the chance to kill a bear here — often because it’s illegal in their home countries.

BC’s population in doubt

Grizzlies once roamed much of North America, from Mexico to the Yukon and from the West Coast through the prairies. Habitat loss and overhunting have since shrunk their range by more than half. In Canada, 16 subgroups are on the brink of extinction, including nine in south-central B.C. and Alberta’s entire grizzly population.

Just how many bears reside in B.C. is in dispute. The government claims more than 15,000 grizzlies live here, but Raincoast Conservation Foundation science director Chris Darimont, a University of Victoria conservation biologist, puts the number closer to the government’s earlier estimate of 6,600 — before it doubled that in 1990 based on a single study in southeastern B.C.’s Flathead area.

Government scientist’s work suppressed

According to a Maclean’s article, in 2000, the government “suppressed the work of one of its own biologists, Dionys de Leeuw, for suggesting the hunt was excessive and could be pushing the bears to extinction. De Leeuw was later suspended without pay for having pursued the line of inquiry.” The government then pursued a five-year legal battle with groups including Raincoast Conservation and Ecojustice to keep its grizzly kill data sealed.

Allan Thornton, president of the British Environmental Investigation Agency, which has studied B.C. grizzly management since the late 1990s, is blunt about the government’s justification. “The British Columbia wildlife department does not use rigorous science,” he told the Vancouver Observer. In 2004, the European Union banned imports of all B.C. grizzly parts into member countries after its analysis found the hunt to be unsustainable.

Business case questioned

Even the economic case is shaky. Studies by the Centre for Responsible Travel and Raincoast Conservation conclude revenue from bear-viewing is far higher than revenue from grizzly hunting.

Grizzlies play important ecological role

Grizzly population health is an indicator of overall ecosystem health, and bears are important to functioning ecosystems. They help regulate prey such as deer and elk, maintain forest health by dispersing seeds and aerating soil as they dig for food, and fertilize coastal forests by dragging salmon carcasses into the woods. Hunting isn’t the only threat. Habitat loss, decreasing salmon runs, collisions with vehicles and other conflicts with humans also endanger grizzlies. Because they have low reproduction rates, they’re highly susceptible to population decline. Hunting is one threat we can easily control.

First Nations, citizens oppose hunt

According to polls, almost 90 per cent of B.C. residents oppose hunting grizzlies for trophies, including many Frist Nations and food hunters. Scientists say it’s unsustainable. The Coastal First Nations coalition has banned grizzly hunting in its territories, but the government doesn’t recognize the ban. The Raincoast Conservation Foundation has bought hunting licences in an attempt to reduce bear kills on the coast.

Simply put, most British Columbians — and Canadians — are against the grizzly trophy hunt. It’s time for the government to listen to the majority rather than industry donors and ban this barbaric and unsustainable practice.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.


Suzuki: Bees matter, so restricting neonics is the right thing to do


Suzuki- Bees matter, so restricting neonics is the right thing to do

No matter how you feel about Ontario’s proposal to restrict use of neonicotinoid insecticides on corn and soybean crops, we can all agree: bees matter. But as important as bees are, there’s more at stake. Neonics are poisoning our soil and water. This problematic class of pesticides needs to be phased out globally to protect Earth’s ecosystems. By implementing restrictions now (the first in North America), Ontario will have a head start in the transition to safer alternatives.

Pesticide industry stung by proposed regulations

Not surprisingly, Ontario’s proposal has drawn the ire of the pesticide industry.

Neonics have only been around for a couple of decades, but annual global sales now top $2.6 billion. They were initially embraced because they are less directly toxic to humans than older pesticides and are effective at low levels, reducing the volume used. They can be applied to seeds and are absorbed into the plant, which then becomes toxic to insect pests, reducing the need to spray.

We now know these characteristics are the problem. These chemicals are nerve poisons that are toxic even at very low doses and persist in plants and the environment. They affect the information-processing abilities of invertebrates, including some of our most important pollinators.

Bee die-offs related to neonics: federal agency

Bees have borne the brunt of our unfortunate, uncontrolled experiment with neonics. Beekeepers report unusually high bee death rates in recent years, particularly in corn-growing areas of Ontario and Quebec. Virtually all corn and about 60 per cent of soybean seeds planted in Ontario are treated with neonics. A federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency investigation concluded that planting neonic-treated seeds contributed to the bee die-offs.

