Are Golf Courses Negatively Impacting the Environment?

Summer is just around the corner, and for many people that means the beginning of a new season hitting the links! I must admit that like many others, I can’t wait to get out on the golf course and play a round or two. That being said, after last season and entering the MEnv program, I began considering the potential environmental hazards associated with the construction and maintenance of golf courses. Are these beautiful emerald green courses really as green as they appear?

Many areas in North America are becoming more and more fragmented with new golf courses every year. In 2009, Florida alone had 1144 golf courses throughout the state, spanning a total area of just over 860 square kilometers [1]. Many of these courses are located in areas on shore lines or in sensitive ecological areas such as the Florida Everglades, as shown by this map of all the courses in 2009.

Not only are many of these courses situated in sensitive areas, but many of them use fertilizers and pesticides which are not only potentially harmful to ecosystems, but are also potential carcinogens for humans [2]. A 2006 study showed that U.S. golf courses used on average 112% of nitrogen and 187% of potash per acre used to fertilize corn crops [3]. In plain English this means more fertilizer was used per acre on U.S. golf courses than to grow corn. The result of this over use of fertilizers is the potential for eutrophication, adding an unintentional greenness to water bodies around golf courses, as is evident in the following image.

Furthermore, there is significant concern over the sustainability of the approximate use of 300,000 gallons a day of water for maintenance of U.S. golf courses, especially in areas of California which have sunken by more than a foot in 9 years due to aquifer demand [4]. While these concerns are well documented, there is a lack of regulation associated with golf courses. In Canada, many pesticides are banned for cosmetic use on properties, but golf courses have been exempt from the regulations [5]. It seems about time that governments do a better job to recognize the environmental concerns related to golf courses, and consider thresholds for required EIA of golf courses. British Columbia does currently have “golf resorts” built into its EIA legislation, stating that the resort must occupy an area greater than 200 hectares and possess more than 600 commercial bed units [6]. Considering an average 18 hole golf course requires 120-200 acres, the equivalent of about 50 to 80 hectares, not many new courses will require environmental impact assessments [7].

However, many golf course owners have realized the need to promote good environmental management of their courses. Alan Morton, owner of Golf Griffon Des Sources in Mirabel, Quebec, has implemented woodland corridors throughout his course to reduce habitat fragmentation as well as the use of liquid compost treatment to reduce the need for pesticides [5]. Even the great Nick Faldo, who now designs golf courses after a successful PGA career, promotes the notion that “as the world’s natural landscapes become more endangered, our most fundamental job as course designers is to create beautiful playing venues that also preserve and protect the environment” [8]. Golf courses may have the potential to cause environmental degradation, but the golf community also has an opportunity to be a leader in terms of sustainable development. As more courses are inevitably created, they should be designed in an environmentally friendly manner, so that we can keep enjoying the sport for years to come.

References

[1] Florida Geographic Data Library. (2009). Florida Golf Courses in 2009. Retrieved March 25th 2015, from http://www.fgdl.org/metadata/fgdc_html/par_golf_09.fgdc.htm

[2] Knopper, L., & Lean, D. (2004). Carcinogenic And Genotoxic Potential Of Turf Pesticides Commonly Used On Golf Courses. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 7(4), 267-279.

[3] Environmental Institute for Golf (2006). Golf Course Environmental Profile. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.eifg.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/golf-course-environmental-profile-nutrient-report.pdf

[4] Barton, J. (2008). How Green if Golf? Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.golfdigest.com/images/magazine/2008/05/gd200805golfenvironment.pdf

[5] Oosthoek, S., (2011). How Golf Courses Are Getting Greener. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/top-employers/how-golf-courses-are-getting-greener/article577697/

[6] British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act Reviewable Projects Regulation(2012) Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/370_2002

[7] American Society of Golf Architects. (n.d.) FAQ: How much land do I need to build a golf course? Retrieved March 27th 2015, from http://www.asgca.org/frequently-asked-questions/174

[8] Nick Faldo Design. (n.d.). Sustainability. Retrieved March 27th 2015, from http://nickfaldodesign.com/sustainability

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A Case for Cumulative Effects Assessments in Protecting Caribou Populations

Despite being an unassailable cultural icon in Canada and enjoying a broad geographic spread, the North American caribou (Rangifer tarandus) faces many challenges to its long-term survival. Indeed, as of November, 2014, the majority of caribou subspecies have been listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern under the Species at Risk Act[1] and continue to exhibit declining population trends outside of natural fluctuations[2]. As can be seen in the following illustration, every subspecies aside from barren-ground caribou and certain ecotypes of woodland caribou have been given special status, yet all herds suffer from a receding historical range[2]:

