CALGARY — A narrow, snow-covered gravel road winds its way to a hidden gate that opens to a parcel of land on the southern tip of Calgary.
But it’s not a typical ranch property. Behind large, wire fences live a Przewalski wild horse native to Mongolia, Vancouver Island marmots, burrowing owls, greater sage grouse and whooping cranes.
The Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre, which opened in 1984 and is operated by the Calgary Zoo, is dedicated to saving endangered species.
“Often we are the last resort for many endangered species that have struggled in the wild,” explains Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, the zoo’s director of conservation and science.
Staff aim to give the animals the best possible care and make them suitable to release back into the wild.
“These are species that are destined for the wild, or their offspring are, and so we need to make sure that they are kept as wild as possible. These are extremely sensitive species. We don’t want people to randomly climb fences and being noisy and disturbing the animals.”
The program’s reputation has grown over the years to the point where it is getting requests to take on more species from around the world, Moehrenschlager says.
The centre is also planning to relocate to a more private location east of Calgary within the next couple of years. The city’s urban spread has started encroaching on the property, he says.
“It used to be in the middle of nowhere, but we’ve got developments happening so we need to transition that and move it.”
Some of the animals aren’t bothered by outside stimuli.
“Well come on over. How you doing?” says Calgary Zoo general curator Colleen Baird after calling to two Asiatic horses kept separate from the main herd.
The whooping cranes, however, are a different matter.
Their loud, single-note bugle calls can be heard clearly inside the burrowing owl sanctuary. “They always wake up the neighbours,” Baird says with a laugh.
A visit to see the cranes wasn’t possible because anything upsetting to them could reduce the need to breed.
“They will get cautious and often will shut down and not breed, as the environment and outward cues are telling them that conditions are not ideal or safe to expend all the energy it takes to raise a chick,” Baird says.
“Any changes the cranes will pick up on right away, as they are defending territories and males wanting to have a safe place to do their mating dance to the females.”
The centre is the only facility in Canada that helps breed whooping cranes and its program has been a big success, Baird says. Their global population had dropped to 14 in the 1990s but has since grown to more than 400.
The burrowing owls habitat is also a busy place.
Zookeeper Joan Gellatly has been on the job for 30 years and is responsible for their care and feeding. “We make sure everybody’s healthy and happy, fed and watered. Just like when you’ve got pets at home, it’s kind of our job.”
The burrowing owl program is in its third year. Research teams also grab owlets from the wild in the spring and bring them into captivity for 10 months because they often don’t survive.
At the end of the 10 months, researchers match up predetermined males and females, tag them and release them.
“Then researchers will follow the birds through the summer time. And, if they pair-bond for the season, they nest and the eggs and the owlets hatch out,” said Gellatly.
“We have had success with that.”
Moehrenschlager describes the centre as doing amazing things to help animals and ecosystems.
“All we’re trying to do is prevent extinction so we need to make sure that these programs do their part to help the species.”
— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Court allows six Trans Mountain appeals focusing on Indigenous consultation
VANCOUVER — The Federal Court of Appeal says it will hear six challenges of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion focusing on Indigenous consultation, while dismissing several claims centred on environmental concerns.
The decision calls for narrowly focused, expedited court proceedings that will only examine the calibre of the federal government’s consultation with Indigenous communities between August 2018 and June 2019.
“Many of the Indigenous and First Nation applicants now allege that the poor quality and hurried nature of this further consultation rendered it inadequate,” says Justice David Stratas in the decision released Wednesday.
The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has twice approved a plan to triple the capacity of an existing pipeline from Alberta’s oilpatch to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
The Federal Court of Appeal tore up the original approval last year, citing both an insufficient environmental review and inadequate Indigenous consultations. The Liberals said they fixed both problems and approved the expansion a second time in June.
Three environmental groups, eight First Nations and the City of Vancouver sought leave to appeal. Conservation groups argued there were inadequate protections for endangered species affected by increased tanker traffic, while several First Nations said the government came into the most recent discussions having predetermined the outcome.