Europe reached a similar conclusion and placed a moratorium on the use of neonics on bee-attractive crops, which took effect last year.

Critics emphasize that other factors — including climate change, habitat loss and disease — affect pollinator health. But these factors are not entirely independent; for example, chronic exposure to neonics may increase vulnerability to disease. A comprehensive pollinator health action plan should address all these factors, and scaling back the use of neonics is a good place to start.

Neonics threaten other species

Apart from the immediate and lethal effects on bees, neonics represent a more subtle threat to a wide range of species. The 2014 Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides, the most comprehensive review of the scientific literature on neonics, pointed to effects on smell and memory, reproduction, feeding behaviour, flight and ability to fight disease. Jean‐Marc Bonmatin, one of the lead authors, summarized the conclusions:

[quote]The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.[/quote]

Precautionary Principle should apply

Is there some uncertainty involved in calculating these risks? Absolutely. Uncertainty is at the heart of scientific inquiry. The precautionary principle requires that where there is threat of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, the absence of complete scientific certainty or consensus must not be used as an excuse to delay action. In the case of neonics, the weight of evidence clearly supports precautionary action to reduce — or even eliminate — them.

Ontario proposal is common sense

Ontario’s proposal to restrict the use of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed, starting next year, is far from radical. The idea is to move away from routinely planting neonic-treated seeds and use neonics only in situations where crops are highly vulnerable to targeted pests. The government expects this will reduce the uses of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 per cent by 2017.

It’s no surprise that the pesticide industry and its associates oppose even this modest proposal and are running expensive PR campaigns to obscure the evidence of harm. The industry’s objection to restrictions on neonics is eerily similar to big-budget advertising campaigns to create a smokescreen thick enough to delay regulatory responses to the obvious harm caused by cigarettes.

Let’s hope today’s decision-makers have a better grasp of the precautionary principle and a stronger commitment to protecting the public good, because bees really do matter.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director-General Faisal Moola.

Mount Polley highlights risk of Red Chris, KSM tailings dam failures

Mount Polley highlights risk of Red Chris, KSM tailings dam failures

Mount Polley highlights risk of Red Chris, KSM tailings dam failures
Flannigan Slough, just downstream from proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine (Chris Miller)

By any measure, the giant tailings dam rupture at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley Copper Mine is a disaster for downstream communities and wild salmon. The massive dam breach released a raging torrent of slurry mine waste into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, prompting local emergency response officials to warn downstream residents not to drink, cook with, bathe in, or come into contact with the effluent.

To make matters worse, the complete failure of the tailings dam occurred just before the annual sockeye salmon run, endangering critical spawning grounds for more than one million sockeye in the Fraser River watershed.

Comparisons between the Mount Polley Mine and similar proposed mines in the transboundary watersheds of northwest BC and southeast Alaska are impossible to ignore.

Other mines threaten salmon habitat too

Dead fish found downstream from Mount Polley tailings pond breach (Chris Lyne)
Dead fish near Mount Polley breach (Chris Lyne)

Like Mount Polley, proposed transboundary mines such as Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) in the Nass and Unuk River watersheds, and Red Chris in the Iskut-Stikine watershed, would be open pit mines with tailings ponds at the headwaters of rivers that contain critical salmon habitat. These mines are in acid generating deposits and would create a larger threat of significant acid mine drainage pollution than at Mount Polley.

Given BC’s cavalier and eroded regulatory environment – which, according to a 2011 BC Auditor General’s report, includes a lack of adequate monitoring of certified mine projects – concerns are elevated that transboundary mines like KSM, Red Chris, and Tulsequah Chief in the Taku River watershed, could also suffer catastrophic dam failures or other serious incidents on a large scale. KSM alone would have a proposed tailings pond roughly six times larger than Mount Polley’s.

In the transboundary region – one of the last places in the world with pristine salmon habitat and intact predator-prey ecosystems – a spill would be devastating.

Red Chris scheduled to open in Sept, despite tailings pond flaws

Another dam failure could happen. The company that owns Mount Polley, Imperial Metals, is the same company behind the Red Chris mine, located near Iskut in northwest BC.  Red Chris would be an open pit gold and copper mine that, like Mount Polley, would use an earthen dam for their tailings pond at the headwaters of the Iskut River, the largest tributary of the transboundary Stikine River.