Distribution and Status of Caribou Subspecies in Canada

One major factor contributing to this decline is the large-scale disturbance to high-quality caribou habitats from development projects[3][4]. Although the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process is intended to minimize or avoid a project’s potential environmental impacts prior to implementation, it has not proven to be exceedingly effective in predicting or mitigating impacts on caribou populations due to its narrow, project-based approach[5]. Instead, more comprehensive practices such as cumulative effects assessments (CEAs) must be employed so the interactions between proposed activities and specialized, migratory species like caribou can be adequately understood.

Typically, a zone of influence around a project is demarcated in order to assess the spatiotemporal extent of its disturbances on caribou populations[4]. This approach, however, implicitly assumes that disturbances are isolated to a single project and neglects the interaction of effects from multiple projects and stressors in the region which combine to inflate the initial zone of influence and magnify its impacts. Properly assessing a project’s true zone of influence is essential for accurate impact predictions as caribou will often exhibit an avoidance response when encountering a zone of influence, whereby they alter their behaviour, distribution, or selection of suitable habitats[4]. Some observed avoidance responses have been so severe that caribou populations like the woodland caribou in northern Alberta have avoided high-quality habitats 1 km near oil and gas wells, equivalent to a 22-48% loss in available habitat[4]. Pictured below is an example of a suitable boreal habitat that could be abandoned by caribou if cumulative disturbances in the region are too great[6].

Caribou Entering Boreal Forest Habitat

Negative impacts on caribou populations are not always so linear either. A study by Beauchesne et al. (2014) showed that woodland caribou responded to an increase in cumulative anthropogenic disturbances by expanding their home ranges, a behaviour shift which resulted in greater energy expenditures and risk of exposure to predators[3]. These kinds of indirect effects generally occur outside the scope of an individual project yet they still interact to endanger caribou population persistence. Similarly, Frid and Dill (2002) provide a simple model that depicts how effects like disturbances and predation encounters displace caribou from preferred habitats and create a cascading response that indirectly affects population size[7].

Model of Indirect Effects on Caribou Population Size

Given the complexity of population dynamics then, the simpler project-based approach to impact prediction and evaluation should be relegated to smaller projects that do not infringe upon caribou habitats. CEA is currently the most viable tool to address the myriad of spatiotemporal factors at the landscape level, and, while often criticized for being ineffective[4], it has great potential for improvement. One suggestion to render CEAs more effective is to establish cumulative effect thresholds that are incorporated into the approval process for industrial activity occurring within caribou ranges[5]. As of yet though, no such thresholds exist within any jurisdiction in Canada[5].

References

[1]Environment Canada. (2014). Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29). Ottawa, ON: Minister of Justice.

[2]Gunn, A., Russell, D., and J. Eamer. (2011). Northern caribou population trends in Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 10. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers.

[3]Beauchesne, D., Jaeger, J.A.G., and M. St-Laurent. (2014). Thresholds in the capacity of boreal caribou to cope with cumulative disturbances: Evidence from space use patterns. Biological Conservation, 172, 190-199. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.03.002

[4]Johnson, C.J., and M. St-Laurent. (2011). Unifying Framework for Understanding Impacts of Human Developments on Wildlife. In D.E. Naugle (Ed.), Energy Development and Wildlife Conservation in Western North America (pp. 27-54). Washington, DC: Island Press.

[5]Anderson, R.B., Dyer, S.J., Francis, S.R., and E.M. Anderson. (2002). Development of a Threshold Approach for Assessing Industrial Impacts on Woodland Caribou in the Yukon. Whitehorse, YT: Applied Ecosystem Management Ltd.

[6]Youds, M. (December 26, 2013). Mountain Caribou Face Uncertain Future [Article]. Retrieved from http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Mountain+caribou+face+uncertain+future/9325826/story.html

[7]Frid, A., and L. Dill. (2002). Human-caused Disturbance Stimuli as a Form of Predation Risk. Conservation Ecology, 6(1): 11.

Forests for sale: REDD+, conservation and the displacement of Indigenous populations

“REDD (schemes known collectively as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) will increase the violation of our human rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts.”

