I’m going to pull a Don Cherry. Two years ago I wrote about the negative impact the Northern Gateway Pipeline would have on grizzly and woodland caribou. That piece was met with some, well, colourful responses. Ignorant, but colourful nonetheless.
Finally, on June 17, the federal cabinet gave approval — with 209 conditions attached for the pipeline to be built. In the process it admitted the significant adverse environmental impacts, especially to the woodland caribou and grizzly; both listed at-risk Canadian species. Yet during that time period not a whisper from any government-paid, desktop biologist. My experience with the Ministry of Natural Resources gave me quite a bit of insight into the operations of senior desktop biologists, aka paid lap dogs.
The government then stated that the impacts would be justified due to the economic benefits — more baubles and trinkets versus the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of caribou and grizzlies. In my books a life is a life. I wonder if the oil industry killed all native populations that oppose the pipeline, would that be justified — “they’re in the way just like the grizzlies and caribou” — it’s all relative isn’t it?
Hopefully with the Supreme Court ruling, native communities will not sell out for baubles and trinkets for allowing access of the pipeline. If they do, it will only be purchasing a modern version of the smallpox blanket. It will have impacts on the woodland caribou that they hunt and, when a spill wipes out a salmon run, where do they turn for their food stores?
And the woodland caribou, which is listed as threatened, will surely be impacted; development will destroy the herds that migrate in the region. And there is no minimal impact assessment; it will be devastating.
The George River Herd in Northern Quebec, which numbered close to 800,000 animals, the largest herd in the world only 30 years ago, has a population of less than 28,000 today; human development has destroyed the herd. We fought the same battle back then in Ontario and Quebec that is being fought today in B.C., and industry and government used the same words over and over, “minimal impact.” The Cree communities that relied on the caribou are in a tailspin, their lives and culture turned upside down. They sold out to development, but the promise of jobs and prosperity never came.
And then there is the iconic Canadian symbol, the majestic grizzly bear, an apex species. Of course, the Ministry of Natural Resources stated that Enbridge must develop an environmental protection and management plan that will reduce adverse effects on the grizzlies. This is a sellout. Enbridge will pay some PR firm to put a glossy package to wow the city folks into believing that the road to Oz is actually paved in gold and everyone will live happily ever after. The reality is — and it’s been shown over and over again — where there is development with all measures in place, the grizzly pays the price. The extensive Eastern Slope Grizzly study illustrated that with all the tunnels and wildlife corridors built, sows with cubs would not cross man-made obstacles to reach nutrient-rich feeding grounds, leading to a high mortality rate and a declining grizzly population. The Bow Valley, which once boasted more than 300 grizzlies due to a rich food supply, now has fewer than 30 animals and they continue to decline. In every scenario, industry and government maintained minimal impacts and that management plans were in place.
Some say this is a benefit. I thought we were attempting to change our behaviour patterns towards mother earth to clean up our act, but I guess a last kick at the can with our Neanderthal definition of progress means a healthy future for our children remains elusive as ever. Maybe when the last grizzly dies off and the caribou no longer roam the landscape, maybe we’ll have regrets, but by that time our children will be used to a dead planet scarred by pipelines and development.
Then again, maybe I spend too much time in the bush and live in a natural state of wonderment embraced by nature.
Lawrence Woodall is a longtime naturalist who has spent much of his life in the outdoors.