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Northen Gateway 'Conditions' Will Be Met Come Hell in High Water: Ottawa Makes Humpback Whales No Longer Threatened


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http://www.ipolitics.ca/2014/04/22/humpback-whales-being-sacrificed-on-the-altar-of-industrial-development-critics/

Humpback Whales Being Sacrificed on the Altar of Industrial Development

Environment critics are calling Conservatives out for their entirely political and thinly veiled attempt to secure the proposed $7.9 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline by downgrading the Pacific humpback whales habitat protection.

If the change passes, the humpback whales habitat will no longer be protected from tankers or pipelines, which many say was the whole point of the downgrade. Given the economic and business stakes in getting the Northern Gateway route approved and the federal Tories desire to have some pipeline, any pipeline, bring Alberta oilsands bitumen to tidewater, critics are suspicious of the reclassification.

Kevin Stewart, a researcher with Greenpeace Canada, doesnt believe oil tankers and humpback whale habitat can exist in harmony and is especially concerned that a pipeline would negatively affect breeding and endanger humpback calfs.

The decision to remove protections from humpback whales is entirely political and it is entirely about getting that pipeline approved, said Stewart.

Celebrating Earth Day in Vancouver, Green party leader Elizabeth May told iPolitics she expects the outrage over the humpback whales to be the focus of the event shes attending.

This is being justified by the fact and it is a fact that their population is doing better, but thats because of the protective measures, said May.

Several environmental groups, including Greenpeace Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Club, recently challenged the governments environmental track record in court.

Federal Justice Anne Mactavish ruled in February that the Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea had broken the law by failing to enforce the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

The problem with SARA is clear: successive governments have failed to implement it fully, said David Suzuki in a Toronto Star op-ed months after the suit was filed in September 2012.

On the connection between the SARA requirements and the humpback downgrade, May was adamant:

It would be naive to think there was no connection. Environmental lawyers had already identified that the protections for the humpback whales under the SARA represented a hurdle, and by downgrading the protection of humpback whales theyve removed that hurdle, said May.

In the case of four specific species, one of which being the Pacific humpback whale, the government had failed to propose recovery strategies after the species were formally identified, missing mandatory deadlines by up to six and a half years.

During the suit, a recovery strategy was issued for the humpback whale but with the change of status comes a change of paperwork. The department will now need to issue a management plan instead, but that should come soon according to Trevor Swerdfager, Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management.

My expectation is that they will be substantially in advance with this one because most of the work is already done in the form of the recovery strategy, so well be moving forward on that quite quickly.

Recovery strategies are currently required for 192 species, of which 163 were overdue when the case was heard in January. Swerdfager confirmed that number hadnt changed much since.

Unfinished plans could potentially help with the development of the Northern Gateway pipeline by failing to place limits on industrial expansion in endangered regions.

As environmentalists, we asked ourselves: how can the government protect the critical habitat of the humpback whale and allowing tankers to go through it and now we know how the answer to that. Theyre doing it by downgrading the species and dramatically reducing protection, said Gwen Barlee, policy director with Wilderness Committee.

It increases the magnitude of risk because now its critical habitat wont be protected from oil tankers.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP MP from Skeena-Bulkley Valley, said he wishes he could be more shocked by the news.

Ive just been dealing with this government for so long on pipelines and their belligerent attitude that almost nothing could surprise me anymore. Its amazing: however many votes we have, whatever science we use is, its all for nothing compared to the amount of power the oil lobby has on the Harper government.

Liberal environment critic John McKay agreed.

A few whales here or there I dont think is of great concern [to the government] when there is shipping to be done.

Environment Minister Aglukkaq is recommending, on advice from the fisheries minister, that the local species be downgraded from threatened to species of special concern.

Neither Aglukkaq nor Fisheries Minister Gail Shea was available for comment.

From the point of view of the department, the various other agendas that people are attributing to our work and the suggestion that this is tied into the pipeline or any other development is just not so. Essentially this is a matter of responding to scientific advice, said Swerdfager.

The change would be made under SARA after an independent committee determined in 2011 that the local species was recovering at a consistent enough rate to relax security precautions.

If approved, the number of tankers carrying oil and bitumen through Vancouver Harbour and the Gulf Islands each year may increase from about 60 to more than 400, and over 525,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen crude would move from Alberta to Kitimat, according to Ecojustice.

That committee was cited frequently in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel, which reviewed the threats to humpback whales after critics and locals questioned the likelihood of fatal collisions and the negative effects of sound on the species.