[1] International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) statement, November 2007

papua2

Photo: Mark Gudmens

Conservation is a dirty word in some circles, stemming from a lengthy history of further marginalizing already vulnerable populations. With (what should be) all eyes on the current quest to reduce atmospheric carbon emission rates, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is being pushed as an effective solution to the global carbon crisis. Despite inherent shortcomings, there is still time to ensure that it becomes a useful framework for all aspects of impact assessment and serves the needs of local communities directly affected by it.

Early Conservation efforts

The conservation of “wilderness” for the benefits of developed nations is not a new idea, with early political powers in North America designating huge tracts of land, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, as National parks [2]. By restricting the ways these areas were occupied and using a colonial framework of conservation and control, indigenous presence was erased from the landscape and historical territories grabbed by colonial settlers in order to “protect” western visions of nature [3].

Modern Environmental Conservation efforts

Over 20 percent of the planet’s surface is currently protected through conservation efforts by a handful of BINGOs (Big International Non-Governmental Organizations) [4]. Corporations, like Conservation International (CI), are altruistic in appearance, seeking to protect key global biodiversity hotspots [5]. Under the aegis of conservation, vast tracts of land in the global south have been deemed ecologically important and removed from the stewardship of local indigenous populations, to the detriment of both systems and with no strong social impact assessment (SIA) in place [5]. Additionally, these displaced persons are rarely compensated, becoming further marginalized in the name of conservation.

Thus, the overarching rubric of conservation continues to focus on notions of preservation of the wilds for the betterment of developed nations with little consideration to the indigenous populations that shaped these landscapes through thoughtful stewardship and symbiotic, sustainable relationships.

Enter: The next generation of environmental conservation and REDD+

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) was conceived of during the early push for global solutions to climate change, specifically during the 2005 COP-11 in Montreal, Canada [6]. This video, produced by the REDD desk, gives a brief description of how the program is supposed to incentivize the protection of global forests in the name of carbon offsets for developed nations and international organizations.

Despite the mention of protection for local indigenous communities and opportunities for participation throughout the EIA process, indigenous groups are mistrustful of the proposed REDD+. Due to a lengthy history of marginalization and displacement through colonial domination, many populations in developing nations have chosen to fight the implementation of a program they feel will only serve to line the pockets of rich Westerners and contribute little to actual reductions in carbon emission rates.

A pilot project conducted in Nepal found that the benefits of REDD+ were not fairly distributed between all members of a given community [7]. Although there were evident positive effects of the program, such as meaningful public participation, there is a need for a strong system of social safeguards in order to protect the indigenous populations that live in the regions [7]. Other authors criticize the “top-down” approach of the current REDD+ system and argue for a wider role for indigenous stakeholders in order to protect communities at the local level [8].

In order to create a framework that actually does what it was intended to do, REDD+ social safeguards must be designed with several keys concepts in mind. The importance of a bottom-up approach to the sustainable management of these new spaces is crucial to the success of REDD+. Further to this, a clear and well defined social impact assessment (SIA) that considers the needs of the local communities before the wants of international institutions must be equipped with the power to challenge decisions made by forces removed from the landscape.


References

[1] The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) The 13th Session of Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC SBSTA 27, agenda item 5/REDD Accessed online February 10, 2015. http://www.indigenousclimate.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55&Itemid=59&lang=en

[2] Vaccaro, I., Beltran, O., and Paquet, P. A. 2013. Political ecology and conservation policies: some theoretical genealogies. Journal of Political Ecology, 20. 255-272. Online http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_20/Vaccaro.pdf

[3] Robbins, P. 2012. Political Ecology; a critical introduction, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

[4] Dowie, M. 2010. Conservation Refugees. Cultural Survival; 34, 1. Accessed January 22, 2015. Online http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/none/conservation-refugees

[5] Survival International. November 14, 2014. Parks need peoples. Survival International Report. Accessed online February 6, 2015 http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10546

[6] Agrawal, A., Nepstad, D. and Chhatre, A. 2011. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, vol. 36, p. 373-396. Accessed online February 6, 2015.

[7] Maraseni, T. N., Neupane, P. R., Lopez-Casero, F., and Cadman, T. 2014. An assessment of the impacts of the REDD+ pilot project on community forests user groups (CFUGs) and their community forests in Nepal. Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 136, p. 37-46. Accessed February 6, 2015.

[8] Corbera, E. and Schroeder, H. 2011. Governing and implementing REDD+. Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 14:2, p. 89-99.

