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NEB approves Mackenzie Gas Project with over 200 conditions
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NEB approves Mackenzie Gas Project with over 200 conditions

The National Energy Board (NEB) has approved the Mackenzie Gas Project, with over 200 conditions. The Board finds that the project, with the conditions, is in the public interest. Nature Canada was an intervener in the Environmental Assessment of the Mackenzie Gas Project because there was so much at stake. The Mackenzie River is Canada’s wildest big river flowing unfettered for 1,800 kilometres through globally important forests and tundra teeming with wildlife, and important breeding and staging areas for millions of geese, tundra swans and other migratory birds. This mega-project would trigger the transformation of the Mackenzie Valley from largely intact wilderness to a petro-industrial landscape. Nature Canada will be studying the NEB decision in detail to assess whether or not the 200 conditions are sufficient to meet our concerns. The NEB says it has accepted all of the Environmental Assessment Panel recommendations directed at the NEB (about 60 or so we think), as modified and agreed to by both Panel and NEB. We remain deeply concerned that the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories have already rejected in practice many of the Panel recommendations in their final response on November 15.

  • The Environmental Assessment Panel who studied the project extensively warned against approving the project without implementing all of its recommendations. The panel said: “In that event, the opportunity for the Project to provide a foundation for a sustainable northern future would be lost.”
  • The governments of Canada and the Northwest territories accepted fewer than 10% of the Panel’s recommendations to government (11 of 115).
  • Nature Canada advised the NEB that the project could not be in the public interest if it were unsustainable because of the governments’ refusal to commit to the Panel’s conditions.
The process behind this decision underscores the value that Environmental Assessment can add to making sensible decisions, if recommendations are followed.
  • The Environmental Assessment and NEB processes were the only opportunity for public input into this monumental public policy decision.
  • Both the Environmental Assessment Panel and the National Energy Board did a good job of providing an opportunity for public input. In contrast the Governments’ tried to make deals behind closed doors.
  • The EA Panel also did a great job incorporating public input into its recommendations. We are now studying the NEB report to see whether the same can be said of the NEB.
Stay tuned for more analysis from Nature Canada as we comb through all the details in the NEB'S 50 megabyte report.

Time to Say NO to the Mackenzie Gas Project
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Time to Say NO to the Mackenzie Gas Project

The time has come for the National Energy Board (NEB) to reject the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP).A decision by the NEB on the proposed $16 billion megaproject is expected in the coming weeks. The Joint Review Panel (JRP) that exhaustively reviewed the social and environmental impacts of the proposed project made 176 recommendations for approving the project so that it could provide a foundation for the sustainable development of the North. The Governments of Canada and Northwest Territories, even as they claim to accept the majority of the JRP’s recommendations, are in fact rejecting the JRP’s framework for implementing the project sustainably. In their final response, the Governments’ have only accepted 11 of the 115 recommendations directed to them by the JRP and in most cases, they have not addressed the JRP’s objections to the Governments’ proposal for changing the JRP recommendations. (Actually, despite a JRP call for transparency, the interim governments’ response was never made public and the Panel’s response to it was only available on Environment Canada’s website for a limited period of time before being taken down.) The Panel concluded that “in the absence of implementation of its Recommendations, and in particular those Recommendations directed to the Governments, the adverse impacts of the Project could be significant and its contribution towards sustainability could be negative. In that event, the opportunity for the Project to provide a foundation for a sustainable northern future would be lost.” (Emphasis in the original.) As we said to the NEB in our 22 November 2010 letter, proceeding with the project without implementing the recommendations of the JRP would compromise a sustainable future for the North. Therefore the project is not in the public interest and the NEB must reject it. On December 1, 2010 Nature Canada wrote again to the NEB to bring to their attention a recent event that illuminates what the governments’ claims to accept “the intent” of a recommendation might actually mean: Panel recommendation 11-2 calls for providing areas identified as of high conservation value through the NWT Protected Areas Strategy with interim protection until permanent protection is achieved. The governments accepted “the intent” of this recommendation. How is the Canadian government following through? On October 28, 2010 the government failed to renew crucial interim subsurface protections that had been in place for over eight years on the land beneath Edéhzhíe, leaving the area open to mining claims. Edéhzhíe is one of the most revered sites of the Dehcho and Tłicho Dene communities around western Great Slave Lake, and a candidate National Wildlife Area identified through the NWT Protected Areas Strategy (Step 5) and sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Service. This is one of 77 important recommendations for which the governments claim to “accept the intent”. Ten recommendations that are key for the sustainability of the project were rejected. Sustainability should be the guiding principle for this basin-opening project. It won't be. The NEB should reject the MGP.