Red Chris Mine
Red Chris Mine under construction (Unuk River Post)

In 2013, a third party review was done of Imperial Metals’ engineering designs for their tailings pond at Red Chris. The independent review concluded there was no guarantee that Imperial Metal’s tailings pond would hold toxic wastewater from the mine. Despite this conclusion, construction at Red Chris has been allowed to continue, and the mine is currently scheduled to open in September of this year.

This is disturbing because of the many worrying comparisons between Mount Polley and Red Chris. At Mount Polley, in the years prior to the tailings dam breach, Imperial Metals ramped up daily production of ore from 18,000 tonnes per day in 2009 to more than 23,000 tonnes by 2014, with production escalating in the three months just prior to the breach. At the same time, the tailings dam walls were continuously built higher to deal with larger amounts of mine waste. “Dam building cannot continue indefinitely,” said a 2011 environmental consultant’s report, warning of structural instability in the dam if the growth pattern continued.

Kynoch envisions 5x permitted production at Red Chris

While Red Chris is permitted to produce 30,000 tonnes of ore per day, slightly larger than Mount Polley, Imperial Metals envisions that production at Red Chris could escalate at a much faster rate. In 2013, President Brian Kynoch conjured up a vision for potential shareholders of the Red Chris mine churning through 150,000 tonnes per day, a mine five times larger than the project for which they received an environmental certificate. At Red Chris, the same pattern of escalating growth that happened at Mount Polley could happen on a much bigger scale.

In response to the Mount Polley disaster, and serious concerns about downstream waters and fish habitat in the Iskut-Stikine watershed, the Klabona Keepers of the Tahltan Nation began a blockade of the Red Chris Mine on August 8.

Tailings dams experience 28% failure rate: US study

Oops! Mount Polley owner may not have environmental insurance
Mount Polley tailings spill (Cariboo Regional District)

Tailings dam failures are surprisingly common.One 2012 peer-reviewed study of currently operating copper mines in the U.S. found that 28% experienced partial or full tailings dam failure.

Because they contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals, tailings dams need to last forever to protect downstream communities. But in BC plans and funding are inadequate to cover access, maintenance, monitoring and cleanup of accidents whose effects linger essentially forever.

Clearly tailings dams fail, and not all the failures are the result of aging infrastructure. At Mount Polley, the tailings dam was built with modern technology and was only 14 years old.

Alaskan Senators raise alarm over BC’s regulation of mines

The Mount Polley tailings dam breach emphasizes the concerns that downstream communities, most vocally Alaskan tribes, commercial fishermen and tourism operators, and most recently Alaska’s two Senators, have raised about proposed BC mines. In the transboundary Unuk, Stikine and Taku River watersheds, proposed mines like KSM, Red Chris, and Tulsequah Chief all pose potential downstream risks to southeast Alaska’s $1 billion a year fishing industry, $1 billion a year tourism industry, and customary and traditional activities.

Grand daddy of them all: KSM Mine

The largest of these mines would be KSM,a massive copper, gold, and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Unuk and Nass rivers. With plans to extract 130,000 tons of ore per day for 52years, the proponent, Seabridge Gold, envisions that KSM would be one of the world’s largest open pit copper-gold mines in the world.

The Kerr deposit, part of proposed KSM Mine (Mike Fay)
The Kerr deposit, part of proposed KSM Mine (Mike Fay)

Mining at KSM would involve a high potential for water pollution and downstream habitat degradation. As proposed, at the mine site, just upstream from Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, three open pits would be dug in steep rugged terrain that has some of BC’s highest levels of precipitation. One of the pits would be the deepest in the world.

At this site, massive amounts of water would need to be captured, treated and discharged during mine operation and after closure. Seabridge Gold proposes a system involving seven of the largest water treatment plants ever built, treating up to 118,000 gallons of contaminated water a minute.

KSM would also include twin 23 km tunnels, drilled through the mountains to link the mine site to an ore plant and an 8×2 km tailings pond. More than two billion tons of tailings waste would be stored just upstream from critical salmon habitat in the Nass watershed, BC’s third largest salmon system.  The proposed tailings pond would store 63 million cubic metres of tailings water, orders of magnitude more than the waste that spewed out from Mount Polley.

Nass, Unuk River salmon at risk

A spill at the KSM tailings pond or mine site water containment areas could damage downstream salmon habitat for years. Even under normal operation, concerns about KSM are heightened because 71% of the total waste rock at the site is known to be acid generating (much higher than at Mount Polley). Toxic levels of selenium are also a known issue, and proposed treatment systems to remove selenium from wastewater are unproven at the scale proposed by Seabridge.


