WATCH: After a difficult year for the chucks at the Calgary Stampede, one chuckwagon driver is sharing his perspective on a safety review into the deaths of six horses and the future of the sport.
Jordie Fike and his team of thoroughbreds are back home for some rest after a tough year for the GMC Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede.
“The chuckwagon community is still mourning,” Fike said. “We lost family members. It hurts.”
Six horses died over 10 days in incidents related to the chuckwagon races, compared to no deaths at in at least three other circuit stops this year.
Fike isn’t sure why that’s the case, but he acknowledged that for drivers, the stakes are very high at Stampede.
He hopes to share a competitor’s perspective on the Stampede’s safety review.
“Our sport has evolved a long way. If it needs more in the name of horse safety, the drivers are all for it,” Fike, a fourth-generation driver, said. “During a race, if you feel something is wrong, you just do your best to save your animals.
It’s a view shared by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the national body representing Canada’s veterinarians.
“Thoroughbreds are very much bred to race,” CVMA council member Dr. Trevor Lawson said from the group’s annual conference in Toronto. “However, any animal put in a situation that maybe doesn’t provide ideal conditions could provide risk. Many thoroughbreds race uneventfully without harm.”
The CVMA accepts the humane use of animals in competition and sport, according to its official position statement.
“Risk of injury, suffering, illness, and distress must be mitigated during training, sport and competition and every opportunity must be provided for the expression of normal behaviour in the rest periods between training, sporting, and competition events,” part of the statement reads.
Climate change is no longer theoretical. It’s in our backyard.
Here are four snapshots of this new reality — and what we’re doing about it.
The only thing I’m thinking is my mama burning alive, and she’ll be crying out my name.
When John Bino learned that a wildfire was closing in on his home in Fort McMurray’s Abasand neighbourhood on May 3, 2016, he was at work — one and a half hours away.
John Bino holds up the framed number of his house in Fort McMurray.
John Bino holds up the framed number of his house in Fort McMurray, which burned to the ground in the 2016 wildfire. (Craig Chivers/CBC)
He called home and told his wife, Jenny Solidum, to gather their two young boys and go to a friend’s place in nearby Timberlea. In the meantime, Bino would drive back to the house to retrieve his 76-year-old mother, who was visiting from India. She was a polio survivor and too heavy for his wife to lift.
But by the time he arrived at home, police had barricaded the road. Bino pleaded with them to let him through.
“I said, ‘My mom, she’s handicapped, she cannot move. She doesn’t speak the language. She’s stuck. She has no idea what’s happening. We need to rescue her and the door is locked.'”
Police assured him his mother would be rescued and told him to go. Bino waited hours at a nearby evacuation centre. But Solidum kept calling him, in a panic, as the fire approached Timberlea.
“I had to make a decision, right? To take care of my wife and kids or to take care of my mom.” Bino decided to rejoin his family. But as they fled north from evacuation centre to evacuation centre and eventually onto a flight to Calgary, Bino made frantic phone calls to 911 and the Red Cross. No one knew anything about his mother’s whereabouts.
Bino tried not to dwell on reports that Abasand was burning. “The only thing I’m thinking is my mama burning alive, and she’ll be crying out my name.”
Two days after being forced to abandon his home, Bino got a surprise phone call. A doctor at Leduc Community Hospital, just outside Edmonton, asked if he knew someone named Salimma Michael, who had been airlifted to safety.
“I was so relieved, my knees were shaking,” Bino said. The family rushed to Edmonton, and arrived at the hospital to visit Michael the next morning.
When Bino and Solidum bought the house in Abasand back in 2014, they loved the fact that the neighbourhood was on a hill surrounded by forest. “The trails were great. And it was peaceful and quiet,” Bino said. “No one ever mentioned [anything] about forest fires being a risk.”
Infographic showing the number of hectares burned by wildfires each year across Canada. Source: National Forestry Database
There has been a “significant increase” in the area burned by wildfires each year across Canada, Environment Canada reports. On average, wildfires in Canada have been burning 2.5 million hectares a year (nearly half the area of Nova Scotia) — double the 1970s average. B.C. and Alberta have been bearing the brunt of that increase.
Source: National Forestry Database
Climate change has increased the risk of major wildfires by extending the fire season by several weeks and generating hotter, drier conditions that support more extreme, fast-burning fires. The Fort McMurray fire in 2016, nicknamed “The Beast,” led to the largest wildfire evacuation in Canadian history. By the time it was extinguished that August, the fire had destroyed 6,000 square kilometres and caused $3.8 billion in insured damage alone.
When Bino and Solidum finally returned to the house, it was among 2,400 buildings that had burned to the ground. Almost everything the family owned was gone — from their children’s first locks of hair to a medal of valour Bino’s late father had received from the Indian navy.