Petition to Protect Canada’s Biodiversity
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Petition to Protect Canada’s Biodiversity

Nature Canada would like to thank all those who signed our letter asking the Canadian government to take action to conserve Canada's biodiversity during the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). The petition letter, having 1,840 signatures, has been sent to PM Stephen Harper, Environment Minister John Baird and the environment critics from each of the opposition parties, urging them to take the following five actions: • Protect at least 50 per cent of Canada's Boreal Forest; • Protect Canada's endangered wildlife by effectively implementing the Species at Risk Act; • Save one of Canada's greatest grasslands treasures and the wildlife that live there. Close the door on further industrial development within Alberta's Suffield National Wildlife Area; • Declare a moratorium on new tar sands expansion until environmental and human health issues have been fully addressed; and • Commit to environmentally sustainable development in Canada's North. Demand that the Mackenzie Gas Project proceed only if it does not negatively impact the region's people and wildlife. If you would like to celebrate the IYB, here are five things you can do: • Do your part to use nature’s resources wisely and conserve energy at home and work. • Support native birds and butterflies by planting gardens and placing feeders around your home. • Learn ten new things about nature in your region, and share what you know with ten other people. • Read at least one book or watch one movie this year about biodiversity, nature, or the environment. • Participate in at least one outdoor expedition, such as a bird watching trip, to connect with nature. Once again, thank you all for your efforts and continuous support. In 2010, we remember that biodiversity is life. Biodiversity is our life.

Governments Reject a Sustainable Approach for the Mackenzie Gas Project
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Governments Reject a Sustainable Approach for the Mackenzie Gas Project

This week, the Governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories released their final response to the environmental assessment of the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project.
Nature Canada is gravely concerned that, despite claiming they have accepted most of the recommendations, the Governments have accepted only 11 of the 115 recommendations to government from the Joint Review Panel that studied the environmental impacts of the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project.
The governments' response plainly dismisses the principles of sustainable development by rejecting recommendations on the grounds that they would constrain development. The governments’ refusal to commit to implementing all of the Panel’s recommendations creates the unsustainable conditions that the Panel warned about in an October 4 letter. “The Panel has concluded that, in the absence of implementation of its Recommendations, and in particular those Recommendations directed to the Governments, the adverse impacts of the Project could be significant and its contribution towards sustainability could be negative. In that event, the opportunity for the Project to provide a foundation for a sustainable northern future would be lost.”
Nature Canada is deeply concerned about the devastation that could be unleashed on important wildlife areas across the Northwest Territories as a result of the Government’s aggressive stance against the Panel recommendations. We are now studying the government response in more detail and will comment again soon. The National Energy Board is due to make a final decision on the project, likely before Christmas.

Do Canadians want protected ‘National Mining Areas’ instead of National Wildlife Areas?
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Do Canadians want protected ‘National Mining Areas’ instead of National Wildlife Areas?

