The toll of tar sands development has been largely hidden hundreds of miles to the North. Canadian forests once provided the last undisturbed refuge in North America for migrating songbirds, ducks and geese, and the vast stretches of wilderness in northern Alberta have been ideal for wild wolves and caribou that have thrived in balance with nations of native Canadians for countless generations. But that was all before oil companies moved in and took control of the Albertan government.
A recent report from the National Wildlife Federation has drawn attention to Canada's plan to poison thousands of wolves in a desperate effort to save caribou decimated by oil development. Recent scientific studies have proved that Canada's Woodland caribou herds are heading toward extinction due to habitat destruction from tar sands and other oil development. Today's Los Angeles Times article sums up the story:
Woodland caribou herds in Canada are declining, and tar sands development is a big part of the reason why. But Canada's national and provincial governments know what do about that: Kill the wolves.
The National Wildlife Federation's biologists have concluded:
Canada's proposed solution to habitat destruction from tar sands development is to destroy the wolves that prey on caribou, instead of protecting their habitat.
Two particularly repugnant methods of destroying wolves -- shooting wolves from helicopters and poisoning wolves with baits laced with strychnine -- would be carried out in response to the caribou declines. Strychnine is a deadly poison known for an excruciating death that progresses painfully from muscle spasms to convulsions to suffocation, over a period of hours. Wildlife officials will place strychnine baits on the ground or spread them from aircraft in areas they know wolves inhabit. In addition to wolves, non-target animals like raptors, wolverines and cougars will be at risk from eating the poisoned baits or scavenging on the deadly carcasses of poisoned wildlife.
Americans have been dragged into this mess via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which would move the thick black crude under 1,700 miles of the U.S. heartland. So now the same oil companies that have ravaged Alberta's wilderness have brought their deep pockets to America to fight President Obama's prudent decision to deny a permit for this massive new tar sands pipeline.
They're running millions of dollars in TV commercials and spending millions more on lobbying. By turning tar sands into a kitchen table issue in the United States, Transcanada has drawn more scrutiny on what is really happening with the massive tar sands expansion than Alberta was prepared for.
This story is gaining a lot of attention and picking up steam and has gone viral, which isn't surprising since National Wildlife Federation is the United States' largest conservation organization with four million supporters. National Wildlife Federation was also a leading voice in the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park -- wolves imported from Canada thanks to the generous cooperation of the Canadian government in the mid-90's.
Wolves aren't the only wildlife impacted by tar sands. Waterfowl that land on the industry's toxic tailing ponds have been killed in the thousands.
You can learn more about tar sands' impacts on wildlife by reading our November NWF magazine story.
We have a voice and a role to play here in the United States. Oil companies have convinced some members of Congress to try to overrule the president's prudent decision on the tar sands pipeline. Let Congress know that America shouldn't reward Alberta's oil industry by reviving Transcanada's tar sands pipeline project. This tar sands pipeline is the oil export gateway that oil companies need to drive a massive expansion of habitat-destroying tar sands operations. And it would amount to an American seal of approval for the strychnine-poisoning of Alberta's wolves.
This post has been modified since its original publication.