I get very frustrated sometimes (okay, ALL the time), when I read things about animal impact up in the oil sands. Why? Because I am the daughter of a forest ranger and I just turned 39 (today in fact!) and I remember stories from 30 years ago about animals disappearing from various regions of alberta. We learned it in school, I heard about it from my dad, it was discussed on the news - I remember because I was fascinated with wildlife. That tends to happen when you grow up having black bears, deer, and moose sleeping in your back yard. that's how I was raised and it has always been of interest to me.
I am also born and raised in Alberta, spending all but 4.5 years of my life in this province. I have friends from all over the area and they too have told me things they remember about growing up here. I have a friend who was born in Fort McMurray and she is over 50 now. She has lived there all her life. She told me many years ago that caribou had been disappearing from the region for as long as she could remember, before the oilsands even started running up there. She also remembers how plants stopped growing and flourishing in certain areas because the oil was so close to the surface, and caribou had already started changing their migration patterns which led to hunters not being able to find them where expected, etc etc. Lots of stories from her youth and teen years and young adult years about caribou and other animal problems BEFORE the oil sands started up, let alone before they became the controversial news topic and talking point they are today.
So what's up with that? I found a recent news story talking about how Oilsands activity is blamed for caribou numbers - you can read it yourself here http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2011/06/22/science-caribou-oilsands.html and there are many many more if you take the time to google it. Tons to choose from. And then I googled "1970 Caribou Fort McMurray" and found some very interesting timeline information. you can view it here http://albertawilderness.ca/issues/wildlife/caribou/history . You will see that man is still blamed largely, but it was logging the first time around, or talk of them moving to BC, but the part to note most is that these record are from the 1920s to 1940s!!! A railroad built in the mid 60s cuts right through a caribou migration path. Population estimates range from 800 to over 2000 in a span of a few decades, with the number going back and forth, with some regions in the 40s and 50s seeing next to no caribou at all.
Finally in the 1970s there is mention of more oil activity up north. Province wide estimate of 5000 caribou. People spend many many years trying to get the alberta govt to ban hunting, but it doesnt apart from a one year span in the late 40s. Caribou were put on the Endangered Species list in 1985. In 1991 they are put on the Threat list for serious danger of disappearing. In 1993 the LOGGING industry was specifically listed as the main threat to caribou in the province. Finally another estimate of caribou population comes out in 1996 with between 3600 and 6700 individuals (why the big gap, I have no idea) and they are taken off the full threat list but still endangered. In 2000 they are back to threatened but I do not see a population estimate.
In 2001 you see that the Alberta Govt still has not put in all the recommendations from the agreement back in 1996. No surprise there, 5 years pass and little is done. In 2004 it was determined that logging in some areas would be halted for 5 years and the first mention of a big pipeline going in is finally listed - Suncor. In 2005 the provincial estimate is 2500 to 4000 caribou (note, still up from estimates in previous decades but down from the last estimate). In 2006 the Alberta govt goes ahead with a wolf culling program instead of the recommendations from the past 30 or so years.
Now pops up something else I know a lot about - the Mountain Pine Beetle. If you have driven through the BC and Alberta rockies lately, you will notice huge swaths of mountain sides that are completely dead - grey and ugly, or red. This is Mountain Pine Beetle destruction and my dad spend over 20 years trying to work out how to kill the little buggers because they kill trees like termites go through wood. Fire was about the only way to control them but who wants to set fire to forests? Well here we are today with entire gigantic mountain sides totally dead with no animal life inside them, and we are finally turning to burning sections. they were logging them for awhile but the buggies just move on to the next section of forest instead. In 2006 some areas that were not to be logged ended up being logged, forced by the alberta govt according to this link, because of mountain pine beetles. It says that this move was in direct contradiction to the caribou maintenance programs - well let's see how LEAVING it worked out for the forests: This is a photo I took a couple of weeks ago just before the Alberta border in BC;
In 2009 an avalanche kills the last remaining known caribou herd members in Banff. Pretty much the first time I have seen the banff area mentioned in this list so I have no idea how many were there to begin with. The mountain parks herds are in great decline in other areas like Jasper, with only 4 members in one herd and no reason given. the mountain parks, especially jasper are HUGELY unpopulated and rugged and impossible for people to get through other than a couple of highways and a few dirt roads and a railroad. you have to see this area for yourself in order to understand the immense enormity of it and understand that oil and forestry are NOT going to do much, if any damage to caribou in these areas, yet their numbers are totally pitiful. Why????? This is not fort mcmurray, it's Banff National and Jasper National Park where the amount of forest is astonishing to most people, they cannot fathom it's size even if they do get the chance to visit. I grew up just down the road from an entrance to Jasper park and it's massive with only one way through it by road - so why are caribou numbers in herds there down to FOUR???? Ask yourself that when thinking about how the provincial totals are in the thousands, while there are NONE left in Banff and barely any in Jasper, an area that should be perfect for these creatures and the vast majority of the area has no people or construction or anything in it.
And then we get up to 2012 with no further mention of herd populations. What is the estimate now? I have no idea, the totals range all over the place when i try to google it and look at various wildlife protection sites. So I have no idea. All I can tell you is that news now of oil sands being to blame, when for 50 years before that logging was to blame, and meanwhile herds in beautiful largely untouched areas of the province are lower than ANYWHERE ELSE in their alberta habitats. Then read the news about the oil sands region and think about how stats and words are twisted here and there and wonder why. Im not saying there is no impact, but I find it astonishing how people will run with this and go around talking about how the oilsands have caused herds to diminish, or migration patterns to change, when there is evidence of it happening 30 years before the oil sands development started - and evidence of massive population declines in protected areas like national parks. And the lack of govt reaction and response - and then keep on blaming the oil sands if you feel like it. But dont pretend that you know what you are talking about, please.
I will add here that it reminds me of the talk of global climate change and all the melting that is supposedly going on in the arctic circle. There are tons of Save the Polar Bears campaigns going, demanding changes, tv ads and programs showing polar bears dying of starvation because there is no ice for them to go out on to hunt seals, and swimming for hours and hours in water and exhausting themselves to the point of death because of lack of ice flows to walk on ---- but oh, what's this? Polar bear population estimates are UP? And oh, what's this? there are so many, they are expanding their range continuously into human populated areas? What? But I thought they were all dying? It drives me crazy. I dont know what to believe anymore. One day they are endangered and the next there are far more than first thought. Sounds eerily similar to the plight of the alberta caribou.