On Friday, October 29th, the federal government made an unexpected decision to permit mineral exploration in a highly anticipated protected area in the NWT. The 14,250 km-squared area west of Great Slave Lake is called Edéhzhíe (Horn Plateau) and is slated to soon become a National Wildlife Area (NWA). Perhaps the federal government instead wishes to designate a protected National Mining Area... Edéhzhíe is both culturally and ecologically significant for the Dehcho and Tłįcho peoples, and is enshrined in Dene tradition and spirituality. The Horn Plateau is an important wetland stop-over along the Central and Mississippi migratory flyways, and is not surprisingly home to the Mills Lake Important Bird Area (IBA), known for globally significant numbers of Tundra Swan and other waterfowl, and continentally significant numbers of Greater White-fronted Goose. Edéhzhíe also provides habitats for several ‘at-risk’ species including boreal woodland caribou, wood bison and wolverine. It is known as a “food basket” in times of need within surrounding Mackenzie Valley communities. Despite its rich natural and cultural heritage, Friday’s decision marks a significant policy reversal - one that opens up Edéhzhíe’s subsurface to mining and oil & gas industry interests. This ultimately poses a threat to the ecological integrity of important lakes and wetlands and boreal forest habitats in this region. This surprising decision overturns a formal request by the Grand Chiefs of the Dehcho First Nation and Tłįchǫ Government that Environment Minister Jim Prentice designate the Edéhzhíe NWA and permanently protect the subsurface lands beneath it. Friday’s decision also ignores recommendations for the same surface/subsurface protections made in a 2009 report by the Edéhzhíe Candidate Protected Area Working Group. That Working Group consulted widely with stakeholders on options for the area, as part of the multi-stakeholder NWT Protected Areas Strategy. The 2009 report was submitted to the Dehcho First Nation, the Tłįchǫ Government and Environment Canada, the federal department responsible for establishing and overseeing NWAs. Nature Canada is very disappointed with the federal government’s decision on Edéhzhíe, which was made just two days before interim government protections on both the surface and subsurface lands of Edéhzhíe were about to expire - after more than a decade of being retained. The decision was recommended by Minister John Duncan of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC; PC number 2010-1360), the federal department holding significant jurisdiction over resource management and social and economic development north of 60°. It should be noted that Minister Duncan's decision on Edéhzhíe was made indirectly: he recommended that only surface land withdrawals be 'renewed' for the area, instead of rights to both surface and subsurface lands. It's easy to get lost in the details. It's worth noting here that in 2009 the Edéhzhíe Working Group recommended a final boundary for the NWA that was 57% of the original 25,000 km-squared study area. The excluded portions represent most of the areas of significant lead/zinc and gas potential within the study area. A 2009 mining industry newsletter laments that even this reduced boundary is too restrictive and prevents the industry from understanding the “true resource potential” of the area, particularly that of diamonds. Interestingly, the 2008 socio-economic assessment of the Edéhzhíe Candidate Protected Area, done by AMEC consultants for INAC, suggests it would be 10-20 years before any non-renewable resource developments could be operational in the area. Nature Canada's disappointment in the government's Edéhzhíe decision stems from three points: First, there are clear legislative options to protect both the surface and subsurface lands of Edéhzhíe through an NWA designation combined with an Order in Council (under the Territorial Lands Act). This is what many conservation groups and the Dehcho First Nation and Tłįchǫ Government want. The Canada Wildlife Act gives the Minister of Environment authority to establish and manage NWAs across Canada, but does not protect subsurface lands beneath those NWAs. This is a serious weakness of the Act and currently makes NWAs the ‘poor cousins’ of more strictly protected areas like National Parks. Minister Duncan’s inaction with respect to protecting Edéhzhíe's subsurface suggests that INAC is not willing to support options that respect the wishes of key stakeholders. More importantly, this surprising situation suggests that INAC is not comfortable communicating its true intent to stakeholders of the Edéhzhíe NWA. Second, this decision has very serious implications for the entire network of 54 NWAs across Canada. This is the first time the federal government has 'opened' a proposed or existing NWA to industrial development. It sends a clear message that NWAs are not off-limits to subsurface resource extraction, regardless of what local stakeholders, First Nations governments and Canadians say about how these areas should be managed and safeguarded over time. While Nature Canada awaits the federal government’s final decision on Cenovus’s proposal to drill 1,275 gas wells inside the CFB Suffield NWA, we are dismayed that the writing may already be on the wall. This is even more concerning given the presence of nationally endangered species in the grasslands of Suffield NWA. Friday’s decision also raises important questions about national parks that are potentially threatened by resource extraction within or just beyond their borders, such as the recently announced Sable Island National Park or the proposed Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve. Third, we expected the federal government to respect the wishes of First Nations governments and the 2009 recommendations of the Edéhzhíe Working Group. We now question the government’s commitment to listen to First Nations and Aboriginal organizations and other stakeholders during future NWA designations through the NWT Protected Areas Strategy. This is particularly worrisome given that local communities in the NWT have shown support for subsurface protection in other candidate NWAs. While Friday’s decision opens the Horn Plateau’s subsurface to mining activity, interim protections on Edéhzhíe’s surface lands have been renewed until October 31, 2012. Please check back to follow Nature Canada's unfolding response to this story. The NWT Protected Area Strategy hosts an on-line album of Edéhzhíe photos you can view here. Photo 1: Mackenzie Valley, Jeff Wells Photo 2: Boreal Chickadee, Jeff Nadler Photo 3: Migrating Snow Geese, Stewart Marshall, Flickr