Salmon and trout exposed to the metal contaminants the company proposes to release into the Unuk from KSM under normal operation have shown habitat avoidance, impaired olfaction, migratory disruption, impaired anti-predator response, reduced growth and swim speed, increased stress, impaired reproduction, and death.

Despite these and other concerns about KSM, in July 2014, KSM received an Environmental Assessment Certificate from the BC government and now awaits federal approval from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).

Before Mount Polley, Feds unworried about KSM dam failure

In July, CEAA did not appear worried. “A catastrophic dam failure,” wrote the authors of CEAA’s Comprehensive Study Review of KSM, “would likely have high magnitude downstream residual impacts on fish, fish habitat and water quality.” However, said the federal regulator, the likelihood of such a dam failure, “is considered unlikely.”

Just days after that report’s release, the Mount Polley tailings dam blew out and a torrent of mine waste contaminated downstream water bodies and critical salmon habitat. The disaster was both a tailings dam failure and a failure of regulatory oversight. It needs to be cleaned up. And it can’t be allowed to happen again.

CEAA taking public comment on KSM until Aug. 20

The final CEAA public comment period on KSM is now open, and comments on the proposed mine should be sent to CEAA by August 20. Instead of rubberstamping KSM, the Federal Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, has an opportunity to reject the mine, or to step back and call for a Panel Review, which would allow for more public participation, and more time to assess this risky mine.

Healthy Newfoundland bees may help solve mystery of global collapse

Healthy Newfoundland bees may help solve mystery of global collapse

Healthy Newfoundland bees may help solve mystery of global collapse
Honeybees are in free fall just about everywhere – except Newfoundland

By Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

PARADISE, N.L. – Newfoundland’s healthy honeybees are an increasing draw for researchers in the race to understand why colonies across much of the globe are struggling or dying off.

“There is definitely interest in what’s happening here,” said Dave Jennings, a director with the provincial Natural Resources department.

[quote]There are fewer and fewer places as we look around the world now that can claim to be free from the major bee pests. And we’re one of the few.[/quote]

Pesticides, parasites, climate change all suspected in collapse

Honeybees are crucial pollinators for fruit, vegetables and other crops. But stressors blamed for decimating hives around the world include invasive parasites such as the Varroa destructor mite, climate change and the use of pesticides.

The Canadian Honey Council has estimated that the bee population across the country has dropped by about 35 per cent in the past three years.

The island of Newfoundland, however, is gaining attention as an increasingly rare haven.

Newfoundland bucking the trend

Jennings said there are now about 38 beekeepers with hundreds of colonies. There has been growing interest in Labrador but long winters with extreme cold pose a major challenge, he explained.

It’s a tiny sector compared to other places in Canada but Newfoundland produces a growing array of beeswax products. The honey is a particularly pure wildflower variety that sells out quickly to local consumers, Jennings said.

There are no recorded cases of predominant bee parasites such as Varroa destructor or Nosema ceranae that have plagued honeybees elsewhere. And the absence of massive corn and soybean farms on the rocky island with its comparatively short growing season means neonic pesticides are hardly used, Jennings said.

Growing calls for pesticide ban

An international panel of 50 scientists last month called for tighter regulations and an ultimate phase-out of such products. The group calling itself the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides compared so-called neonics or neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide that’s chemically reminiscent of nicotine, to the use of DDT in the 1960s.

It said a study of 800 research papers offers conclusive evidence that neonics sprayed as a preventive pesticide over crops or to coat seeds are killing bees and other insects on a massive scale.

Province maintains strict import controls

As for mites, Newfoundland’s sheer distance from infected mainland bees means they would most likely only be introduced if imported.

“You basically can’t import honeybees in this province without getting a permit,” Jennings said. “We very much restrict that because we want to keep the pests out.”


The province relies on the co-operation of beekeepers and is also assessing its control of bumblebee imports used to pollinate cranberry and blueberry crops, he added.

“It’s something we’re keeping our eye on.”

Recent studies highlight how different species can pass on parasites, said Geoff Williams, a senior research associate at the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

“Certainly with any type of import, whether or not it’s a honeybee or a bumblebee, there’s the threat of this transmission of pathogens.”

