The crucial need of EIA for logging projects in Québec: the woodland caribou’s conservation in danger

The woodland caribou is one of the most important species of the North America boreal forest, being a unique cultural icon in Canada but also a mean of assessing the health of Canada’s boreal ecosystem. Indeed, this species is perceived as being a “focal” species, because woodland caribou “are wide-ranging, sensitive to landscape disturbances and considered by many scientists to be an umbrella species (Lee et al, 2010).

image

Source: Rudolph et al (2012)

Unfortunately, the Species At Risk Act (SARA) classifies the different subspecies of the woodland caribou as endangered, of special concern, or threatened, as it is the case for the boreal population (Lee, 2012).  Today, as the CPAWS (2013) states, only 30% of the boreal woodland populations (17 of 57) are considered self-sustaining throughout the Canada’s boreal ecosystem.

Figure1:

caribourange

Source: CPAWS, 2006

And the observed continuous declining trends of the populations are mainly due to “large-scale disturbance to high quality caribou habitats from development projects”, as Matthew Hawco summarizes in his recent MEIA blog post. For Beauchesne et al (2014), the major human activity in the Boreal forest is forest harvesting, which causes tremendous adverse effect on the woodland caribou populations by altering their habitats and increasing the landscape’s fragmentation. Therefore, attention toward the regulation and the sustainable management of logging activities is critical in order to maintain and safeguard the viability of woodland caribou populations. This is specifically the case in Quebec, where the forest industry is largely contributing to the economic and social development of the province by creating direct jobs and forest products (Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, 2008), while in the same time the percent of caribou habitat protected is low, compared to other Canadian’s provinces (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Percentage of caribou habitat protected by province, in Canada

caribouprotected

Source: CPAWS, 2006

As I said before, logging can have damaging effects on the woodland caribou populations, both direct and indirect. Indeed, logging reduces the amount of old growth forest, and therefore it decreases the quality and quantity of lichen, the principal source of food for caribou. Moreover, caribou are very sensitive to disturbances, and studies have shown the displacement of populations at a minimum of 13 km from logging areas (Nature Québec, 2007). Also, the logging activities increase the occurrence of predator populations such as wolves, which further threatens the viability of the woodland caribou.

Then, what could be the solution to deal with this critical situation?? EIA…!

Indeed, the Environmental Impact assessment process, which is project-driven, could assess the forestry and logging projects and activities, and it could determine the resulting environmental impacts from them, emphasizing the need of preserving the woodland caribou habitat from any disturbance.

But, as I speak, as incredible as it may seem, forest or logging activities/projects are not subjected to Quebec’s EIA process; only road infrastructures built for the purpose of logging require a mandatory EIA, which is indicated in Section II, f) of the “Réglement sur l’évaluation et l’examen des impacts sur l’environnement” (Government of Quebec, 2015).

I really think that it’s absurd, especially regarding the potential impacts and threats that can be induced for the woodland caribou populations. I highly recommend the inclusion of forest and logging activities in the list of projects requiring a mandatory EIA, which will primarily emphasize and focus on the conservation of the woodland caribou. Otherwise, its populations will continue to decrease dangerously until…

References:

Beauchesne, D., Jaeger, J., St-laurent, M-H. (2014). Thresholds in the capacity of boreal caribou to cope with cumulative disturbances : evidence from space use patterns. Biological Conservation.172. (2014). 190-199.

Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society (CPAWS) .(2013). Population critical: how are caribou faring?. First annual report on government’s efforts to conserve Canada’s declining Boreal caribou populations.

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). (2006). Uncertain Future: Woodland Caribou and Canada’s Boreal Forest: A report on government action. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Sierra Club of Canada.

Lee, P. (2012). Canada’s woodland caribou: industrial disturbances in their ranges and implications for their survival. Edmonton.

Lee, P., Hanneman, M., Gysbers, J., Cheng, R . (2010). Atlas of Key Ecological Areas Within Canada’s Intact Forest Landscapes. Edmonton, Alberta: Global Forest Watch Canada. 10th Anniversary Publication #4. 54 pages.

Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. (2008). Sustainable Management in the Boreal

Forest: A Real Response to Environmental Challenges, Québec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, Direction de l’environnement et de la protection des forêts, 51 p.

Nature Québec. (2007). Revue de littérature des connaissances sur le Caribou forestier, réalisée dans le cadre du projet « Critères et propositions d’aires protégées pour le Caribou forestier ». 24 pages.

Règlement sur l’évaluation et l’examen des impacts sur l’environnement, 2015 . Section 2, f. Retrieved from http://www2.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/dynamicSearch/telecharge.php?type=3&file=/Q_2/Q2R23.htm

Rudolph,  T.  D.,  Drapeau,  P.,  St-­‐Laurent,  M-­‐H.  and Imbeau,  L.  (2012). Status of Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in the James Bay Region of Northern Quebec. Scientific report presented to the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec and the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee). Montreal, QC. 77pp.

Advertisements

The critical role of EIA for environmental protection in the Plan Nord region

In the following, industrial activities will refer to any development in which environmental protection is not the main objective, such as natural resource extraction, mining, infrastructure projects. Also, protected area and natural reserve will be used interchangeably, both terms having the same signification here.

Plan Nord is an extensive project seeking to develop the economic, social, cultural and tourism potential of the Northern part of Quebec, while at the same time promoting the development, management and use of natural resources (Plan Nord, 2014).

Here the Premier Jean Charest explains the main purpose and objectives of the Plan Nord:

A word about environmental protection? I think he doesn’t care about it…

The main goal of the Quebec government seems to be to use the undisturbed and pristine lands of Northern Quebec for the development of several projects that will threat the surrounding ecosystems. Does it sound great to you? Not to me…

But the Plan Nord also plans to “protect the environment and preserve Northern Quebec’s biodiversity” (Plan Nord, 2014) by setting aside 50% of the territory for protected areas and natural reserves by 2035. Therefore, their implementation is essential in the Plan Nord to protect sensitive areas from industrial developments. For this purpose, the Quebec minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks introduced in April 2012 the Bill 65, called “An act respecting natural heritage conservation and the sustainable development of the area covered by the Northern Plan”, which aims to provide a framework for the ecological conservation and the protection of the environment in the area of the Plan Nord. In particular, section 23 mentions that projects related to the creation of a protected area are subjected to an environmental and social impact assessment and review procedure, as it is stipulated in the chapter II of the Environmental Quality Act (Bill 65, 2012). Therefore, the EIA process is a primordial and mandatory tool in the creation of natural reserves in the Plan Nord area.

christopher

Map of the Plan Nord’s territory and existing protected areas in 2011

Source: Nature Needs Half

http://natureneedshalf.org/plan-nord/

But some people are concerned by the fact that industrial projects will claim all lands with potential economic and industrial values even if these areas are sensitive and vulnerable, and that the lands granted for protected areas will be the remnant lands with no particular ecological interest for protection. Therefore, as the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment (2011) recommends, the priority is to identify sensitive areas which need urgent protection, and to set these lands aside, for preventing any industrial development to occur.  Thus, the EIA process here will have to play an important dual role, by boosting the development of protected areas and supporting the implementation of a network of protected areas in the Plan Nord area, but also by slowing down the development of proposed project likely to have negative impacts on the environment.

Chute-Eau-Claire

Rivière à l’Eau Claire falls, in the national park of Tursujuq in Northern Quebec

Source: Government of Quebec

But… (there is always a “but”) not everything is crystal clear regarding what activities are allowed in natural reserves and there are some discrepancies in the Bill. Indeed, although section 26 prohibits many industrial activities such as mining, petroleum and infrastructures projects, section 29 partially undermines it by stating that these activities could operate under certain conditions determined by the Government (Bill 65, 2012). It means that in the Government interest, such industrial activities could occur in natural reserves even if it endangers and threatens their ecology, which is completely absurd and jeopardizes the goals of a protected area. The future will tell us if the establishment of these natural reserves will attain its objectives of safeguarding the biodiversity against the threat of industrial developments in the region. To be continued…

References:

Bill 65: An act respecting natural heritage conservation and the sustainable development of the area covered by the Northern Plan. (2012). 1st Reading April 17, 2012. 39th legislature. 2nd  session. Retrieved from the National Assembly of Quebec website: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projets-loi-39-2.html

James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment. (2011). Recommendations concerning the implementation of the Quebec Government’s commitment to set aside 50% of Plan Nord lands for environmental protection and other non-industrial developments. Montreal.

