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Environment

Parks Canada puts brakes on Icefields Parkway bike trail in Alberta

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  • Parks Canada says it won’t go ahead with a plan to build a bike trail along the scenic highway that connects Banff and Jasper national parks.

    The federal agency had budgeted about $66 million to build a 107-kilometre route, along with parking lots, campsites and washrooms.

    “Parks Canada is committed to the ecological integrity of its parks and historical sites,” the agency said in a news release Wednesday. “Preliminary feedback from the consultation process expressed concerns over the potential environmental impact and high cost associated with the project.”

    It said that the money will be spent elsewhere in the national parks system.

    The Icefields Parkway is considered a classic cycling tour, but riders are restricted to its narrow shoulder.

    Parks Canada had proposed a separate, paved route buffered from the busy road by 10 to 20 metres of trees.

    Environmental groups had voiced serious concerns about the project. They said it would cut through critical habitat for caribou, grizzly bears and migratory birds.

    Kecia Kerr, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society for northern Alberta, applauded Parks Canada’s decision to cancel the project.

    “The price tag on the trail was really high,” she said. “It was going to be going through some pretty important grizzly bear habitat.”

    Kerr said the bike trail was often compared to one in the Bow Valley through Banff National Park.

    “It’s really not the same,” she said. “In that area, there is a fence along the highway and so the trail is inside that fence. In this case, there was not going to be a fenced-off trail along the highway.

    “It was going to increase the likelihood that people would be winding up face-to-face with grizzly bears … trying to be feeding.”

    Parks officials had acknowledged in a background document that the trail would have safety risks and induce further development.

    It showed pullouts and rest stops would need to be built every five to 10 kilometres. The trail would have had to be connected by pavement to campgrounds and other infrastructure.

    It would have wound through critical habitat for bats, olive-sided flycatchers and two endangered species — the mountain caribou and the whitebark pine.

    Officials acknowledged in the document that the trail could create encounters between grizzly bears and cyclists, who are less likely to carry bear spray and who travel quietly at much higher speeds than hikers.

    “Some mitigation measures could have relatively significant costs which should be factored into decision-making,” the document said.

    Bob Weber & Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    ‘Worst ways to die:’ Ottawa asks if cruelty should be weighed in wildlife toxins

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  • The federal government is taking extra steps to find out if Canadians are still OK with killing wildlife in what one scientist calls “one of the worst ways to die on earth.”

    The Pest Management Review Agency has extended public consultations into whether it should consider cruelty before licensing poisons used to control large predators such as wolves.

    The most common of the three toxins under consideration is strychnine. One of Canada’s largest users is the government of Alberta, which has used it to poison hundreds of wolves to help caribou herds survive in ranges heavily disrupted by industrial development.

    “The use of pesticides to control large predators and the unintended effects on non-target animals is a growing concern among Canadians,” says the agency’s website.

    Within 20 minutes of being dosed by strychnine, muscles start to convulse. The convulsions increase in intensity and frequency until the backbone arches and the animal asphyxiates or dies of exhaustion.

    “Strychnine is one of the worst ways to die on earth in terms of pain and in terms of being conscious and aware,” said Ryan Brook, a professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture department.

    “We have to do better. If you tried, I don’t think you could find a worse way to do it.”

    Last fall, the advocacy group Wolf Awareness released a letter to the federal government calling strychnine and two other compounds inhumane. The letter was signed by 50 scientists and animal-welfare advocates from across Canada and three countries.

    It’s time Canada modernized its thinking on predator control, said Barbara Cartwright of Humane Canada, the national voice for humane societies and SPCAs.

    “There’s a great need to overhaul our wildlife management,” she said.

    “It has to be targeted and effective. There also needs to be — and this is a growing concern around the world — minimized animal welfare harms.”

    Strychnine opponents say the poison meets none of those standards.

    Wolf Awareness has released documents showing that — along with 1,200 wolves killed by various means in Alberta since 2005 — at least 257 other animals have been poisoned, including 44 foxes and a grizzly bear.  

    Those numbers are likely to be conservative, said Sadie Parr of Wolf Awareness, because strychnine remains in the food web.

    “Anything that consumes a poison carcass also suffers that same horrendous fate prior to death.”

    Many scientists doubt poisoning actually reduces wolves.