Applications in GIS for Conservation Planning

The use of geographic information systems is valuable for conservation of species and their habitat due to several inherent spatial factors related to conservation such as forest cover, species distribution and land cover change.  There are many factors to consider when delineating protected areas and conserving species and this requires expertise from diverse backgrounds as well as opinions from local communities [1]. GIS simplifies the process of integrating expert and stakeholder opinion by using means such as multi-criteria decision making and pairwise comparison to assign different weights to factors of relevance. The relative importance of various criteria can be weighted to ensure the optimal space is selected for the focus of conservation efforts [2].  Figure A shows an example of a map produced using expert pairwise comparison to delineate the highest quality forests for the expansion of protected areas by the Finnish Forest and Park Service.

fgi1

A map of Southern Finland showing the priority rank for the highest quality forest for new protected areas. Exisiting protected areas are shown in black.
Source: Lehtomaki et al., 2009.

In addition to integrating opinions, GIS also offers integrative technology for conservation planning for developers. A good example is the Smart Infrastructure Planner (SIP) toolkit developed by the WWF. This application is open source and can be downloaded as a GIS toolbox that can assess the impacts of a development on a particular species or habitat type. Inputs include items such as work site, roads, towns, land cover, prey distribution and water sources. These items are all integrated into one analysis (See fig. B below).

Figure B.

Image

Habitat suitability is one of the Modules of SIP. The above fields are taken into consideration when generating a habitat suitability map (See also Fig. C).
Source: WWF, 2012.

All factors can be weighted based on their influence in determining the presence of a species. Next, any of the five modules of SIP can be run which include habitat suitability which is shown above (see also fig C), habitat suitability change (fig. D), landscape statistics, patch statistics and patch distance. The output maps can be shown through different time steps to show how developments will impacts habitat over time in response to various factors. This application also provides the user with mitigation recommendations based on the type of infrastructure being proposed and its location in the landscape [3].

Figure C.

An example of an output map from the habitat suitability module. Run this analysis twice to get current habitat suitability and predicted future suitability with consideration of new developments. Source: WWF, 2012.

Figure D.

Image

An example of the output from the habitat suitability change analysis. Run this module with the outputs from the habitat suitability module to show areas of change over a given time period. Source: WWF, 2012.

The tool described above provides a comprehensive and organized way to visualize impacts to habitat from development. It has the potential to be very useful for cumulative impact assessment, as it has the ability to integrate the entire landscape and include all projects and infrastructure. However, when using SIP as well as pairwise comparison and multi-criteria analysis for conservation, stakeholders and experts must be careful to consider all aspects of the landscape in question. Often, “charismatic mega-fauna” such as primates, large cats or other large mammals are the focus of conservation efforts because they draw more attention and are more visible to the public [4]. If more well known species end up the sole focus of multi-criteria analysis and/or SIP analysis, less popular species, such as insects or plants, may suffer. If these tools are used with proper consideration of ecosystem components, they can be very useful for impact prediction.

References

[1] Mitchell, N, and Schaab, G 2008 Developing a disturbance index for five East African forests using GIS to analyse historical forest use as an important driver of current land use/cover African Journal of Ecology46(4), 572-584

[2] Lehtomäki, J, Tomppo, E, Kuokkanen, P, Hanski, I, and Moilanen, A 2009 Applying spatial conservation prioritization software and high-resolution GIS data to a national-scale study in forest conservation. Forest ecology and management258(11), 2439-2449

[3] WWF. (2012) The Smart Infrastructure Planner Toolkit User Guide. Retrieved from http://worldwildlife.org/publications/smart-infrastructure-planner-beta

[4] Leader-Williams, N and Dublin, H T 2000 Charismatic megafauna as flagship species. Priorities for the conservation of mammalian diversity: has the panda had its day, 53-81

Is EIA a fool’s paradise for conservationists?

Is it naive to believe that environmental impact assessment (EIA) serves as a tool to conserve biodiversity? Given EIA’s primary purpose, which is to reduce the negative impacts of proposed developments on the natural environment, this idea is not far-fetched. However, in practice, biodiversity has yet to be successfully and effectively incorporated into the EIA process. A few authors have identified the major problems associated with how biodiversity issues are being addressed in EIA [4] [8] [12]. A poor understanding of the concept of biodiversity, a lack of appropriate methodologies, and a deficiency in assessments at the ecosystem level are listed as key reasons for why biodiversity is still neglected in many environmental impact statements. Another important cause of the failure to account for biodiversity in EIA is the strong emphasis being placed on protected species [4] [6].