The Northern Gateways repeated response in the report was that the shipping industry has only grown in the past few decades and with proper mitigation policies, so has the humpback whale population.

The government is accepting responses for 30 days after the decision was published, then the change will go into effect immediately once approved by the Governor-in-Council.

http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/critics-say-canada-shouldnt-have-taken-humpback-whales-off-the-endangered-species-list

Critics Say Canada Shouldnt Have Taken Humpback Whales Off the Endangered Species List

The Canadian governments announcement that it's knocking humpback whales off its endangered species list has critics pulling their Save the whales! signs from the 1980s out of storage.

While the decision to remove the marine giantsknown for their amazing group air-bubble fishing and haunting long-distance singingfrom the list may sound like positive news, it coincidently comes only months ahead of a final decision on the widely despised Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelinean $8-billion proposal that has already faced a lawsuit alleging possible oil spills and tanker accidents would endanger threatened species.

One of those species named in the suit is the humpback, an animal that faces less protection now that it's been downgraded from threatened to special concern status. The move has many whale scientists scratching their headseven one who sat on Canada's Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC), the government-appointed independent body whose data on whale populations was used to change the classification.

That particular Washington State expert is research biologist John Calambokidiswhose 30 years of research was cited repeatedly in the Department Fisheries and Oceans own humpback recovery plan just last year. He told me he disagreed with the decision, and was baffled as to why the committee decided to ignore very strong evidence of at least two distinct whale sub-groups.

That's right: while the data shows an overall dramatic increase of between five to seven percent of humpbacks on the B.C. coast since the population was decimated by commercial whaling decades ago, many researchers insist that a smaller, genetically unique southern group faces a greater level of risk of extinction.

Calambokidis's data was in fact the basis for the government's own most recent population numbers. In the mid-2000s, he sat on the COSEWIC marine mammal subcommittee, which advised the species be de-listed, and though as a whole it might be doing well, there are segments of the whale population that are still very much in trouble.

I do not think the southern B.C. and Washington units should be down-listed from threatened at this time, said the biologist who currently works with Cascadia Research Collective in Washington. It doesn't make reasonable sense to me.. I'm disappointed to find out after the fact. I wish there had been more of an attempt at dialogue.

Marty Leonardis is a Nova Scotian biologist and the chairwoman of COSEWIC. She insisted their assessments are based only on the best available scientific knowledge, as well as aboriginal and community input.

In 2011, the organization recommended special concern status for North Pacific humpbacks, based on the fact that their population had boomed to more than 18,000 (compared to the mid-1960s when it was estimated there were fewer than 1,500). But when critics argued there are at least two sub-populationsone vacationing annually in Hawaii, the smaller one to Mexicothe government sent it back to COSEWIC's subcommittee to review, Leonard explained.

They looked at the evidence for two distinct populations, she told me. Their conclusion at end of it was there wasn't enough evidence to support separating that population into two distinct populations... Our decision to assess humpbacks as a single population is what we were standing by.

Leonard also said that there is no political interference in the scientific organization, and that Northern Gateway pipeline had nothing to do with the fact that humpbacks have simply made a miraculous recovery in recent decades.

The discussion is strictly related to the risk of extinction, she said. Nobody brings up political things or what happens if we list it this way Keeping the science separate from other concernswhether social, economic or politicalis extremely important. We don't want to mix them up with the risk of extinction to a species.

However, that's not the way some other scientists see it at all, particularly since humpbacks have still only recovered to roughly half their pre-whaling numbers.

The decision by the federal government is politically motivated, said Misty MacDuffee, a marine biologist of 15 years, but they're able to hide behind COSEWIC. They made their 2011 decision in the middle of Northern Gateway hearings. We're halfway [to where populations once were], but we're going to make a decision now when we know that stressors on the population are going to increase?

MacDuffee, who works with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said evidence of more than one humpback group in B.C. is convincing. But even if COSEWIC doesn't buy the two-group theory, its still questionable that humpbacks are being de-listed.

When you've got a species with [growth] numbers as slow as they were after commercial whaling, she said, 50 percent does not by any scientific criteria meet the goals of recovery. If that's what they're using to define recovery, it's clearly inadequate.

One current member of the 11-member COSEWIC subcommittee stands by its decision, and said there's simply too much disagreement on the existence of a more vulnerable southern population.

It's the right decision, he said. They no longer met the criteria for being threatened The science was divided on whether or not we have one humpback population or two in B.C. If there's a bone of contention, that's what it's aboutnot about whether the correct decision was made.

