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Environment

Half of Canada’s chinook salmon populations in decline: scientists

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  • Scientists who evaluate the health of Canada’s wild plants and animals have concluded that half the country’s chinook salmon populations are endangered.

    The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada says some only number a couple of hundred fish and are in danger of disappearing.

    The finding was released as part of the committee’s regular look at Canadian wildlife.

    It concluded that of Canada’s 16 Chinook populations, 13 are declining and eight are endangered.

    Only one population is considered stable.

    John Neilson, a fisheries biologist at B.C.’s Simon Fraser University, says it’s the most extensive survey of chinook numbers the committee has ever done.

    He says the declines are likely due to something happening to the salmon after they migrate to the ocean.

    He says the federal government needs to protect habitat for the stocks that are in the worst shape.

    The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    First Nation sues Alberta, says oilsands project threatens sacred site

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  • EDMONTON — An Alberta First Nation is suing the province over development approvals that the band says threaten sacred land the government has promised to protect.

    “We will not stand idly by and let the area be destroyed,” Jim Boucher, chief of the Fort McKay First Nation, said in a release.

    Fort McKay, a community of 800 about 80 kilometres from Fort McMurray, is surrounded by open-pit oilsands mines on three sides. The closest is within four kilometres.

    Band members have long considered the pristine area around Moose and Namur lakes, west of the community, their last refuge for  traditional hunting, trapping and berry-picking. The lawsuit argues there has been so much development in the region — from energy exploration to forestry to agriculture — that Moose Lake is all Fort McKay has left. 

    “Without the preservation of the Moose Lake area, the plaintiffs will no longer be able to meaningfully exercise their treaty rights,” says the statement of claim, which contains allegations that have not yet been proven in court.

    “(Moose Lake) is now under imminent threat from industrial activity that has been or will be approved by Alberta.”

    The provincial government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

    The alleged threat comes from an approval granted last June by the province’s energy regulator for an oilsands project that would come within two kilometres of Moose Lake. Prosper Petroleum’s $440-million, 10,000-barrel-a-day plans were vigorously opposed by Fort McKay at the time.

    The green light came despite a provincial draft plan — the result of 15 years of talks under several different governments — to give the area some protection.

    That plan contemplated a 10-kilometre zone around Moose and Namur lakes with safeguards for protecting Fort McKay’s land use. It would have established access control, environmental monitoring and thresholds for the surrounding region.

    The Alberta Energy Regulator said at the time that it had taken into account social and economic issues, as well as impacts on treaty rights.

    However, the regulator said it couldn’t weigh the approval’s effect on the province’s plan for the lake area because that plan was still being discussed and hadn’t been implemented.

    The lawsuit asks the court to overturn permits for industrial activity within the 10-kilometre zone. It also asks the court to forbid Alberta from authorizing any more activity in the area unless Fort McKay agrees to it.

    “Alberta has failed to … protect the Moose Lake area from the impacts of industrial development,” the statement of claim says. “Alberta will continue, unless restrained from doing so, to undertake or approve industrial development within the Moose Lake area.” 

    Prosper Petroleum has said it is committed to addressing its neighbours’ concerns.

    The company would use steam injected into shallow horizontal wells to melt heavy, sticky bitumen crude and allow it to drip into a parallel well before being pumped to the surface, where it would be transported by truck to a buyer or pipeline.

    — Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

    Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Climate change, receding glaciers increase landslide risk on B.C.’s Mount Meager

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  • VANCOUVER — Climate change is causing glaciers atop Mount Meager in British Columbia to shrink, increasing the chances of landslides and even a new eruption, says an expert studying the volcano.

    Glyn Williams-Jones, a volcanologist from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., has been studying the fumaroles, or gas venting, of water vapour, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide from the volcano for about two years. He and his team of students are also examining the increased risk of landslides caused by receding glaciers on the volcano.

    Williams-Jones said the release of the gases worries him.

    “The reason those fumaroles are coming, we believe now, is not because the volcano is more active but rather because of warming climate … those glaciers have been getting thinner,” he said. “There is this interplay between climate, ice-covered volcano and the response of those volcanoes.”

    The churning gases don’t mean an eruption is imminent, he said, but the volcano is definitely not extinct.

    Mount Meager is northwest of Whistler and was the last volcano in British Columbia to have a large explosive eruption, which was 2,400 years ago.

    “That’s a blink of an eye in geological terms,” Williams-Jones said.

    Volcanoes have their own characteristics and personalities, he said.

    “It is a grumpy volcano in the sense that it has had some very large eruptions and also had these extremely large landslides. So I’d say yes, it’s on the grumpy side.”

    Mount Meager has been forming over the last two million years, so it can be thought of as “multiple volcanoes old,” each sitting on top of each other, he said. 

    It is surrounded by ice and glaciers and the presence of a well-known hot spring nearby is evidence of its activity, he said.

    Heat from the volcano and warming temperatures are thinning the glaciers, changing the way water moves through the rocks, he added.

    The water’s movement and the acidic nature of the volcanic gases makes the rock of the volcano “rotten” and unstable, William-Jones said.

    The slope of the volcano is moving northwest at the rate of about three centimetres a month, which increases the potential for a landslide, he said.

    A landslide in 2010 from Mount Meager unleashed about 53 million cubic metres of rock and created a dam on Meager Creek about 300 metres wide and two kilometres long.

    About 5,000 people downstream were evacuated because of the threat of a rapid release of the lake that formed behind the dam.

    William-Jones said it’s possible the next landslide could be 10 times that size, with the greatest threat to residents of the Pemberton Valley.

    If that happens, the change in pressure could destabilize the magma chamber beneath the volcano leading to an eruption, he said.

    “There are a lot of big ifs and a lot of dominoes would have to line up for that to happen but we think this is a plausible thing to be concerned about.”

    Williams-Jones said he’s not being alarmist, but there’s a need for monitoring and government attention.

    He couldn’t say if or when the volcano would erupt, a calculation made even more difficult by the lack of data.

    “The thing about volcanoes is that they’ve got their own personalities and they’re extremely unpredictable,” William-Jones said. “To say when Meager is going to reactivate is anyone’s guess. Even the best monitored volcanoes can catch you unawares and by surprise.”

    Williams-Jones was at the site in September and said looking down into the mouth of the volcano is like looking into a cave about 50 metres long and 30 metres wide. The ice is about 100 metres at its thickest and gets down to about 50 metres as it thins around the caves.

    There is no “mouth of hell” with a big, glowing, red or orange mass of lava, he said.

    “What you’re looking at is this inclined opening with steam and gas pouring out. And melting water from the ice pouring down into it,” he said.

    — Follow @hinakalam on Twitter

     

    Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


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    december, 2018

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