The events of those few, intense days changed Bino’s perspective. “You know, we got our mom back. So to hell with the stuff, right?” But their struggles weren’t over. Solidum was so traumatized by the event, and the guilt of leaving Bino’s mother behind, that for more than a year, she became shell-shocked and unresponsive whenever she heard sirens or saw flashing lights.
Ashy remains of Bino’s neighbourhood after the wildfire had been extinguished.
This photo of the Abasand neighbourhood after the fire was taken by John Bino’s neighbour, Peter Fortna, when residents were allowed to return and look for belongings that may have survived. (Peter Fortna)
Bino also suffered. He was laid off from his engineering job, and once the family had settled in Edmonton, he got a position that required a five-hour commute back to Fort McMurray. Bino ended up quitting that job to care for his mother, but the situation eventually became untenable, and he was forced to send his mother back to India.
In spite of the trauma, Bino said the whole experience left him with a deep sense of gratitude for his family’s safety and care.
“The government, people — everybody was so helpful. It was amazing. It was like … how do people care about each other so damn much here?”
Adapting to wildfires
Climate change is the biggest and most significant factor behind the increase in wildfire risk and damage, said Laura Stewart, president of Firesmart Canada, which provides tools to communities to reduce the risks and impacts of wildfires.
But the development of industry and housing in forested or grassland areas also plays a role — as illustrated by Fort McMurray’s Abasand neighbourhood, which is surrounded by boreal forest.
Boreal forests contain trees like jack pine and lodgepole pine, whose seed cones only open when exposed to heat, and are reliant on wildfires to regenerate.
Natural Resources Canada estimates the cost of managing wildfires has been rising about $120 million per decade since 1970, to an annual cost of up to $1 billion in recent years.
Governments and communities can reduce the risks and impacts of wildfires by:
Imposing fire bans or even forest closures to shut down industrial operations when the risk of fires is high.
Thinning or removing conifer trees in surrounding communities to reduce the risk of crown fires, which spread from treetop to treetop, and are the most intense and dangerous wildland fires.
Creating fire breaks around communities, such as golf courses and soccer fields.
Burying power lines to eliminate the risk of them starting fires (as happened in California in 2018).
Deep in the ocean west of British Columbia, salmon eat fish and plankton before they head inland to spawn. Well-fed enough to make it upriver, they swim back toward the coast and past the islands of Haida Gwaii, where the area’s indigenous population fishes them.
That’s how it was for decades. But in the 2000s, fish populations were declining, and unemployment among the Haida was high.
Enter an eccentric San Francisco-based entrepreneur named Russ George. He had spent much of his career bouncing between ambitious environmental projects: cold fusion, reforestation, and, most recently at the time, a startup called Planktos, which focused on something called “ocean restoration.”
In 2011, George told the Haida residents of the village of Old Massett that he could bring back the salmon. The plan? To drop a hundred tons of iron dust in the middle of the ocean, a few hundred nautical miles west of the islands. The method had been tried before, but George was attempting it at a larger scale.
His theory: that the iron would trigger an algae bloom about the size of Jamaica over the course of the following weeks. The salmon would feed on the algae (and the smaller fish it attracted). And the uneaten algae would take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then sink to the ocean floor when it died off, essentially “capturing” carbon at the bottom of the sea. They’d fight climate change and restore their fisheries at the same time.
With the Haida’s blessing (and money from their economic development fund), George and his crew of 11 ventured into the cold waters of the Pacific in July 2012. The ship, the Ocean Pearl, was outfitted with state-of-the-art oceanographic equipment borrowed from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and with 100 tons of iron sulfate in a fine greenish-brown dust.
The ship zigzagged slowly across the target patch of ocean. The iron, mixed into an acidic slurry, got dumped — and that’s when the trouble began for George. Upon his return to land, he was accused of violating international law. The agencies whose equipment he’d borrowed renounced him, claiming they hadn’t known what he was really up to. Canada investigated him for illegal dumping.
“The story was that I was an independent and rogue geoengineer,” George told me this spring. “The facts prove that those are utter lies.”
Seven years later, George’s venture into the Pacific has become a flashpoint in the growing debate over the possibilities and limits of technology and unilateral action to fight climate change.
George points out that, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the year after his venture saw a record salmon harvest. He also insists that the data he was collecting would have demonstrated that he had succeeded in removing carbon, if the Canadian government hadn’t seized it for an investigation.
But environmentalist groups saw things differently, accusing George of illegal dumping and of being a dangerous distraction to better climate mitigation efforts. Experts say the salmon boom is hard to attribute to George’s actions, and the carbon benefits unproven. And in George’s broader ambitions to curb climate change unilaterally, they saw something frightening — the dawn of the age in which actors take matters into their own hands and attempt to solve the climate crisis themselves.
“What would the world do if someone were to decide to go ahead and undertake unilateral action?” Janos Pasztor, the executive director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, asked me.