Looking Deeper Into Fish Lake
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Looking Deeper Into Fish Lake

Grizzly bears are one of the species identified by the Prosperity Review Panel that would be adversely affected by development at Fish Lake.
 
The government of Canada made a good decision earlier this week when it turned down a proposal for an excessively damaging mine at Fish Lake, British Columbia. Nature Canada congratulated Environment minister Jim Prentice for respecting the conclusions of the federal environmental assessment of the project, and for respecting the will of First Nations about land use in their territory. Looking deeper into the context of that decision reveals some important insights and implications.
Environmental assessment works While the process of environmental assessment may seem mysterious from a distance, Nature Canada has been up close and personal with it many times over the years and we are convinced it works. Environmental assessment allows independent panels to consider expert testimony, reach conclusions about the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project, and identify mitigation measures that could limit the damage. The resulting recommendation to the government (and it is only a recommendation) can range from approval of the project, to approval on the condition that certain mitigation measures be required, to rejection of the project as proposed. Politics happens The government must then decide whether or not to accept the recommendations about the studied project, and this is where the hard facts of environmental assessment meet the vagaries of politics. The government can follow the recommendations completely, partially, or not at all. But thanks to the public nature of the assessment process, we the citizens know whether or not our government is approving projects that destroy our environment. This is where the vagaries of politics meet accountability to the voters. In the case of Fish Lake, Minister Prentice deserves credit for doing the right thing for Canada, despite pressure from within his own caucus to do otherwise. More to come Nature Canada is very engaged in two other environmental assessments that are awaiting a response from the federal government: proposed gas drilling in the Suffield National Wildlife Area, and the proposed Mackenzie gas project. In the case of the Suffield NWA, the environmental assessment report concludes that the proposal to drill 1,275 gas wells would interfere with the purpose of the National Wildlife Area. It also recommends that the government complete overdue work to identify the critical habitat of species at risk, and take other conservation action even if the project does not proceed. We are hopeful that Minister Prentice will accept all of this panel's recommendations too, reject the gas drilling project, and take other actions to better protect the national wildlife area. In the case of the Mackenzie gas project, the federal government has been accused of attempting to secretly make the panel rewrite some of its recommendations. This suggests a lack of appreciation for a key feature upon which citizens depend: the independence of environmental assessment panels. We congratulate the panel for standing up for the their independence in the interest of Canada. We hope Minister Prentice will show leadership and convince his cabinet colleagues to accept the panel's report. You can help us encourage the government to stop the Mackenzie Gas Project and to instead establish protected areas in the Mackenzie Region that will be safe from development. Changing the rules Parliament will soon be undertaking a review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. There is cause for concern, since the government already used the budget bill to weaken the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act earlier this year. You can be certain that Nature Canada will be working to ensure the review results in a stronger act, not a weaker one. Back to the lake(s) The decision about Fish Lake is a good news story, and we hope it does not go down in history as a rare exception. A loophole in the law that protects fish habitat, the Fisheries Act, allows the government to exclude some lakes from the protections of the act and let mining companies use lakes as dumps for toxic mining waste. A handful of lakes has been targeted so far, including Fish Lake in BC and Sandy Pond in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are concerned that this loophole threatens pristine lakes across Canada. Now that Fish Lake has been spared, it's time to take action on the others.

