Resource Extraction and Biodiversity

Wolves are a major predator of threatened caribou herds. Research shows, however, that industrial activity is the greatest threat to caribou survival, in part because it opens up new avenues for predators like wolves to hunt. Creative Commons Licensed Images. Photo credits: Wolves by Caninest; Caribou by Bauer, Erwin and Peggy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Oil Sands by National Wildlife Federation.

 The Question

Canada’s iconic caribou species are under threat. What is the government doing to address evidence that shows that resource extraction from industries like the oil sands is the leading threat to caribou survival?

The Background

Caribou are now listed among Canada’s top species at risk. Many caribou herds have been decimated, and some are on the brink of extinction. Research shows that the major threat to caribou is loss of habitat to industrial development such as logging, oil and gas extraction, hydroelectric dams, oil sands operations, and mining. These operations not only destroy caribou habitat, they open up new avenues for caribou predators, like wolves, to access wider terrains. In effect, industrial development has created the conditions that make it easier for wolves to hunt caribou. The federal and provincial governments have initiated massive wolf culls in BC and Alberta in attempt to save the threatened caribou. To date, hundreds of wolves have been shot from helicopters and poisoned with strychnine, and more extensive culls are planned. Are there perhaps better ways to protect caribou?  See below for more information.

Your Letter to Federal Scientists and Ministers

Dear Scientists,

Your research on biodiversity in Canada’s boreal forest is shedding crucial light on the serious threats posed by expanding industrial development, including logging, oil and gas extraction, and mining on caribou and other species (Venier, et al., 2014). This research makes it clear that industrial development is the root cause of caribou decline.

According to your findings, what are the distinct impacts of different industries on caribou survival? Would caribou rehabilitation be fostered by better regulation of particular industries? The Canadian government is supporting a massive and ongoing wolf cull as their primary measure to protect caribou populations. How would you integrate the results of your research into a better caribou rehabilitation plan?

I am writing this email as part of Write2Know ( a letter-writing campaign that aims to mobilize public awareness and inquiry into federal research programs. We want to let you know that we value federal science and scientists, and that our questions arise out of genuine concerns about the health and well-being of Canadians.

We are concerned about constraints on access to federal scientists and the results of their research, the elimination of essential research programs, and the closure of libraries and archives. These constraints and closures impact what Canadians can and cannot know about the health of their bodies, communities, and environments.

We are posing questions to federal scientists about their research and findings, and forwarding our letters to federal Ministers and Members of Parliament to call attention to serious gaps between scientific evidence and government policy.

I look forward to your response.

[Your name]

Dr. Lisa Venier, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Ian Thompson, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Rich Fleming, Biological Systems Analyst, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Tony Trofymow, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Rona Sturrock, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. David Langor, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Andrè Arsenault, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. James Brandt, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Canada
The Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of Natural Resources
The Honourable Guy Caron, NDP Critic of Natural Resources
The Honourable Geoff Regan, Liberal Critic of Natural Resources
The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Environment
The Honourable Megan Leslie, NDP Critic of the Environment
The Honourable John McKay, Liberal Critic of the Environment
The Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science & Technology)
The Honourable Kennedy Stewart, NDP Critic of Science & Technology
The Honourable Ted Hsu, Liberal Critic of Science & Technology
The Honourable Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada

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More Information

A War on the Wolf: A CBC Documentary on the Wolf Cull in B.C.

Billion Dollar Caribou: CBC, Nature of Things

Chris Brown, “B.C. wolf cull will likely last 5 years, assistant deputy minister says, Critics say culls are ineffective and cruel” CBC News, February 11, 2015.

Carol Linnet, “Why is Canada Killing Wolves and Muzzling Scientists to Protect Tar Sands Interests?” DeSmogBlog, Feb. 14, 2012

Venier, et al (2014). “Effects of natural resource development on the terrestrial biodiversity of Canadian boreal forests.” Environmental Reviews 22:1-457-490

Environment Canada, “Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal population, in Canada,” 2012.

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