    “You kill a dominant wolf, the pack splits, sometimes up to three or four times,” said biologist Gilbert Proulx. “Then you’re faced with four litters the following year instead of one.”

    Alberta government biologists say the wolf cull, which also uses aerial gunning, has preserved caribou on a landscape heavily affected by energy development and forestry.

    Alberta Environment spokesman Matt Dykstra points out farmers also use strychnine to control rodents — although at a much lower dose that dwarfs the amount used against wolves.

    Dykstra wonders how humaneness could even be measured.

    “Humaneness is not something that can be defined with any degree of accuracy,” he said.

    The federal agency is using a definition created by the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It refers to “feasible control programs and techniques that avoid or minimize pain, suffering and distress to target and non-target animals.”

    Proulx said strychnine is no longer used to control predators in most Commonwealth and European countries or most U.S. states.  

    Parr acknowledges that hard choices sometimes have to be made on busy landscapes. But some decisions, she said, go beyond science.

    “Gone is the day and age when we can do whatever we want to whatever we want,” she said. “This is a conservation dilemma but it’s also a moral dilemma.”

    — Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960  

     

    Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Canada rejects global ban on shipping recyclables as trash rots in Manila

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  • OTTAWA — Canada will not sign on to an amendment to an international treaty that would fully ban developed countries like Canada from shipping hazardous waste, including recyclables, to the developing world.

    The amendment was proposed more than 20 years ago but Canada’s objection to it is resurfacing as the Philippines continues to press Canada take back more than 100 containers filled with rotting household garbage that were shipped to Manila in 2013 and 2014 labelled as recyclables.

    The Basel Convention, adopted by all countries except the United States and Haiti, puts limitations on shipments of hazardous waste, and requires the destination country to be made aware of the contents of the waste and agree to receive it.

    In 1995, an amendment was proposed to take the Basel Convention even further, and outright ban all shipments of hazardous waste — with or without consent — including waste intended for recycling. The belief was wealthy countries were avoiding the Basel Convention by labelling things as recycling.

    Canada has never agreed to it and still won’t.

    At least three-quarters of the parties to the original convention have to agree to the amendment, and only two more countries need to say yes for it to be adopted. Debate about the amendment will again be on the agenda as countries meet about the Basel Convention in Switzerland in April.

    “Canada, like other Basel Parties such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand for example, has not signed the amendment because the government believes that there are positive consequences to environmentally sound recycling and recovery operations,” wrote Environment Canada spokeswoman Gabrielle Lamontagne in an email.

    That makes no sense, says Kathleen Ruff, founder of rightoncanada.ca, an online human rights advocacy site.

    “Why on Earth can we justify shipping it all the way around the world to poor countries that can’t deal with their own waste anyway?” she said.

    Ruff said the garbage rotting in the Philippines is proof of why Canada should accept the amendment and, given Liberal promises to be a responsible global citizen, the government should champion it.

    In 2013 and 2014, 103 containers arrived in ports in Manila from Canada, labelled as plastics for recycling, but upon inspection Filipino authorities discovered they were filled with household garbage, including adult diapers, food waste and discarded electronics. Except for a few of the containers that were illegally disposed of, most of the containers remain in quarantine in the ports.

    A Filipino court ordered Canada to take the garbage back, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during visits to the Philippines in 2015 and 2017 to deal with the issue. A bilateral working group was established last fall and meetings are to take place in the next few months.

    When the shipments were sent, Canadian regulations applied the Basel Convention rules only to waste Canada considered hazardous. Lamontagne said that changed in 2016, so Canada now applies the convention to waste considered hazardous in the destination country. Lamontagne said that means the containers in the Philippines would be prohibited today.

    However, Ruff noted the containers would still end up in the Philippines because they were labelled as recycling. They would only be barred if Canada adopted the amendment, she said.

    For several decades, countries like Canada and the United States have found it cheaper to flatten plastic garbage into pallets and ship them across the ocean to Asian countries where companies buy the material and hope to recycle it for resale.

    Ruff notes many of those nations don’t have sophisticated waste-management systems.

    In 2017, the journal Environmental Science and Technology estimated that nearly 90 per cent of the plastics found in the oceans is believed to come from just 10 rivers in Africa and Asia.

    Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is fond of citing a statistic that the equivalent of a truck full of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute around the world. She is pushing Canada to eliminate plastic garbage entirely by 2040. But that would require much of the plastic produced to be recycled.

    Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press



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