Canada’s Sahtu Region: Conserving the Land and Waters of the North
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Canada’s Sahtu Region: Conserving the Land and Waters of the North

 

Migrating Snow Geese by Stewart Marshall (via Flickr)
A land use plan for the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories has entered into its third draft, and with it comes hopes that important cultural and ecological zones will be protected before major industrial development begins. In comments issued last month, Nature Canada recommended that several ecologically significant spaces, including three Important Bird Areas, be given special status as Conservation Zones. The need to establish protected areas in the Northwest Territories is all the more important as communities there prepare for the possible advent of the Mackenzie Gas Project – one of the largest, most disruptive projects ever considered in Canada's north. Important Bird Areas in the Sahtu Region The Northwest Territories contains 17 Important Bird Areas, three of which are located inside the Sahtu Settlement Area: Lower Mackenzie River Islands IBA, Middle Mackenzie River Islands IBA, and Brackett Lake IBA. All three IBAs are currently designated as special management zones, and Nature Canada has recommended they be redesignated as conservation zones in the land use plan. These IBAs represent important breeding habitat for significant concentrations of several species that could currently be left vulnerable to disturbance from development. The Lower Mackenzie River Islands IBA is a major stopover along the Western Central Flyway, hosting as many as 112,800 waterfowl and about half a million snow geese in spring. The Middle Mackenzie River Islands IBA is visited by birds such as the Great White-fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Tundra Swans, as well as many duck species during annual spring migrations. Up to six percent of the global population of Snow Geese congregates here. Brackett Lake IBA provides excellent breeding habitat for ducks and is used by roughly two percent of the Canadian White-fronted Goose population. Edaííla and Colville Lake Edaííla, also known as Caribou Point, is a very important area for the people of Déline, and the NWT as a whole. The area rests on a massive 8,700 square kilometre headland that divides the east side of Great Bear Lake and is a key site during the annual migration of the Bluenose-East herd of barren-ground caribou. The area holds critical cultural and ecological significance for the people of Délįne and other NWT and Nunavut communities and represents important caribou and fish habitats in the region. In fact, Edaííla encompasses the entire Grandin Plains ecoregion, spanning boreal forest, boreal transition and tundra habitat types. There has long been substantial community interest in permanently protecting both the surface and subsurface areas of Edaííla. In fact, the people of Déline endorsed a failed proposal to designate Edaííla as a National Wildlife Area (NWA). Nature Canada has strongly recommend that Edaííla, in its entirety, be listed as a conservation zone to safeguard the ecological and cultural richness of the area for future generations, while ensuring that proposals to amend the Plan over time will not jeopardize the area. Nature Canada has also recommended that the Colville Hills area, home to the community of Colville Lake and approximately 120 km northeast of Fort Good Hope, NWT, be designated a conservation zone, given that the region offers critical breeding habitat for a significant number of ducks. The completion of a land use plan will give Sahtu residents a tool to balance cultural, economic and environmental interests – before major industrial activity begins. The plan will take effect upon approval by the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada.  

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