Newfoundland can gauge impact of harmful mite

Williams said Newfoundland can help researchers gauge the toll of the rampant Verroa destructor mite and other parasites elsewhere.

“There’s really only a handful of locations across the globe that don’t have this mite,” he said. “It gives you great baseline data of what honeybee populations were like … before Verroa.”

Williams visited Newfoundland in 2010, collecting samples from hives around Corner Brook and St. John’s for research that was part of an article last month in PLOS ONE, an international, peer-reviewed online scientific journal. He laughed when asked about reports that even the bees in Newfoundland are friendly.

“It depends on the day,” he said. “Certainly when I was over there I didn’t have any issues with really aggressive bees.”

Beekeeper Aubrey Goulding and his wife, Viola, run Paradise Farms Inc., selling beeswax candles, skin balms and honey in Paradise, N.L., outside St. John’s.

His bees are among the healthiest on the planet, he said. But he dreads that mites will somehow be brought to the island. He called for ongoing vigilance when it comes to bee imports and said residents can also help.

“Honeybees do visit people’s lawns, clover and even dandelions. So if you can refrain from using pesticides, that’d be a great plus for the bees.”

Orcas face triple threat - Vessel noise, pollution, lack of food

Orcas face triple threat: Vessel noise, pollution, lack of food

Orcas face triple threat - Vessel noise, pollution, lack of food
Photo: NOAA

By Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

VICTORIA – Triple threats of pollution, vessel noise and the availability of food are making it hard for a group of orcas that live along the continent’s West Coast to increase beyond an estimated population of 80, says a decade-long U.S. study.

Southern resident Orcas can be found in the Salish Sea off Vancouver Island and Washington State, and have been seen as far south as Monterey Bay, Calif., and as far north as Chatham Strait, Alaska.

Lynne Barre, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Monday from Seattle, Wash., that experts don’t consider the southern residents in recovery, so the animals will remain an endangered species. Barre noted:

[quote]Right now, they’re not growing as fast as our recovery criteria would require for them to be taken off the Endangered Species List. They’ve been hovering around the 80s for quite some time.[/quote]

Theme parks contributed to population’s decline

There are estimates the southern resident population once numbered at least 140 animals, and was perhaps as high as 200, but that was before nearly 50 were removed from the population in the 1960s and ’70s and placed into theme parks, Barre said.

She said since 2003 NOAA scientists have collected data, ranging from fecal and biopsy samples to satellite-location data and behavioural observations, in order to provide a comprehensive look into the health of the population, and to inform recovery efforts.

Food, noise, pollution are top threats

The study found after 10 years of research that pollution, vessel noise and the availability of food are the three major barriers to recovery for the southern residents, said Barre.

“It’s most likely a combination of the threats that’s resulting in the lack of recovery for the whales,” Barre said.

[quote]If they don’t have enough food to eat, that’s when they’ll use their blubber where those (pollution) contaminants are stored. Also, vessels and sound make it difficult to find prey that is in the environment. All three of those threats work together to cause problems for the whales.[/quote]

The study found southern residents are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. They favour endangered Chinook salmon as prey, and when vessels are present they hunt less and travel more.

Disappearing Chinook, contaminants affect food supply

Barre said pollution causes disease and reproduction problems in the southern residents. She said endangered Chinook runs limit their primary food source, and when vessels are nearby, the orcas call louder, hunt less and spend more time and energy trying to get away from the traffic.

Chinook salmon are a key part of orcas' diet
Chinook salmon are a key part of orcas’ diet

Chinook salmon make up a majority of the whales’ diet, particularly in the summer, but many runs of Chinook are endangered or threatened, potentially limiting the food source, she said.

Pollutants like PCBs, DDT and now flame retardants were found in high concentrations in the southern residents, she said.

Vessel noise affects feeding patterns

The study also found southern residents spent less time hunting for food when vessels were in their area. Instead, they swam in less predictable patterns, including breaching and slapping their tail fins.

Barre said they were also observed to communicate in louder tones when vessels were nearby.

Whale watchers must maintain a safe distance and turn off motors
All boats must now maintain a safe distance from whales

She said changes in 2011 to increase the distance from which whale-watching vessels can view whales appear to have been adopted by the industry, but the message to stay away from the Orcas still hasn’t resonated with recreational boaters and anglers.

“They either don’t know about the rules or aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them, or they just want to drive right up to the whales to get a close look,” said Barre.