Plan Nord. (2014). Retrieved February 7th, 2015 from http://plannord.gouv.qc.ca/en/perspective/

The insane regression of the EIA process for in situ oil sand projects in Alberta

Oil sands industry in Alberta is an extensive and intensive development which is economically primordial for Canada but it has damaging impacts on the surrounding environment. Therefore, to regulate and mitigate these impacts, oil sand projects are subjected to environmental impact assessments.

alberta-oil-sands-map

Location of Alberta’Tar sands

Source:  Alberta Geological Survey

http://www.ags.gov.ab.ca/energy/oilsands/

Prior to October 2013, projects of in situ oil sand extraction were subjected to both federal and provincial EIA but now, only provincial EIA remains. The federal government claims that they made this decision because they wanted to concentrate their effort towards “major projects that have the greatest potential to generate negative environmental impacts under federal jurisdiction, such as impacts on waterways, and other projects would not be “unduly burdened” with extra work” (CBC news, 2013). They further argue that this type of project has less negative impact on the environment. But are the government actors really aware of the reality? Because if they are, they would know that these projects are especially responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, habitat fragmentation and water pollution. And there are still leaks and accidents related to oil sands projects, such as the one polluting the Cold Lake in northeast Alberta in 2013. So, the truth is that these projects have tremendous impacts on the surrounding environment and federal EIAs will be a great help, as a complement to a provincial EIA, to better identify and assess their environmental impacts. But the government and decision-makers don’t seem to have the same opinion…

Yet, there were some previous cases where federal and provincial EIA didn’t get to the same conclusion, as for the case of the project of Taseko Gold-Copper Mine at Fish Lake in British Columbia. First, as the organization Ecojustice explains in 2012, this project was approved by the provincial government but then a federal EIA was conducted and experts found that this project would adversely impact fish habitat and First Nations in particular and therefore the federal government rejected it.

Federal EIA is primordial and necessary for projects such as in situ oil sand extraction, as the leader of the New Democratic Party, Thomas                                                                                 Mulcair, explains in this video:

 

In addition, a report released in 2013 by two environmental groups shows that about 4,000 violations of environmental laws committed by oil sands projects since 1996 were not punished by the government of Alberta. According to Global News (2013), it means that “Alberta’s enforcing fewer than one per cent of potential violations in its oilsands region”, which is outrageous and inconceivable considering the environmental impacts that these projects have.  Moreover, Thomas Muclair argues that even the Alberta’s Environmental Department focus its effort to hush the critics towards oil sand projects by preventing environmental groups to assist at reviews and public participation concerning oil sand operations. Therefore, I really doubt that the true intentions of the government of Alberta are to protect the environment and the ecosystems from in situ oil sand projects. Until last year, the federal government could interfere and conduct their own EIA for projects of in situ oil sand extraction, to detect any problems or failures in the provincial EIA process, and possibly fix them. But the fact that this type of project had been removed from the list of projects requiring a federal EIA is completely absurd, because now the environmental protection against oil sand projects in Alberta only depends on the provincial government. Thus, it is concerning news for the well-being and the future of Alberta’s ecosystems, and a sign that the environmental protection is regressing in Alberta.

 

References:

CBC news. (2013). New environmental review rules anger oilsands critics.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/new-environmental-review-rules-anger-oilsands-critics-1.2252074

 

Ecojustice. (2012). Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

https://www.ecojustice.ca/files/ceaa-backgrounder-1/at_download/file

 

 

Global News. (2013). Alberta enforcing fewer than one per cent of oilsands environmental violations: Report. Montreal.

http://globalnews.ca/news/734227/alberta-enforcing-fewer-than-one-per-cent-of-oilsands-environmental-violations-report/