Impact of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal on Birds
Each spring more than half of America's birds flock to the Canadian Boreal forest to nest. There, tens of millions of birds -- as many as 500 breeding pairs per square mile of forests, lakes, river valleys, and wetlands -- spend the winter. Yet almost all the biggest oil companies are mining and drilling important Boreal forest and wetlands to access thick, low-grade petroleum. As much as an area the size of Florida is endangered. This December 2008 report from NRDC, The Pembina Institute and the Boreal Songbird Initiative describes how Canada and the United States must protect migratory birds and bird habitat from this new form of high-impact energy development.
Tar sands oil development creates open pit mines, habitat fragmentation, toxic waste holding ponds, air and water pollution, upgraders and refineries, and pipelines spreading far beyond the Boreal forest. This development is destroying habitat for waterfowl and songbirds that come from all over the Americas to nest in the Boreal. Each year between 22 million and 170 million birds breed in the 35 million acres of Boreal forest that could eventually be developed for tar sands oil.
Faced with tar sands development, migrating birds don't just move elsewhere since they depend on a certain type of habitat. Not only do many adult birds die when faced with lost and fragmented habitat and ponds of mining waste, but future generations of birds will have lost their chance to exist.
The rapidly expanding industrial tar sands oil extraction operations increasingly place these birds at risk. Virtually every facet of tar sands oil development has the potential to harm Boreal birds -- many of which are migratory birds that are protected by treaty and national law. Combining the various estimates of the loss of birds from mining and in situ operations, the report projects a cumulative impact over the next 30 to 50 years ranging from a low of about 6 million birds lost to as many as 166 million birds lost.
Tar sands oil development should not be the solution to our fuel needs. Both Canada and the United States have a choice to make between fuels that harm the environment (including damage to critical bird habitat) and clean energy now.
Danger in the Nursery: Impact of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal on Birds. By Jeff Wells, Ph.D., Boreal Songbird Initiative; Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Gabriela Chavarria, Ph.D., NRDC. November 2008. Print version, $7.00. Order print copies.
last revised 11/25/2008