Protecting Caribou, Migratory Birds From Tar Sands

Earthjustice petitions to compel analysis of threat to wildlife

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You can’t get something for nothing—there is always a trade-off, always a catch. In the case of Canada’s tar sands crude oil project, what’s being sacrificed in the name of the United States’ oil addiction are the lives of stoic woodland caribou and majestic whooping cranes.

Earthjustice filed a Pelly petition today with the U.S. Department of the Interior, asking Secretary Ken Salazar to investigate Canada’s destructive tar sands mining and examine how the mining is hampering international efforts to protect endangered and threatened species. The petition documents how tar sands mining and drilling in Alberta is harming threatened woodland caribou and at least 130 migratory bird species, including endangered whooping cranes.

The Pelly petition calls on Salazar to promptly investigate and determine whether tar sands activities are weakening treaties that protect endangered and threatened species. If Salazar’s investigation finds that tar sands activities are weakening those treaties, then he is required to report those conclusions to President Obama. The vast majority of Canada’s tar sands crude is exported to the United States.

Earthjustice is concerned because tar sands activities are destroying critical wildlife habitat in Alberta, and killing birds that land in toxic wastewater pits, mistaking them for freshwater ponds. Endangered whooping cranes are particularly vulnerable to the risk of landing in a tailings pond, as the entire global population of wild, migratory whooping cranes migrates through the tar sands region twice annually.

The caribou herds of the tar sands region have already declined more than 50 percent over their last three generations. Habitat disruption and fragmentation—due in large part to tar sands activities—are the driving forces of the population’s decline.

The species at risk are protected under the Convention on Nature Protection and Wild Life Preservation in the Western Hemisphere, and the Migratory Bird Convention.

Read Press Release: Conservation Groups: Canada’s Tar Sands Extraction Violates International Wildlife Treaties

David Lawlor was a writer in the Development department. His environmental activism stems from an affinity for nature and the deep ecology philosophy espoused by the Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess.

The International Program partners with organizations and communities around the world to establish, strengthen, and enforce national and international legal protections for the environment and public health.