Kristin Hobbis of Victoria’s Eagle Wing Tours said the southern residents are curious animals and often come up to the boats to take a look, but the tour operators are vigilant about keeping their distance.

“We just have to shut off our engines,” she said. “It’s super, super important to them for sure that we are not crossing any lines.”


David Suzuki-Time to save bees and ban neonic pesticides

David Suzuki: Time to save bees and ban neonic pesticides

David Suzuki-Time to save bees and ban neonic pesticides
Neonic pesticides “pose a serious risk of harm to honey bees and other pollinators,” a new study warns.

Bees may be small, but they play a big role in human health and survival. Some experts say one of every three bites of food we eat depends on them. The insects pollinate everything from apples and zucchini to blueberries and almonds. If bees and other pollinators are at risk, entire terrestrial ecosystems are at risk, and so are we.

New report slams neonic pesticides

Well, pollinators are at risk. And we know one of the main causes of their alarming death rates. A new report concludes that neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, “pose a serious risk of harm to honey bees and other pollinators.”

Scientists work to solve mystery of dying beesThey also harm butterflies, earthworms and birds, and because they’re now found in soils, sediment, groundwater and waterways, they alter “biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and the ecosystem services provided by a wide range of affected species and environments.”

The report, produced by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, is the work of 50 independent scientists from around the world who spent four years analyzing more than 800 peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Says lead author Jean-Marc Bonmatin of the National Centre for Research in France:

[quote]Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.[/quote]

Other research shows they may not even increase agricultural yields.

Neonics kill wide range of species, can harm humans

Three of the most common household neonics, according to The Soil Association.
3 common household neonics, according to The Soil Association.

Neonics are a family of chemicals with names like thiacloprid and imidacloprid. They disrupt the central nervous systems of insects and are undeniably great at killing pests like aphids and grubs. Unlike traditional pesticides, neonics are “systemic pesticides” that are most often applied to seeds and roots so the chemical becomes incorporated into the plants’ leaves, pollen, nectar, fruit and flowers.

According to the Task Force, “Neonics impact all species that chew a plant, sip its sap, drink its nectar, eat its pollen or fruit” and can remain toxic for weeks or months — even years. The impacts cascade through ecosystems, weakening their stability.

As nerve poisons, they can kill targeted and non-targeted species and can cause “impaired sense of smell or memory; reduced fecundity; altered feeding behaviour and reduced food intake including reduced foraging in bees; altered tunneling behaviour in earthworms; difficulty in flight and increased susceptibility to disease.” There’s also evidence they can harm human health, especially in infants.

Neonic pesticide ban faces powerful industry opposition

Neonics make up about 40 per cent of the world insecticide market, with global sales of US$2.63 billion in 2011 — and growing. That may explain why, despite increasing evidence that they’re harmful, there’s been such strong resistance to phasing them out or banning them.


After experts concluded in 2013 that neonics pose an unacceptable risk to bees, the European Union imposed a temporary ban on the use of three neonics in applications that are particularly hazardous to bees — despite fierce opposition from the agrochemical industry and several governments. At the same time, Canada re-approved clothianidin, one of the chemicals banned in Europe.

In the face of conclusive findings from hundreds of studies, industry reaction has been astounding. Said Julian Little, spokesperson for neonicotinoid manufacturer Bayer:

[quote]There is very little credible evidence that these things are causing untoward damage because we would have seen them over 20 years of use.[/quote]

Canadian agricultural pest control trade association CropLife Canada also rejected the science, blaming bee deaths on varroa mites, another serious threat to honeybees. And even though Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency confirmed neonics used on corn seed contributed to bee die-offs in Ontario and Quebec, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has so far rejected a ban, saying her department’s research is “inconclusive.”

Time for governments to step up

What will it take to get governments and industry to put people — and pollinators — before profits? Around the world, concerned individuals and organizations are calling on decision-makers to get serious about this threat. At writing, more than 27,000 have signed a David Suzuki Foundation action alert asking federal and provincial governments to ban the use and sale of neonics.

It’s the government’s duty to protect us from potentially harmful chemicals. With neonics, the science is clear: they’re unsafe. Researchers say “there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action.” They’re calling them “the new DDT”. It’s time to ban these harmful pesticides.