Threatened species lists, despite being extremely valuable tools, should not be used alone to forecast the biological effects of a proposed activity. “Why are such lists – like the famous International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List – a problem for EIA?” you might ask. First, threatened species lists are typically influenced by survey efforts, changes in biological knowledge, and the focus preferences of experts [6] [7]. Therefore, endangered species lists do not always reveal the real patterns and processes in biodiversity; rather, they tend to be biased towards research interests and funding [3]. For example, large, visible, and charismatic species are usually at the heart of threatened species lists, while insects, fungi, and invertebrates are generally overlooked [3]. Moreover, species that play a crucial role in supporting the structure of ecological communities – such as keystone species, dominant species, or indicator species – are often not legally protected. These flaws in the listing process, coupled with the misuse of threatened species lists, have the potential to intensify the threats to biodiversity instead of encouraging conservation. Put into the context of EIA, sole reliance on endangered species legislation in biodiversity assessments can lead to the following paradox: large and disruptive projects affecting only nonlisted species are more likely to be given the green light than those with small impacts on a single listed species [6].

Fig. 1: Process to list a species at risk at the federal level, in Canada [11]

Another problem with the use of threatened species lists to predict the ecological impacts of developments is that they are extremely influenced by politics. In Canada, for example, although the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is responsible of determining, based on rigorous and empirical criteria, whether a species should be listed or not, the Federal Cabinet has the power to override the decision (Fig. 1) [2] [3] [10]. Due to this political interference, several species that have been assessed as at risk by COSEWIC have been left off the Species at Risk Act (Fig. 2). Without legal protection, a threatened species is not entitled to benefit from a Recovery Strategy, and is thus susceptible to extinction [2]. In addition, recovery strategies are often incomplete: the ‘critical habitat’ of a species, which is defined as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species” [9], is frequently not identified [2]. This crucial missing information could result in significant biodiversity loss if proponents are given the go-ahead on projects located in unidentified high-risk ecosystems or habitats.

Fig. 2: “Left off the List”, a report from the David Suzuki Foundation [5]

Despite living in an age of increased awareness and understanding of biodiversity, its role continues to be a recurrently neglected aspect in most EIA systems around the world. To solve this issue, many solutions have been put forward, but we have yet to apply them to the framework of EIA. Hereunder are a few recommendations to improve the proper integration of biodiversity into the process of EIA:

  • Improve legislative strategies: for example, develop biodiversity-specific legislation to give formal recognition to biodiversity [3] [12]
  • Improve CEAA’s “Guide on Biodiversity and EIA” [1]: for example, create biodiversity-specific screening criteria and detailed checklists for scoping on biodiversity, as suggested by Slootweg & Kolhoff (2003) [8]
  • Move the focus away from threatened species lists: for example, use multiple and quantitative methods in biodiversity assessments (including GIS-based ecological models as suggested by Gontier et al., 2006) [4]
  • Clarify the concept of biodiversity to avoid misinterpretations among the different groups involved in the EIA process [12]
  • Invest in a centralized, reliable, exhaustive, and accessible repository of information on wildlife species in Canada to help improve data quality and availability [12]
  • Because biodiversity depends on ecosystem integrity, conduct a strategic environmental assessment across Canada to identify no-go zones, sensitive habitats, and areas where development is encouraged [3] [4]

Sources

[1] CEAA’s “Guide on Biodiversity and EIA”:

http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=7392AC38-1

[2] David Suzuki Foundation. (n.d.). Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Retrieved Jan. 15, 2014, from David Suzuki Foundation: http://davidsuzuki.org/issues/wildlife-habitat/science/endangered-species-legislation/canadas-species-at-risk-act/

[3] Farrier, D., Whelan, R., & Mooney, C. (2007). Threatened species listing as a trigger for conservation action. Environmental Science & Policy, 10(3), 219-229.

[4] Gontier, M., Balfors, B., & Mörtberg, U. (2006). Biodiversity in environmental assessment—current practice and tools for prediction. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 26(3), 268-286.

[5] Plotkin, R., & Wallace, S. (2007). Left off the List: A profile of marine and northern species denied listing under Canada’s Species At Risk Act. David Suzuki Foundation.