The court has allowed requests to appeal by the Coldwater Indian Band, Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Upper Nicola Band, the Stk’emlupsemc Te Secwepemc and a coalition of First Nations in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
Stratas explains in his ruling that decisions to grant leave to appeal are based on whether arguments are “fairly arguable,” meaning any claims with fatal legal errors must be dismissed.
Two sets of arguments advanced by First Nations didn’t meet that standard, including any assertions of a right to veto as well as issues already decided by the court’s first ruling last August, Stratas says.
However, the federal government engaged in additional consultations after the ruling and the court should decide whether those talks were adequate, he says.
At the same time, Stratas says applicants’ arguments on environmental issues aren’t fairly arguable. Many were already dealt with or could have been raised during the court’s first hearing on the project, he says.
In its first ruling, the court called for a new National Energy Board review focusing on marine impacts and the review was completed in February. The board submitted a “comprehensive, detail-laden, 678-page report” to the government, Stratas notes.
Though many applicants say the new report is deeply flawed, this argument “cannot possibly succeed” based on the degree of examination and study of marine shipping and related environmental issues in the document, he says.
The federal government bought the existing pipeline and the unfinished expansion work for $4.5 billion last year, promising to get it past the political opposition that had scared off Kinder Morgan Canada from proceeding.
Stratas rejected arguments that alleged the government made a biased decision to approve the project because it is the owner.
He says the governor-in-council, which represents the Crown and acts on the advice of cabinet, is actually the decision-maker, not the federal government. Furthermore, he says the governor-in-council is required to make decisions regardless of who owns a project.
Stratas says short and strict deadlines for litigation will be set. He directed the parties to file their notices of application for judicial review within seven days.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation said in a statement that it felt confident the government’s approval will once again be quashed.
“Canada continued to do the legal minimum (in consultations) and in our view, fell well below the mark again,” said Chief Leah George-Wilson. “They approached it with a closed mind, and were in a conflict of interest.”
Ecojustice, which had brought a case on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, said it will not rule out taking its fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Going to the country’s highest court may seem like a drastic measure, but — in the midst of a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis — these are drastic times,” it said.
The City of Vancouver also said it’s considering its next steps.
Alexandre Deslongchamps, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, said the federal government is confident it took the necessary steps to get the approval right and is prepared to defend its decision in court.
“We fulfilled our duty to consult with Indigenous communities by engaging in meaningful, two-way dialogue, which allowed us to co-develop eight new accommodation measures that are responsive to the concerns raised,” he said.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel criticized the government for not submitting a defence against 11 of the 12 motions seeking leave to appeal. The court decision says the government did so because it considered the threshold for leave to be quite low.
“Today we found out Justin Trudeau rolled over and refused to stand up for the Trans Mountain pipeline in court,” Rempel said.
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
Federal Court of Appeal to rule Wednesday on letting pipeline appeals proceed
OTTAWA — The Federal Court of Appeal says it will reveal Wednesday whether a new set of legal challenges to the Trans Mountain pipeline project can proceed.
The federal government has twice approved a plan to twin an existing pipeline from Alberta’s oilpatch to the B.C. coast.
Last year the Federal Court of Appeal tore up the original approval citing both an insufficient environment review and inadequate consultations with Indigenous communities.
The Liberals say they fixed both problems and approved the expansion a second time in June.
Environment groups still say there are not adequate protections for endangered marine species that will be affected by tanker traffic picking up oil from a terminal in suburban Vancouver.
Several First Nations say the federal government came into the most recent discussions having predetermined the outcome.
The court will decide Wednesday on 12 requests to appeal the June approval.
The federal government bought the existing pipeline and the unfinished expansion work for $4.5 billion last year, promising to get it over the political opposition that had scared off Kinder Morgan Canada from proceeding.
The move disappointed environmentalists, who say the global climate can’t handle more emissions from Alberta’s oilsands and the eventual burning of the petroleum they produce. The Liberals say they’ll use any profits from the project to fund Canada’s transition to a cleaner-energy economy.
The Canadian Press
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