Oil and gas development, logging, mines, large dams and other industrial infrastructure are having an alarming impact on natural areas and wildlife habitat in the booming Peace Region of northeastern British Columbia, according to a new study released today by the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) and Global Forest Watch Canada.
Scientists with Global Forest Watch Canada, commissioned by the DSF, analyzed 40 years of satellite images to track the growing patchwork of clear cuts, oil wells, fracking operations and thousands of kilometres of seismic lines, roads and oil and natural gas pipelines that crisscross the 56,000-square-kilometre region of sensitive boreal forest that is home to threatened populations of caribou and grizzly bears.
The study found that forestry, energy, and mineral tenure concessions to industry are widespread and often multilayered in the same area. As a consequence, more than 65 per cent of the region has felt the impact of industrial activities and little intact wildlife habitat remains, especially in the eastern Peace Region.
"Our study found that there are 16,267 oil and gas wells, 28,587 kilometres of pipeline, 45,293 kilometres of roads, and 116,725 kilometres of seismic lines packed into the Peace Region. If laid end to end, the roads, pipelines and seismic lines would wrap around the planet an astonishing four and a half times," said Peter Lee, who led the research study.
Local First Nations and the DSF are concerned that further expansion and intensification of the industrial footprint in the region will cause irrevocable ecological harm. Particular concern exists over a proposed third major hydroelectric project, at Site C, near Fort St. John on the Peace River. If built, the dam would flood 3,173 ha of prime Class 1 and 2 farmland which has sustained local farming communities for generations.
"In 2010, First Nations from across the north travelled to Victoria to deliver a joint declaration to the B.C. government asking that the cumulative impacts of industrial development be looked at before Site C was ever considered," said Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nation. "Today's study confirms our worst fears that our lands and waters are being devastated by rampant industrial development. Site C will only further this damage."
"We're urging the B.C. government to protect ecological and farmland resources from the Site C dam, expand protection for threatened species, such as woodland caribou, and their habitat, and ensure that industrial activities in the Peace Region are better managed through land-use planning," said DSF's Dr. Faisal Moola.
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For more information, contact:
Lead Researcher on study
Peter Lee, Global Forest Watch Canada: 780-422-5989
David Suzuki Foundation
Theresa Beer, Communications: 778-874-3396
Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nation
Chief Liz Logan, Treaty 8 Tribal Association
British Columbia's Peace Break Region is an irreplaceable pinch-point within the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. This area is a continental-scale conservation priority for the protection of core wildlife habitat and animal movement corridors for large mammals such as wolves, grizzlies and endangered populations of woodland caribou. It is also the traditional home of the Dunne Zaa/Dane zaa First Nations and contains prime crop and rangelands that have sustained working farm families for generations.
This region has experienced a convergence of industrial activities including clear-cuts, petroleum and natural gas well sites and facilities, mineral developments, roads, transmission lines, pipelines and seismic lines. Many of the ecosystems in the Peace Break have been severely impacted.
The cumulative industrial footprint in the Peace Region is massive
Overall, 20 per cent (1,135,796 ha) of the region has been impacted by industrial activities, with the Upper Peace-Kiskatinaw and the Beatton watersheds the most impacted.
When buffered by 500 m to establish an ecological footprint, 66.9 per cent of the Peace Break Region has been disturbed by human land use.
There are 16,267 oil and gas well sites and 8,517 petroleum and natural gas facilities in the region. There are 3,868 km2 of coal tenures, 243 km2 of mineral tenures, four existing and four proposed coal mines. There are thousands of existing and planned logging cut-blocks, two large-scale hydroelectric dams, the proposed Site C dam and 247 potential run-of-river hydropower sites. There are 45,293 km of roads and 1,163 km of transmission lines.
Industrial development is encroaching upon the habitat of endangered species
Three of 10 caribou herd ranges have been cut in size by over 50 per cent because of industrial activities. While the government recently announced its intention to protect 400,000 ha of high-elevation winter caribou habitat under its Northern Caribou Recovery Plan, critical low-elevation summer habitat for the species remains at risk.
Very little wildlife habitat is protected in parks and wildlife reserves
Only 4.2 per cent of the region is currently protected in parks and protected areas.
- Protect critical remaining ecological and farmland resources in the Peace River Valley by not proceeding with the Site C hydro project
- Expand recovery efforts for threatened species
- Expand the existing network of protected areas in the region
- Ensure that existing and further industrial activities are managed through land-use planning that mitigates cumulative industrial impacts