Wild Mustangs, Oil and Gas, and Woodland Caribou

As I perused my latest issue of National Geographic, a passage caught my eye from an article about the wild mustangs of the American West:

Horses will likely be around as long as there are humans to attach themselves to a saddle. What is less sure is whether there will always be enough wild to allow mustangs to run in secure, functional, genetically viable herds. Driving home from the Rock Springs gather, through Pinedale to Jackson, I’d seen acres of the High Plains turned over to oil and gas development, rigs towering out of the frozen sage, the outskirts of towns bristling with man camps and trailer parks for the roughnecks. Oil field traffic hurried out on a web of roads, seeming to skim along on a silver-rimmed mirage. Roadkill, mostly pronghorn and mule deer, lay bleaching on the verges in unprecedented numbers.

Until maybe 20 years ago there used to be a herd of wild horses out here too, kicking around the edges of town in the spring and getting rounded up periodically by local ranchers. No one I spoke to could remember the exact moment they disappeared. (full article)

As in the western states, so too in Canada’s boreal forest region competing interests exist in constant tension: tar sands developers and other energy providers seek to meet our (and our southern neighbour’s) seemingly unending energy demands, common as well as endangered species seek open range to sustain their populations, and all of us need healthy ecosystems to provide irreplaceable services such as clean water, air, and soil.

With so many competing interests, and so much at stake — huge financial investments, species extinctions, healthy environments — it’s essential that large, precedent-setting developments, such as the Mackenzie Gas Project or drilling inside Suffield Wildlife Area, proceed only if each of these competing interests can be addressed. It’s not enough to say that a project will provide jobs, or open new markets; if the cost is extinction for some species and a degraded environment for all, then the costs are too high.

As I read about the oil and gas leases gobbling up the open range of the mustangs, I wondered, is this what is in store — indeed already happening — to species such as the woodland caribou? And will we remember the exact moment when the caribou’s fate was sealed?