In a recent paper, Pasztor warned of a “chaotic and dangerous future” where “a single country, a large company or indeed a wealthy individual might take unilateral action on climate geoengineering” — perhaps injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, which would change the climate a lot faster than any ocean dumping ever could.
What happens when some individual or country wants to go big in the battle against climate change without buy-in from their neighbors? Could a country unilaterally pursue climate solutions that, unlike ocean iron dumping, pose substantial risks?
The first time we were confronted with this dilemma in the form of George’s voyage, it was a mostly harmless small-scale experiment. We may not be so lucky with future attempts.
Geoengineering refers to deliberate, typically large-scale intervention in the Earth’s ecosystems to slow or reverse climate change. These proposals commonly fall into two camps. In the first camp is solar geoengineering: to cool the planet by, say, imitating the cooling atmospheric effects of a supervolcano via releasing chemicals into the upper atmosphere.
The second set of proposals involves the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, often via alteration of Earth’s ecosystems to use — and keep — more carbon.
The two strategies are very different, and the term “geoengineering” is sometimes wielded to misleadingly conflate them. But there are important similarities. Both of them might be necessary parts of the climate solution. Both of them can also affect the whole world — but don’t require worldwide buy-in to pull off.
While George’s stunt raises the specter of one form of disaster — zealots or billionaires trying to take the climate into their own hands — many experts think the more plausible scenarios involve nation-states, perhaps driven to desperation by a rapidly changing world.
“As effects intensify, the propensity toward unilateral action will grow stronger,” Florian Rabitz, a political scientist at Kaunas University of Technology, told me. His paper “Going rogue? Scenarios for unilateral geoengineering” explores the plausibility of “rogue rich guy” scenarios as well as geopolitical ones.
While he thinks it’d be easy to shut down future individual actors before they do too much damage, major nation-states could move ahead with a project and leave their neighbors few alternatives but war. “We have countries with serious climate risks, like China, where a lot of the climate centers are in coastal regions. India, similar story,” he told me. “If one of those countries decided to go unilateral, there’s a lot of scope for conflict.”
But while the urgency over geoengineering has been mounting, international policy hasn’t really kept up. And that’s why George’s 2012 excursion was seen as a harbinger of future trouble.
Iron dust in the oceans
The idea George pitched to the Haida villagers was simple. Large areas of the ocean have sunlight but little plant life. There aren’t enough nutrients for many plants to grow there, and things that feed on them can’t grow there either.
Some scientists, starting with oceanographer John Martin in 1990, have argued that the missing ingredient is iron, which would greatly enhance ocean plants’ ability to make use of the rest of the nutrients in the ocean. More plants would lead to more salmon.
Martin once declared: “Give me a half tanker of iron, and I will give you an ice age.”Research has proven to be more equivocal. A large-scale iron fertilization experiment in 2000 was unable to detect any significant carbon uptake, leading some to argue that iron fertilization won’t work; a review in 2008 of such research argued that most early studies were poorly designed and wouldn’t have observed carbon capture even if substantial carbon capture occurred.
The 2012 foray wasn’t even George’s first attempt at rolling back global warming with an ocean dump. In 2007, he had planned a similar project winding around much of the Pacific, hoping to dump up to 100 tons of iron into the water.
But the plan was scuttled amid outrage from regulators and scientific andenvironmental groups. ETC Group, an advocacy organization focused on environmental issues, issued a press releasecondemning George titled “Geoengineers to Foul Galápagos Seas.” (George and Planktos had been trying to avoid the “geoengineering” label — they prefer “ocean restoration.”) “Climate change should be tackled by reducing emissions, not by altering ocean ecosystems,” Dr. Paul Johnston, head of Greenpeace International’s science unit, said in the ETC Group press release.
Recounting the experience years later, George remains embittered by what he sees as unfair treatment by the media and advocacy groups.
“There was this maelstrom of anti-Planktos, anti-Russ George, anti-ocean restoration publicity,” he told me. He seethed at what he saw as inaccurate claims by critics, including allegations that he’d be dumping near protected areas and their representation of the scientific consensus as having settled that ocean iron fertilization could never work.
“They knew full well that was an utter lie,” he added. (Greenpeace, responding to George’s charge, stands by Johnston’s assessment at the time.)
But that failure did not stop George. One of the dumping grounds he’d been considering for subsequent excursions, if the 2008 voyage had gone better, had been a location off the coast of British Columbia. And he had contacts: In 2004, running a reforestation community, he’d worked with Old Massett’s economic development officer John Disney.
“He told us he was the world’s leading expert on OIF [ocean iron fertilization],” Disney told an interviewer in 2017. Disney, in turn, pitched the plan to locals as a route to financial independence. “Old Massett is controlled by the outside world,” hetold residents at these meetings. “You need to create your own wealth to govern yourselves.”
With funding and backing from Old Massett’s community, plus oceanographic equipment borrowed from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to measure the results, the Ocean Pearl set off.