He said the subcommittee carefully reviewed the research on whale genetics and migration patterns, but that there is not a clear line to separate the populations, but rather a bleeding of animals as you move north.

On a fundamental level, former subcommittee member Calambokidis disagrees with that assessment, pointing to his recent peer-reviewed research, part of what he called the most comprehensive humpback investigation ever, involving roughly 400 scientists over three years.

The differences between northern B.C. and southern B.C. are pretty dramatic, actually, he said. The evidence is very strong It's a very clear conclusion last year that represents very strong evidence that should be taken into account. Genetics are usually a pretty high baryou're talking about patterns that have existed over extended periods of time to allow genetic differences to take hold. This is not a borderline statistical call.

Several other scientists approached for this article agreed the evidence is overwhelming that southern B.C. is home to a unique group of humpbacks that return to the same feeding grounds year after yearthe same ones their mothers brought them to, and these are the ones that are at risk.

But with the DFO's own website warning that humpbacks face potential risks from exposure to significantly higher numbers of oil spills due to increased tanker traffic in coastal areas, many are simply shaking their heads at what seems to be a brazen move to eliminate one major barrier to oil tankers and pipelines: endangered humpbacks' habitat.

The timing is just odd, said Linda Nowlan, World Wide Fund for Nature Canada's conservation director. We're wondering why the federal government is reducing protection now, just as the threats are poised to skyrocket if Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline is approved this summer."

Can't you smell the billions, environmentalists? The cash is smelling real, real good right about now.

Cash is good. Without it, these whales would still be threatened. Cash makes all the worlds' problems go away.

Okay, the humpbacks aren't really all that important compared to oil, but... Aren't we afraid of this?

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Humpback whales are no longer on the endangered species list because they are not endangered. Their population was once near extinction but there are now 80k humpback whales in the ocean.

Does this mean we should reopen the whaling industry? No.

But humpback whales are not going to go extinct because of the Northern Gateway project. It's just more fear mongering from those trying to raise the cost of transporting oil to the point that the tar sands get closed down. Sorry to disappoint, but that's not going to happen.

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Humpback whales are no longer on the endangered species list because they are not endangered. Their population was once near extinction but there are now 80k humpback whales in the ocean.

Does this mean we should reopen the whaling industry? No.

But humpback whales are not going to go extinct because of the Northern Gateway project. It's just more fear mongering from those trying to raise the cost of transporting oil to the point that the tar sands get closed down. Sorry to disappoint, but that's not going to happen.

Really ron...

You've again (as we established in the past) never seen the area they plan to drive those vessels through. They are integral to the feeding and breeding of the Humpback whales as a species. Something that has only had a few years of recovery needs a damn site more than that to be secure in their numbers.

Shipping causes noise causes stress which causes hardship on pods, This in turn leads to irregular breeding habits and so on and so forth.

Nobody is so up their own arse to say that this si just because we want the oilsands shut down. As it can still go viably by rail and truck

For me this is about an assinined attempt for these frigging clowns to save a few hundred million dollars by not rightfully and intelligently running this line to Prince Rupert and the safe port that already exists. Running a few hundred more km's will save less than $200 million but risk so very much in terms of a spill.

Such a stupid idea and on the backs of us taxpayers....people seem to forget that the government on all levels has spent billions upgrading in and around Prince Rupert for over a decade for just this reason. Yet Kitimat is a more attractive option somehow.

Couple that lovely bit of stupidity with the literal pittance BC is being offered and again, this deal is a non starter. Less in over 30 years from this pipeline than fishing brings in to the province in 1 year.

Just not worth it

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Humpback whales are no longer on the endangered species list because they are not endangered. Their population was once near extinction but there are now 80k humpback whales in the ocean.

Does this mean we should reopen the whaling industry? No.

But humpback whales are not going to go extinct because of the Northern Gateway project. It's just more fear mongering from those trying to raise the cost of transporting oil to the point that the tar sands get closed down. Sorry to disappoint, but that's not going to happen.

80 folks ! 80 humpback whales exsist in the wild wooooooohooooooo !!! Now we can lace the west coast with oil refineries and nuclear power plants : D

can you not grasp the concept that the government will do anything for the almighty dollar. Even take an endangered species off the list. Even pass laws to explore for energy resources in Canadian national parks ?