Written with Contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Farley Mowat's last words

Farley Mowat’s last words

Farley Mowat's last words
Captain Paul Watson (left) with Farley Mowat, on the ship named after the author (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

When Farley Mowat died on May 6, 2014, at age 92, his incessant flow of writing stopped, words about him shifted from the present to the past tense, and an examination of his life and influence began. But some conclusions were immediately obvious. There was only one Farley — mention Farley anywhere across Canada and it had to mean Farley Mowat.

He was also one of the world’s first eco-warriors. And, as a writer, he will probably have the last word because of the enduring character of print — 17 million copies of 44 books translated into dozens of languages will ensure that the echo of his presence will influence many others well into the future.

The young nature lover

For a man who seemed so overt and uninhibited, the deeper Farley was, in many ways, a private person. But we get clear glimpses of his thoughts, feelings and commitments. At 13 he was already writing about nature, had started a magazine called Nature Lore, and as a young teen was publishing a nature column in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix — he used the $5.00 per column to buy feed for starving geese and ducks.

Nature and writing were the two passions of his life. The other formidable experience in his life was war. Like his father who had been indelibly scarred by the First World War, Farley’s perspective of humanity was forged by the five years he spent as a Canadian soldier fighting his way northward through Italy during the Second World War. “I came back from the war rejecting my species,” he said. “I hated what had been done to me and what I had done and what man did to man.”

On crying wolf

After the war and a university education, he immersed himself in the Canadian North where he wrote about the wilderness, wild species and aboriginal people uncontaminated by civilization. This long therapeutic session focused and clarified his attitude about humanity. “We are a bad animal,” he confided, “— a really bad animal.” In Never Cry Wolf he wrote, “We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be — the mythological epitome of a savage, ruthless killer — which is, in reality, no more than the reflected image of ourself.”

He has described us as “an evolutionary mistake” and “a dangerous abomination.” So, for the rest of his life, he said, “I transferred my allegiance to the other — the 99.9 percent of life that is not us.” And the more he learned of nature, the less he thought of humanity. He frequently warned that we must learn to live in harmony with the natural world or we perish. “It’s a matter of survival,” he declared.

[quote]Either we learn to do this, or we cease to exist. We have no God-given right to survive forever. We have screwed up so badly in so many ways so obviously that only an utterly stupid species would consider that we have much of a future, as things stand. Only by recognizing how far off-track we’ve gone, are we likely to be able to recover our footing and carry on.[/quote]

Creating a ‘persona’

For his own survival as a wild, shy and private animal illuminated in the headlights of fame, Farley invented a persona. In his later years, he candidly described a conversation he had with his publisher, Jack McClelland: “I think we were having one of our liquid lunches, and we reeled back toward the office. Jack said, ‘You have to present an image.’ So I listened and I worked out my image: a kilt-wearing, swaggering, mooning, drinking Farley Mowat. It was always a cardboard cutout, and it was very useful. I could carry it in front of me, and be my own self behind it. I don’t need it any more.”

The elder Farley

Age has a way of dissolving the persona of cardboard cutouts. And the authentic Farley became clearer as he aged. At 92, with millions of books sold and a solid reputation as an prescient environmentalist, he had no legitimate rationale for maintaining an artificial image. His energy, vitality, irreverence, mischeviousness and incisive opinions were even more sharply expressed with the passing of years.

As Shelagh Rogers of CBC radio confided when interviewing Farley, “I never knew what I was in for.” These encounters with the media in his later life are full of deep insights as he continually contrasted nature’s wisdom with humanity’s folly. “Our tragedy is our loss of animality.” In his judgment, “We’re under some gross misconception that we’re a good species, going somewhere important, and that at the last minute we’ll correct our errors and God will smile on us. It’s delusion.”

Animal nature

Facts, too, were delusions for Farley. “Most people are wedded to the idea that facts are truth. Don’t trust people who say they have the facts.” From Farley’s perspective, facts are the instruments used to exploit nature and manoeuvre ourselves farther from the very foundation of our being. “Nature,” he pronounced, “is life.” The only credible fact is nature’s wisdom; everything else is our deviousness.

So, ever true to his animal nature, he declared that, “I am what I feel I am. Knowledge comes to me through feeling.” His feeling for the future was not so much bleak as biological. He pronounced us “an evanescent species”. In the unfolding of nature, “Our own species will disappear,” he concluded. “Every species is born to die. Nothing ends. It’s all one continuous flow.”

“I haven’t saved the wolf”

As for his 92 years in this “continuous flow” — 79 years as an eco-warrior — he deemed his life’s work to be ineffective. “I could honestly say I’ve fought the good fight,” he concluded shortly before his death.