“It worked like a charm,” George told me. “We put 100 tons of rock dust into 10,000 square kilometers. And that area of ocean swirled and mixed and the ocean bloomed immediately. Fish arrived by the tens of thousands, whales arrived by the hundreds.” (Satellite imagery confirmed the magnitude of the algae bloom.)
George argues that the project succeeded at capturing carbon too. There’s no available evidence to back him up — it’s exceptionally difficult to measure the carbon captured by experiments like these, and the results from more carefully controlled experiments are not promising.
It wasn’t until a few months after George’s experiment that the word got out, with a report in the Guardian raising outrage worldwide. Environmentalists worried that experiments like these could trigger ecological catastrophes. “Ministers of the government of Canada stood up inside Parliament and called me a criminal,” George laments.
Initial reporting suggested that George might have broken international law. But no law clearly applies, environmental law analysts point out, and the real situation is in some ways even worse — George probablydidn’t break international law, mostly because international law is profoundly unequipped to deal with rogue actors.
In 2008, in response to George’s first experiment, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted resolutions frowning on ocean fertilization and geoengineering. The signatories — Canada among them — agreed to “ensure … that no climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place” until there is an “adequate” scientific basis for them or unlessthey’re small-scale and for the sole purpose of research.
But “it doesn’t have any legal teeth,” Andy Parker, who studies governance for solar geoengineering at the University of Bristol, told me. It’s not clear whom enforcement would fall to or what forms it could take. It’s not clear how disputes are resolved.
Indeed, here are some questions that international law leaves unanswered: If one country undertakes a project that harms their neighbors, can their neighbors demand it stop? Demand compensation? Whose buy-in is needed to embark on a large project?
UCLA environmental law professor Ted Parson told me that these discussions are mired in the same inaction that characterizes international climate negotiations generally. Until we fix that, he argued, George’s project — and other interventions like it — “exist in a near legal vacuum.”
Researchers have conducted extremely small-scale tests of solar engineering, as well as continuing to explore ocean fertilization. These ideas have graduated from fringe proposals to ones seriously contemplated in the IPCC’s most recent report on the state of options for managing climate change.
So geoengineering is being taken more seriously as part of the response to climate change — but geoengineering governance remains stalled at, basically, nothing.
That opens us up to trouble. One 2018 paper outlined one (deeply unlikely) nightmare scenario: some desperate anti-climate change group calling on individuals to release heat-reflecting particles in weather balloons — which would be a chaotic, uncontrolled way to do solar geoengineering. A former United Nations climate official has warned of a different kind of nightmare scenario, “where a country decides to do geoengineering and another country decides to do counter-geoengineering” — escalating tensions and maybe provoking a war.
“At some point,” Rabitz told me, “we might stumble into geoengineering when it turns out that climate change is worse than we thought, and some government might rush into a geoengineering scheme without governance measures in place.”
When Russ George dumped iron filings in the ocean, the world was outraged, critics issued condemnations, and experts talked soberly about the potential for disaster. But we failed — as we have on climate change in general — to build any kind of international consensus about a solution.
In the meantime, we live in a world where anyone can dump iron into the oceans, and where local, commercial, and national actors might move ahead with larger-scale interventions as climate change worsens. Recent papers have outlined new ways that individuals could DIY-engineer our planet out of the climate crisis — or at least try, with uncertain consequences. Are we more prepared for that than we were in 2012? Not really.
Russ George, for his part, considers himself vindicated, and told me he’s continuing to work. In his last email to me, he signed off: “The greatest threat to the environment is waiting for someone else to save it.”
There are 65 species of plants and animals living in the Credit River watershed that are at risk of extinction.
Earlier this month, United Nations (UN) agency Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a critical report assessing 1 million species threatened with extinction across the world. It was compiled by 145 experts from 50 different countries based on a review of 15,000 scientific and government sources.
The report blamed the stark rise of at-risk species on human land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. It also made recommendations for governments to act in response to the “unprecedented” species extinction in human history.
“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide,” IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said.
Credit Valley Conservation ecologist Laura Timms says the numbers are higher than what’s expected for “baseline extinction” — species that go extinct because of natural processes.
“The number of species going extinct now is way higher because of human activity,” she said. “There’s a lot of evidence for it.”
An example from the watershed is the Jefferson Salamander. It’s a salamander that lives in the wetlands and forests that has been threatened by development and land conversion in Brampton and Mississauga.
“They’re a symptom of this problem of wetland loss,” Timms said.
She explained Ontario has lost around 85 per cent of its wetlands since European settlement and that the loss of wetlands not only threatens species, but flood attenuation.
Another example of an at-risk species in the watershed is the Bank Swallow. This bird, an aerial insectivore, is in decline, which inadvertently increases the number of mosquitoes — their prey. Timms added that there are indeed “more mosquitoes around these days.”
In the watershed, land development is the primary cause of creating at-risk species, Timms identified.