EMrknJP.gif

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80 folks ! 80 humpback whales exsist in the wild wooooooohooooooo !!! Now we can lace the west coast with oil refineries and nuclear power plants : D

EMrknJP.gif

the "k" = thousand. 80,000. not 80

ty for the gif though, always makes me laugh

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I'm no fan of Harper's environmental policy or the Northern Gateway project, but the way this story has been framed has been dishonest. It was the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC), which is an independent scientific body of experts that made the recommendation to change the status. Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the federal government essentially has the ability to give the middle finger to COSEWIC and ignore their recommendation, which is troubling in itself, but in this case, humpbacks are recovering very nicely after hunting pressure was removed and they met the objective criteria to have their status changed. This is not a case of the Harper government strongarming this change through against the recommendations of scientists.

I might get into the specifics of the exact criteria used to determine a species' status and how this worked out in the humpbacks' case when I get home from work.

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I am against the pipeline on basic principle that I own stock in CNRail and transport of oil is one of their core businesses.

See you can be greedy and environmentally concerned at the same time. Good times.

I bought CN stock in Fed 2013. Its up 22% since then. Keep them tanker cars rolling.

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I'm still pissed about Fukushima. So don't worry the whales are being radiated and will probably become super whales.

Radiation does good things for wild life, look at Bikini Atoll and Chernobyl. Both those areas the wild life is absolutely flourishing because people can't go there and frack it all up.

The oceans will be just fine, us on the other hand...

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Really ron...

You've again (as we established in the past) never seen the area they plan to drive those vessels through. They are integral to the feeding and breeding of the Humpback whales as a species. Something that has only had a few years of recovery needs a damn site more than that to be secure in their numbers.

Shipping causes noise causes stress which causes hardship on pods, This in turn leads to irregular breeding habits and so on and so forth.

Nobody is so up their own arse to say that this si just because we want the oilsands shut down. As it can still go viably by rail and truck

For me this is about an assinined attempt for these frigging clowns to save a few hundred million dollars by not rightfully and intelligently running this line to Prince Rupert and the safe port that already exists. Running a few hundred more km's will save less than $200 million but risk so very much in terms of a spill.

Such a stupid idea and on the backs of us taxpayers....people seem to forget that the government on all levels has spent billions upgrading in and around Prince Rupert for over a decade for just this reason. Yet Kitimat is a more attractive option somehow.

Couple that lovely bit of stupidity with the literal pittance BC is being offered and again, this deal is a non starter. Less in over 30 years from this pipeline than fishing brings in to the province in 1 year.

Just not worth it

Humpback whales travel the entire ocean and ships can already go up to Kitimat if they want to.

However, were one of the conditions be that they run it a bit further down the line, it wouldn't be the worst thing ever, though with all the LNG coming and increases in container traffic it's going to get congested in Prince Rupert if we put everything there.

And while I have not been to Kitimat I have been to Prince Rupert.

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lol my bad. Did not see the K never the less I highly doubt that is even close to the level it deserves to be.

80k and rising. About half what it was back in the old days, but way, waaaaaaaaaay much better than near the end of the whaling industry.

I will agree that wales don't like sonar so perhaps we make a rule that you only use gps and try not to detect any subs while in the Douglas channel. Good enough enviro warriors?

Either way, it's happening, so deal with it.

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I'm no fan of Harper's environmental policy or the Northern Gateway project, but the way this story has been framed has been dishonest. It was the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC), which is an independent scientific body of experts that made the recommendation to change the status. Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the federal government essentially has the ability to give the middle finger to COSEWIC and ignore their recommendation, which is troubling in itself, but in this case, humpbacks are recovering very nicely after hunting pressure was removed and they met the objective criteria to have their status changed. This is not a case of the Harper government strongarming this change through against the recommendations of scientists.

I might get into the specifics of the exact criteria used to determine a species' status and how this worked out in the humpbacks' case when I get home from work.

I wouldn't bother science and math are foreign concepts to CDC and the public in general.

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Radiation does good things for wild life, look at Bikini Atoll and Chernobyl. Both those areas the wild life is absolutely flourishing because people can't go there and frack it all up.

The oceans will be just fine, us on the other hand...

Heck, even wars are good for the fish. During WW2 fish populations in the Atlantic went up, even with all the oil spills and explosions and other fun stuff. Why? Because it was so much harder to fish the area what with the grim reality that you might get blown up yourself.

And of course, even with all the barbed wire and stuff, the greater iron curtain became an important wildlife corridor.

So long as we follow principle number one (don't harpoon them) in the short term and over the long term follow principle number two (minimize the amount of crap we toss into the ocean) then the whales will be fine.

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