MONTPELIER — According to a document released today by the National Wildlife Federation and Vermont Natural Resources Council, destructive mining and drilling practices in the heart of Canada’s forest bird nurseries have killed thousands of birds and are putting millions more at risk, including the critically endangered whooping crane, America’s tallest bird.
The Department of Interior is under a legal obligation – known as the Pelly Amendment – to determine whether tar sands mining and drilling in Canada is undermining a century-old international treaty to protect North America’s shared songbirds and waterfowl.
“The high carbon intensity of tar sands is driving climate change and putting people and wildlife at risk,” said Johanna Miller, energy program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “Vermont wildlife enthusiasts, birders, and hunters should be gravely concerned about the impact tar sands has on bird species and their habitat.”
As the report details, tar sands development sits in the heart of the previously pristine boreal forest, a haven for bird production. But now an area the size of Florida is being destroyed by huge open-pit mines, toxic waste tailings ponds that are visible from space, extraction wells, noisy compressor stations, refineries, and networks of new roads, drilling pads, seismic lines, and pipelines.
“Unchecked tar sands development is turning a vast, irreplaceable breeding ground into a toxic wasteland,” said National Wildlife Federation Senior Counsel Jim Murphy. “The Canadian Government has vowed to protect these birds, but it is turning a blind eye.”
Oil-laden tailings ponds have resulted in the deaths of countless waterfowl. In 2008, 1,600 ducks died in Syncrude tailings ponds. An October 2010 storm resulted in hundreds of ducks landing on a Suncor tailings pond near Fort McMurray, killing 550 birds.
As of 2010, 43 species of internationally protected birds had suffered fatalities from exposure to tar sands tailings ponds. Unabated tar sands development could result in the reduction of 70 million hatchlings over a forty year period.
Of the 130 internationally protected American migratory and songbird species listed in the report as threatened by tar sands development, many are familiar names to bird watchers, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts in Vermont. The list includes:
Snow Goose, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, Great Blue Heron, Common Loon, Northern Pintail, Wood Duck, Siskin, Cedar Waxwing, and the Pileated Woodpecker.
“Wildlife and tar sands don’t mix,” said Murphy. “The Canadian Government is putting polluting fossil fuel profits above the welfare of birds and other species. Secretary Jewell and President Obama can send a message to Canada that it is unacceptable to undermine our shared wildlife heritage. The President needs to act by rejecting dirty tar sands pipeline projects like Keystone XL. Moving forward with clean, wildlife-friendly energy, not tar sands, is the answer.”