UTM associate professor of political science and geography Andrea Olive says the IPBES report coincides with new changes to the Endangered Species Act.
Olive says when it comes to environmental matters in the watershed, they’re a provincial responsibility.
“Ontario’s Endangered Species Act was seen as the best one in Canada,” Olive said. “But now, you can pay to get out of protecting a species.”
Olive is referring to changes to the act proposed through Bill 108, which would allow developers to pay a charge or a mitigation fee to build in areas where there are endangered species. The money would be collected into a fund that is intended to be used for conservation and other services.
“You can never pay enough,” she said. “You’ll never be able to replace the habitat.”
At-risk species in the Credit River watershed:
Blue-spotted Jefferson Salamander
Western Chorus Frog
American White Pelican
Lake Ontario Kiyi
Eastern Persius Duskywing
West Virginia White
Eastern Small footed Myotis (bat)
Little Brown Myotis
Eastern Flowering Dogwood
Midland Painted Turtle
Northern Map Turtle
Ali Raza is a reporter for Mississauga News and Brampton Guardian. Reach him via email: email@example.com
“While both human activities and natural variations in the climate have contributed to the observed warming in Canada, the human factor is dominant,” the report states.
“It is likely that more than half of the observed warming in Canada is due to the influence of human activities.”
The report came as the government imposed carbon taxes on four of Canada’s 10 provinces for failing to introduce their own plans for tackling climate change.
What are the effects?
The effects of global warming on Canada’s environment include more extreme weather.
Hotter temperatures could mean more heat waves and a higher risk of wildfires and droughts in some parts of the country.
Oceans are expected to become more acidic and less oxygenated, which could harm marine life.
Parts of Canada’s Arctic Ocean are projected to have extensive ice-free periods during summer within a few decades.
A rise in sea levels could also increase the risk of coastal flooding and more intense rainfall could cause problems with flooding in urban centres.
What caused Canada’s warming?
Canada’s rapid warming is due to a number of factors, including a loss of snow and sea ice, which is increasing the absorption of solar radiation and causing larger surface warming than in other regions, according to the report.
Despite the bleak projections, the report notes that the amount of warming could be limited if global action is taken by drastically reducing “carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century and [reducing] emissions of other greenhouse gases substantially”.
Canada is one of nearly 200 countries that have signed on to the Paris Agreement – a single global agreement on tackling climate change that seeks to keep temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C.
The Canadian government says it will meet the Paris target of cutting emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 despite the fact that a number of official reports indicate the country is unlikely to meet its reduction targets without significant effort.
Is public opinion changing?
University of Toronto professor Matthew Hoffmann told the BBC that, like the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, this one underscores the warnings about the impact of climate change.
“This is yet another reaffirmation of the urgency of this problem,” he said.
Civil society appeared to be at a “tipping point” on the issue with public opinion moving in support of governments taking action.
Mr Hoffmann points to recent student protests in the UK, Canada and elsewhere pushing for governments to take active steps to tackle the problem.
“People are starting to feel climate change – it’s starting to be part of their lived experience,” he said.
What else is the government doing?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned the country’s provinces two years ago that they needed to come up with plans by 1 April setting out how they would contribute to Canada’s reduction targets.
The four that the government accuses of failing to do so are Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.
The carbon tax will be added to the cost of fuel – 4.4 Canadian cents (3.6 US cents) per litre initially – equivalent to 20 Canadian dollars per tonne of carbon produced, more than doubling by 2022.
However, households are expected to be compensated by the federal government in the form of “climate action incentive” rebates.
The opposition Conservatives have vowed to scrap the tax should they win federal elections in October.
Endangered mountain caribou. (D. Craig/Alberta Wilderness Association)
An extensive study of caribou herds across British Columbia and Alberta suggests a way to reverse a long and steady decline of the endangered species — kill more wolves and moose and pen pregnant cows.
“It’s go hard or go home,” said Rob Serrouya, a University of Alberta biologist and lead author of the study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Unfortunately, it’s that black or white.”
Another study released within days of Serrouya’s suggests another way. And wildlife advocates worry Serrouya’s findings could be misused, illustrating the complexity of what he calls the “toughest conservation challenge in North America.”
Improvement with managed herds
Serrouya and his colleagues looked at 18 caribou herds ranging over more than 90,000 square kilometres. At the study’s start in 2004, 16 herds were declining.
Restoring habitat damaged by oil, gas and forestry activity is too slow, said Serrouya. Herds don’t have the decades that takes.
The scientists compared four government-run management programs — killing wolves, protecting pregnant cows, moving caribou between ranges and culling moose that attract predators. Six of the herds were not managed.
By 2018, the unmanaged herds remained unchanged.
But eight of the 12 managed herds improved. Half of them had either stabilized or begun increasing. One almost doubled over three years to 67 from 36 animals.