[6] Possingham, H.P., Andelman, S.J., Burgman, M.A., Medellin, R.A., Master, L.L., & Keith, D.A. (2002). Limits to the use of threatened species lists. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 17(11), 503-507.

[7] Rodrigues, A. S., Pilgrim, J. D., Lamoreux, J. F., Hoffmann, M., & Brooks, T. M. (2006). The value of the IUCN Red List for conservation. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 21(2), 71-76.

[8] Slootweg, R., & Kolhoff, A. (2003). A generic approach to integrate biodiversity considerations in screening and scoping for EIA. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 23(6), 657-681.

[9] Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 2.

[10] Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 27.

[11] Status Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development: (2008). Chapter 12—Previous Audits of Responses to Environmental Petitions—Listing of Species at Risk:

http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_cesd_200803_12_e_30138.html

[12] Wegner, A., Moore, S. A., & Bailey, J. (2005). Consideration of biodiversity in environmental impact assessment in Western Australia: practitioner perceptions. Environmental impact assessment review, 25(2), 143-162.

Using GIS to Synthesize the Watershed Approach into EIA

As planners and decision makers being to recognize the spatial significance of managing resources at the watershed scale, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a main researching and teaching tool will only grow in importance. An early definition of GIS by Burrough (1986) deems it ‘a powerful set of tools for collecting, storing and retrieving at will, transforming and displaying spatial data from the real world.’ Figure 1 shows a very basic cross-sectional model of a unit watershed with different land use types.

New_watershed_Andrea_Gauthier_b

Figure 1. Different land uses across a cross-sectional model of a watershed. (Source: http://conservation-ontario.on.ca/resources/graphics/)

Development projects that require EIA, such as highways, factories and mines tend to impact the landscape by increasing impermeable surface cover. These impacts become compounded when there are multiple developments within the same watershed. The negative impacts of increasing impervious surface cover are noted by Barnes et. al (2002)

“The growth and spread of impervious surfaces within urbanizing watersheds pose significant threats to the quality of natural and built environments. These threats include increased stormwater runoff, reduced water quality, higher maximum summer temperatures, degraded and destroyed aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and the diminished aesthetic appeal of streams and landscapes.”

Since development impacts have cumulative effects, watershed conservation and management needs to be built into regional frameworks developed through Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Regional SEA is the most appropriate framework within which to address cumulative effects when the primary goal is to influence the nature and pace of conservation and development in support of regional sustainability (Gunn and Noble, 2009). Using GIS software to better understand how these cumulative effects impact the integrity of watersheds is where I see the EIA process taking a major leap forward.

Utilization of GIS applications allows professionals to store, analyze and manipulate large amounts of spatial data on one interface. In today’s world it is not only professionals that have access to watershed data; web-based hydrological models such as Model My Watershed (http://www.wikiwatershed.org/model.html) are making watershed data available to all sectors so we can collectively conceptualize how our decisions affect the world around us in terms of both space and time. Model My Watershed has developed three user-friendly applications that are free to the public and help us visualize how different land use patterns accumulate together to affect streams, rivers, lakes and entire watersheds.

Companies such as SRK Consulting have already begun utilizing GIS software to assist in the EIA process. http://www.srk.com/en/newsletter/application-gis-eia-process Throughout the years of utilizing GIS applications for EIA the team at SRK has already realized some of the benefits:

“Potential risk factors may be identified upfront and presented to the client to assess the viability of proceeding with the project. This approach reduces timeframes and usually presents the client with a cost savings.”

It is the responsibility of those conducing each EIA to understand the current state of development within the watershed they are dealing with, and to understand how proposed projects will affect the integrity of entire watersheds. Anthropogenic stress on watersheds is accelerating along with human development; making GIS applications an integral tool when making more informed decisions and monitoring the impacts our development has on these vital hydrological units around the world.

References:

Barnes, K. B., J. M. Morgan III, and M. C. Roberge., 2002. Impervious surfaces and the    quality             of natural and built environments. Baltimore, Md.: Department of             Geography and          Environmental Planning, Towson University. 28 p

Burrough, P.A., 1986. Principles of Geographic Information Systems for Land          Resources       Assessment Clarendon Press, Oxford. pp. 193. sis.agr.ca/cansis/references/1986

Gunn, J., Noble, B., 2009. Integrating Cumulative Effects in Regional Strategic Environmental       Assessment Frameworks: Lessons from Practice. Journal of Environmental Assessment            Policy and Management, 11:03

Noble, Bram., 2008. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to             Principles and Practice, Second Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press

SRK Consulting., 2013. Application of GIS in the EIA Process.        http://www.srk.com/en/newsletter/application-gis-eia-process

Tursujuq National Park; a teamwork success under the JBNQA

On December 14th 2012, Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks, Yves-François Blanchet, confirmed that the Quebec government would establish the Tursujuq National Park. The future park will be the biggest national park of eastern North America, with an area equivalent to more than 54 times the area of Montreal Island. Covering 26 000 km2, it will triple the network of Quebec’s national parks.