[quote]But in the end, my crusades have accomplished nothing. I haven’t saved the wolf, the whales, the seals, primitive man or the outport people. All I’ve done is to document the suicidal tendencies of modern man. I’m sure I haven’t altered the course of human events one iota.[/quote]

But he has, of course. The world would be a less conscious place had Farley not been here. Granted, he couldn’t alter human nature — history is the process of defining what that might be — but he was, if nothing else, a hopeful part of it.

Disappearing Monarch butterflies need citizen scientists' help

Disappearing Monarch butterflies need citizen scientists’ help


Disappearing Monarch butterflies need citizen scientists' help

From the age of five, Fred Urquhart was fascinated by monarch butterflies in his Toronto neighbourhood. Born in 1911, he spent hours watching the orange and black insects flutter about, wondering: Where did they go in winter? At school, he read voraciously about nature, especially monarchs and other insects.

He eventually became a zoology professor and married Norah Patterson, who shared his love of butterflies, as did their son, Doug. To answer the question that had nagged Fred since childhood, in 1940 they found a way to attach tiny labels to individual butterflies that read, “Send to Zoology University of Toronto Canada.” They started the Insect Migration Association, now known as Monarch Watch, enlisting “citizen scientists” to tag butterflies.

Solving the monarch mystery

They finally solved the mystery in 1975 – with the help of two citizen scientists in Mexico. Ken Brugger and Catalina Aguado had come across millions of butterflies in the mountains west of Mexico City. The couple took the Urquharts there in 1976 and, miraculously, Fred found one of his tagged insects within hours. Their fascinating story is told in the documentary film Flight of the Butterflies and in an episode of CBC’s The Nature of Things, “The Great Butterfly Hunt”.

Now, monarchs are in trouble, their numbers drastically reduced from the days when the Urquharts pursued their passion. And once again, experts and others are calling on citizen scientists – and politicians – to help.

Letter from a Mexican poet

Monarch populations in Mexico plummeted to a record low of about 33.5 million this year from an annual average over the past 15 years of about 350 million and highs of more than one billion. Causes include illegal logging in Mexico, herbicide use on genetically modified crops in the U.S. and climate change.

In February, in response to a letter by Mexican poet Homero Aridjis, signed by more than 100 scientists, writers and environmentalists – including Canadians Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and John Ralston Saul – U.S. President Barack Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to “establish a working group to ensure the conservation of the monarch butterfly, a species that symbolizes our association.”

The letter to leaders said:

[quote]As Mexico is addressing the logging issues, so now must the United States and Canada address the effects of our current agricultural policies.[/quote]

GMO’s and butterflies

Those problematic practices are mainly associated with large-scale planting of corn and soy genetically modified to resist the herbicide Roundup, or glyphosate. It doesn’t kill crops – just pretty much everything else, including the milkweed monarchs need to lay their eggs and that is their caterpillars’ main food.

How citizen scientists can help

We can only hope our leaders live up to their commitment, and we can speak up to hold them to it. But we can also become citizen scientists to help researchers better understand the butterfly’s breeding, migrating and overwintering cycles and help monarchs survive. Monarch Watch offers classroom resources, student-scientist research projects and information about building monarch way stations, raising your own monarchs and planting milkweed and butterfly gardens. The U.S. Monarch Joint Venture website offers resources for citizens to track migration, count butterflies and monitor larval populations and disease for monarchs – as well as other butterflies.

The David Suzuki Foundation website also offers a range of resources and activities to help protect these pollinating insects. And, as part of its Homegrown National Park Project, the foundation is launching a Toronto-based campaign in April to crowd-source a milkweed corridor through the city.

Getting kids involved

Helping monarch and other butterflies and insects is a fun way to get kids interested in nature’s wonders. Planting milkweed and nectar-producing native flowers on balconies and in gardens, parks and green spaces will beautify the area around your home and bring bees and butterflies to the neighbourhood.

Scientists still don’t know everything about monarchs and their migration, but we know they play an important role in ecosystems. And we know everything in nature is interconnected. When something that travels such long distances through a range of habitats is removed, it can have cascading effects on those environments.

The world wouldn’t know where North American monarchs travel if it weren’t for the Urquharts and the continent-wide battalion of citizen scientists they inspired. We can all help ensure monarch butterflies continue this wonderful journey every year.

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.