Herds with the best growth rates were linked to both maternity pens to protect pregnant cows during calving, and the extensive wolf kills. (MacNeil Lyons/National Park Service)
“That’s almost unprecedented,” Serrouya said. “It doesn’t mean recovery, but it means some of these herds have turned around. It’s the first study to show management has turned around sharp declines of caribou on such a broad scale.”
Herds with the best growth rates were linked to both maternity pens to protect pregnant cows during calving and extensive wolf kills. Ranges with the best herd growth had the most intense cull.
Those five ranges saw a total of 144 wolves killed every year, mostly by aerial gunning and strychnine. A cull that large over the entire study area would result annually in nearly 650 carcasses, although Serrouya said that’s not being recommended.
Removing moose at the same time would allow managers to kill up to 80 per cent fewer wolves, he said. Still, moose numbers in any one range would have to be reduced by up to 83 per cent.
Alternative: Reduce wolf-caribou encounters
Jonah Keim, an independent biologist and consultant, offers a different solution. In research published in the British Ecological Society’s journal, he suggests caribou can be adequately protected by making it tough for wolves to get to them.
“What we need to do is reduce the encounters between wolves and caribou,” he said. “You can do that without reducing the number of wolves.”
Between 2011 and 2014, Keim studied what would happen if it weren’t so easy for wolves, deer and moose to follow cutlines and forestry roads into caribou habitat. Over an 800-square-kilometre area, researchers dropped 200 cubic metres of tree debris every 200 metres.
“A high elevation location might hold onto its ice longer, for example. But the magnitude of warming is so high that everything is melting everywhere now.”
Glacial retreat in the Canadian Arctic has uncovered landscapes that haven’t been ice-free in more than 40,000 years and the region may be experiencing its warmest century in 115,000 years, new University of Colorado Boulder research finds.
The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications[ open access ]<<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-08307-w>>, uses radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of plants collected at the edges of 30 ice caps on Baffin Island, west of Greenland. The island has experienced significant summertime warming in recent decades.
“The Arctic is currently warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and ice caps are going to react faster,” said Simon Pendleton, lead author and a doctoral researcher in CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).
Baffin is the world’s fifth largest island, dominated by deeply incised fjords separated by high-elevation, low-relief plateaus. The thin, cold plateau ice acts as a kind of natural cold storage, preserving ancient moss and lichens in their original growth position for millennia.
“We travel to the retreating ice margins, sample newly exposed plants preserved on these ancient landscapes and carbon date the plants to get a sense of when the ice last advanced over that location,” Pendleton said. “Because dead plants are efficiently removed from the landscape, the radiocarbon age of rooted plants define the last time summers were as warm, on average, as those of the past century”
In August, the researchers collected 48 plant samples from 30 different Baffin ice caps, encompassing a range of elevations and exposures. They also sampled quartz from each site in order to further establish the age and ice cover history of the landscape.
Once the samples were processed and radiocarbon dated back in labs at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at CU Boulder and the University of California Irvine, the researchers found that these ancient plants at all 30 ice caps have likely been continuously covered by ice for at least the past 40,000 years.
“Unlike biology, which has spent the past three billion years developing schemes to avoid being impacted by climate change, glaciers have no strategy for survival,” said Gifford Miller, senior author of the research and a professor of geological sciences at CU Boulder. “They’re well behaved, responding directly to summer temperature. If summers warm, they immediately recede; if summers cool, they advance. This makes them one of the most reliable proxies for changes in summer temperature.”
When compared against temperature data reconstructed from Baffin and Greenland ice cores, the findings suggest that modern temperatures represent the warmest century for the region in 115,000 years and that Baffin could be completely ice-free within the next few centuries.
“You’d normally expect to see different plant ages in different topographical conditions,” Pendleton said. “A high elevation location might hold onto its ice longer, for example. But the magnitude of warming is so high that everything is melting everywhere now.”
“We haven’t seen anything as pronounced as this before,” Pendleton said.
Though several members of the Trump administration, including President Trump himself, continue to cast doubt on humans’ role in the changing climate without providing any evidence, it’s simply not a matter on which scientists disagree at all.
The latest National Climate Assessment, written by more than 300 scientists at 13 US federal agencies including the Department of Defense and NASA, for instance, opens with the statement: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
The report goes on to detail the toll climate change has already taken on health, quality of life, and the economy of the US and how those impacts will mount if emissions are not dramatically reduced in the coming years. “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states,” according to the assessment.
The Trump administration released the report ahead of schedule on the Friday after Thanksgiving — a move many interpreted as an attempt to bury the findings.
The facts of climate science and the urgency of the climate threat to the US are a nuisance to an administration that has consistently prioritized the demands of the fossil fuel industry to roll back federal policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And Trump has appointed a number of officials like Craft whose allegiance to industry is clear.
Craft has a conflict of interest
In 2016, Craft reportedly donated $265,400 toward Trump’s election and $17,000 to the Republican National Committee.
