Report: Interior Must Address Bird Deaths Caused by Canada’s Tar Sands

Interior Department Must Declare Canada is Undermining International Wildlife Protections

Destructive mining and drilling practices in the heart of Canada’s forest bird nurseries have already killed thousands of birds and are putting millions more at risk, including the critically endangered whooping crane. That’s according to an issue brief released yesterday by the National Wildlife Federation, and four NWF state affiliates – Illinois’ Prairie Rivers Network, Natural Resources Council of Maine, New Hampshire Audubon, and Vermont Natural Resources Council.

Tar sands expansion harms wildlife habitat

The Department of Interior is under a legal obligation – known as the “Pelly Amendment”– to determine whether tar sands development in Canada is undermining a century-old international treaty to protect our continent’s shared songbirds and waterfowl. Tar sands is one of the most carbon intensive fuel sources. Its development and use is driving climate change that is threatening many bird species and their habitat.

“Unchecked tar sands development is turning a productive breeding ground into a toxic wasteland,” said National Wildlife Federation Senior Counsel Jim Murphy. “Many of the birds Americans watch, enjoy and hunt fly to and rely on this area. The Canadian Government has vowed to protect these birds, but it is turning a blind eye.”

The Canadian tar sands industry’s plans to increase use of the Great Lakes region as a hub for transporting toxic tar sands threatens to enable the industry to expand its destructive mining and drilling efforts at a breakneck pace. If this expansion goes unchecked, an area the size of Florida will be destroyed by huge open-pit mines, toxic waste tailings ponds that can be seen from space, extraction wells, noisy compressor stations, refineries, and networks of new roads, drilling pads, seismic lines, and pipelines.

Oil-laden tailings ponds have already 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; at least 550 birds were too oiled to save. 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.

Oil giant Enbridge has plans to double the amount of tar sands it brings into the Great Lakes and recently announced plans to build 76 miles of new pipeline across six counties in Illinois and Indiana for use by mid-2015.

“Illinois and America need to make a just transition to a cleaner, smarter energy future,” said Prairie Rivers Network’s Elliot Brinkman. “Tar sands are a move in the wrong direction. We call on President Obama and Secretary Jewell to say no to the tar sands industry that wants to reap benefits at unacceptable cost to America’s and Canada’s shared wildlife heritage.”

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 the United States, including: Snow Goose, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, Great Blue Heron, Common Loon, Northern Pintail, Wood Duck, Siskin, Trumpeter Swan, Cedar Waxwing, and the Pileated Woodpecker.

Click here to read the full report