1

Aerial winter view of Tursujuq National Park. Photo credit: Nunavik Parks

A glance of the ecological and cultural values of Tursujuq

Tursujuq will be located northern Quebec in the transition zone between boreal forest and tundra. Adjacent to Hudson Bay is Lake Guillaume-Delisle, a brackish source of tidal water hosting seal and beluga population. The Hudsonian cuestas, formed by erosion, surround the lake and offer an impressive geological panorama. The Lake à l’Eau-Claire, approximately in the middle of the park limits, was created by a meteorite impact and is the second biggest lake in Quebec with an area of 1,226 km2. Tursujuq National Park will protect several valuable ecological components of northern biodiversity and habitats, including the threatened harbor seal population, plus several species like beluga whales, harlequin ducks, short-eared owls, a unique population of landlocked salmon and over 80 rare plant species.

2

Physiography map of Tursujuq National Park. Photo credit: Nunavik Parks

Vestiges of human occupation dating back to more than 3,000 years have been found within the park, witnessing presence of Inuit and Cree on the territory. Those vestiges also include more recent trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company from the 18th and 19th centuries. Today’s Inuit and Cree inhabitants have good traditional knowledge of the territory and many still live directly from the abundant resources of the area.

Collaboration and co-management

The initial project by the Quebec Government was only covering 15 000 km2. Hydro Québec (HQ) was projecting a 1000 megawatts hydro-electricity central on the Nastapoka River, located north of the previous projected park. The Inuit, the Cree and the environmentalists requested the additional conservation of the Nastapoka watershed. Following a four years process of negotiation and consultation, HQ renounced to the territory and roughly 10 000 km2 were added to the park. The non-negligible added protected area is well illustrated in this documentary on Plan Nord (specifically at 35 min 15 sec). Tursujuq landscape can be seen between minute 32:15 and 38:30 of the following link.

The creation of Tursujuq National Park is a decision unanimously praised. Its establishment emerged from collaboration between the Quebec Government, the Aboriginal communities of Umiujaq, Kuujjuarapik, Whapmagoostui and Inukjuak, the Makivik Corporation and the Kativik Regional Government (KRG). Initially, $3 million will be invested to build basic infrastructure (reception + access road). The KRG will leads the park’s management, with a capital expenditure budget estimated at $8 million over five years, in addition to a budget to manage the park. As the president of the KRG Maggie Emudluk stated (MSDEWP 2012): “ The new park will protect not only the environment but also areas that are essential to the traditional ways of life of the Inuit and the Cree. A determined, united pressure group headed by our communities and regional organizations working with conservation groups has fulfilled its mission, which will strengthen our confidence in the efficacy of the environmental protection regime established under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).”

References
Bardati, 2009, Environmental Impact assessment in Quebec, Environmental Impact Assessment: Practice and Participation, Hanna, K. S., Oxford University Press, NY, 380-401

Kativik Environmental Advisory Committee, 2012, Kativik Environmental Quality Commission http://www.keac-ccek.ca/en/environmental-procedure/screening-committee/kativik-environmental-commission.php

Kativik Regional Government (KRG), 2012, Renewable Resources, Environment, Land and Parks, http://www.krg.ca/en/general-information-renew

Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks (MSDEWP), 2012, Parc national Tursujuq project, Government of Quebec http://www.mddep.gouv.qc.ca/parcs/tursujuq/index_en.htm

Nunavik Parks, 2012, Tursujuq, Status Report, Parcs Quebec and KRG, http://www.nunavikparks.ca/en/parks/tursujuq/status-report.htm

Radio-Canada, 2012, Video, Plan Nord: les grandes manoeuvres, Découverte, Saison 2012, episode 13, Canada, http://www.tou.tv/decouverte/S2012E13

Radio-Canada, 2012, Video, Tursujuq, un nouveau parc national, Téléjournal midi, 15 décembre 2012, Canada, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH9wn2G9a0A