Craft’s husband, Joseph Craft, is a billionaire coal magnate. A Global News report from 2017 provides some details about him:
[Craft’s] husband is coal billionaire Joe Craft, who’s been called the most powerfulnon-elected person in Kentucky. He is the president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP, which is among the largest coal producers in the eastern U.S.
Craft was a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s climate policies, getting his SUV’s licence plate stamped with the slogan, “Friends of Coal.”
While the Crafts have a personal financial stake in pushing climate denialism, other prominent Republicans have tried to tamp down on the conclusions of the Climate Assessment by citing concerns about the impact curbing greenhouse gas emissions would have on “industry and jobs.”
This global Living Planet Report is the 12th of its kind, each one documenting deepening wildlife losses and sounding the alarm about the devastating impacts of human development and consumption on wildlife, forests, oceans, rivers and climate.
Barren-ground caribou (c) Francoise Gervais
Canadian wildlife are not exempt from this biodiversity crisis. WWF’s recent Living Planet Report Canada found that half of the wildlife species in Canada are declining, and of those, the decline is 83 per cent. Protected at-risk species haven’t shown signs of improvement either, the report finds.
Reversing the decline of wildlife requires immediate action from governments, businesses and individuals. Here’s how we can start heading in the right direction:
Make reversing wildlife loss a part of your day, every day.
Speak up as a citizen and as a consumer – use your voice and choices to encourage businesses and governments to shift to sustainable policies and practices for wildlife, protected areas and climate change.
Killer whale (Orcinus orca), 3 year old female and her cub. Puget Sound, Washington, United States of America (c) William W Rossiter/WWF
New protected areas should properly protect species.
New research has shown that protected areas can do so much more to safeguard the future of wildlife – if we prioritize creating them in the places where the highest number of at-risk species live. To best benefit biodiversity, Canada needs high-quality networks of protected areas that help the most wildlife.
Get on track with actions to stop climate change.
Canada is currently on a path for 3 C to 4 C warming, and recent regressive provincial climate change policy decisions are sending us in the wrong direction. Any overshoot of our 1.5 C target will be catastrophic for nature, wildlife and vulnerable communities. Among other things, WWF-Canada is asking governments to immediately transition fossil fuel subsidies to support habitat-friendly renewable energy development, update the Impact Assessment Act to ensure new developments are evaluated within a strict carbon budget, and focus on restoring and protecting forests, wetlands and seagrass meadows to create carbon sinks.
We have a lot of work to do, but there is reason for hope. Two important federal decisions will make a considerable difference for wildlife:
Marine mammals, forage fish and other marine wildlife will be better protected once the recommendations from the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards are passed into law, as it brings Canada’s marine protected areas in line with international standards by, among other things, banning activities such as oil and gas development.
Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) with capelin in beak on Gull Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, Canada (c) Frank Parhizgar
Decades of documented declines show us that we won’t see wildlife recovery unless we all make it a priority – in all facets of our lives. As a society, our decisions about land use, energy, fuel, pollution and consumption together determine which species get a fighting chance and which wildlife get left behind.
Let’s put the brakes on biodiversity loss, and stop this mass extinction before it happens.
A WWF report shows 87 species vulnerable enough to be given protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), such as woodland caribou, southern resident killer whales, and Canada warblers, declined by an average of 63 per cent between 1970 and 2014. (Jeff Nadler/Boreal Birds Need Half)
Canadian laws designed to protect wildlife species at risk of extinction and rebuild their populations are failing to stop those animals from vanishing faster than ever, a new report shows.
The Living Planet Report Canada released Thursday by World Wildlife Fund Canada shows that 87 species vulnerable enough to be given protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), such as woodland caribou, southern resident killer whales, and Canada warblers, declined by an average of 63 per cent between 1970 and 2014. And their average rate of decline has increased since SARA was enacted in 2002.
Just because you have a piece of legislation doesn’t mean that you’re going to have action on the ground and in the water, and that’s what ultimately matters.– C. Scott Findlay, University of Ottawa
“What we don’t know is how bad would wildlife populations be doing if that act wasn’t in place,” says James Snider, vice-president of scientific research and innovation for the conservation group lead author of the report.
But, he added, that the finding “suggests we need to be doing more.”
Why has SARA been so ineffective at stopping the loss of endangered species, let alone helping them recover?
Researchers say the problem isn’t the legislation itself, but the way it’s been implemented by the federal government.
“Just because you have a piece of legislation doesn’t mean that you’re going to have action on the ground and in the water and that’s what ultimately matters,” says C. Scott Findlay, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
The WWF report cites:
Delays in every step of the process.
Withholding of protection for some species, such as Atlantic cod or or West Coast chinook and sockeye salmon populations, due to economic interests.
Some researchers say the fact that the provinces and territories — not the federal government — have jurisdiction over most of the habitats where endangered and threatened species live is also an issue.
Scientists recommended listing eight populations of lake sturgeon under SARA in 2007, but as of this summer, the federal government has not made a listing decision. (Engbretson Underwater Photo)
In order for a species to be federally protected, a science-based recommendation is needed from the biologists on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
Then the federal government must decide whether to take that recommendation and actually list a species under SARA, giving it protection — something that can take a long time.
For example, COSEWIC recommended listing eight populations of lake sturgeon in 2007, but as of this summer, the federal government has not made a listing decision.
Findlay notes that no listing decisions were made between 2011 and 2015 (except for the emergency listing of three bats requested by the Nova Scotia government) under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and by the end of 2015 there was a backlog of about 150 species recommended for listing.
Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, told CBC News the current Liberal government is committed to clearing that backlog within three years. It has already listed more than two dozen since being elected in 2015.
But the situation shows the implementation of SARA, as with other laws, “is a matter of the enthusiasm of governments to proceed with whatever it is that the legislation stipulates,” Findlay says.
And the current government claims to be more enthusiastic than the last when it comes to conservation.
“At the end of the day, this government believes that protecting biodiversity is important,” Wilkinson said.
In the past, the federal government hasn’t gone with scientists’ recommendation. The WWF report cites a 2015 study that found of 65 species of fish recommended for protection; only 12 have been listed since 2003.
The government decided not to list certain populations of Atlantic cod, Atlantic bluefin tuna and B.C. chinook and sockeye salmon. SARA listing means the fish can’t be commercially harvested at all, and economic concerns have been suggested as reasons for the decisions.
Chinook salmon swim in a stream. The federal government decided not to list certain populations of Atlantic cod, Atlantic bluefin tuna and B.C. chinook and sockeye salmon, contrary to scientists’ recommendations. (Paul Vecsei/Engbretson Underwater Photography)
“SARA to date has largely failed for marine fishes,” said Julia Baum, a University of Victoria marine biologist who co-authored the fish study.
“We have an excellent process in COSEWIC that provides all of the scientific evidence that we need to conserve marine fishes and all wildlife really, but then between COSEWIC and SARA, marine fishes simply fall off the plate.”
She’s also frustrated by the delays in the process: “It’s like the house is on fire, you call the fire department and they sit there for 10 years twiddling their thumbs and debating whether or not they should put the fire out. It’s a ridiculous system.”
Even after a species is listed, there are often further delays before action is taken.
Not ‘by design’
For example,boreal populations of the woodland caribou were listed under SARA as threatened in 2003, but their recovery strategy wasn’t released until 2012 and action plans from most provinces and territories aren’t due until the end of this year.
A woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus) wanders in the boreal forest in Ontario’s Slate Islands. Woodland caribou range across the country and the threats they face vary with location, making it challenging to develop a recovery strategy that everyone can agree on. (Gary and Joannie McGuffin/WWF-Canada)
Philip McLoughlin, a population biologist at the University of Saskatchewan who studies a number of large mammal populations including woodland caribou in northern Saskatchewan, says the delays aren’t “by design” — it’s just that wildlife populations can be complicated.
For example, woodland caribou range across the country, and the threats they face vary with location. In northern Saskatchewan, their main threat is wildfires. In Alberta, McLoughlin says, climate change and industrial development have helped white-tailed deer invade woodland caribou habitat, bringing with them deadly predators like wolves.
“Where I see the Species at Risk Act failing species are for those large distribution populations like woodland caribou or boreal caribou or barren-ground caribou, where the reasons for population decline can be quite varied depending on where you are in the country and this really makes it difficult to establish a recovery strategy that everyone can buy into.”
The WWF recommends that SARA would be more effective if the government focused more on protecting ecosystems where endangered species live rather than individual species.
Snider said there are already some examples where this has been effective, such as a recovery strategy that covers a number of grassland species in the Prairies such as the sage grouse, blackfooted ferret and the swift fox.
Wilkinson suggests we can expect more of that in the future from the current government.
“This is exactly where we’re taking the Species at Risk portfolio.”
But the researchers also say we can’t rely on SARA and the federal government alone to protect our at-risk species.
Most of the habitats where wildlife live are under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, Findlay says. “The vast majority of activities that pose threats — agriculture, mining forestry, hydroelectric dams, all of these things are under provincial jurisdiction,” he adds.
McLoughlin says part of the problem is the provincial and territorial wildlife acts that parallel SARA don’t have enough teeth.
“There’s a lot of wiggle room.”
Findlay says SARA does have a “safety net” clause that would force the provinces to protect SARA-listed species, but in the 15 years since SARA was enacted, it’s never been used.
“To my mind,” he said. “This is a substantial problem.”
Wilkinson says the federal government is already working more closely with the provinces on species at risk files and has boosted staffing to help with the woodland caribou action plans.
“We’re working actively with every province that has a boreal caribou population on a very active basis as we move towards this fall,” he said.