Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tar Sands Development Is Killing Birds, New Study Finds

Whooping cranes depend on Canada’s boreal forests for breeding grounds. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
Canada’s boreal forest is a key nursery for migratory birds, but tar sands development is destroying habitat and killing the birds that depend on it, according to a new report.

The report, published by the National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Council of Maine, outlines the risks Canadian tar sands development poses to migratory birds.  More than 292 species of protected birds rely on the boreal forest for breeding habitat, including the endangered whooping crane, and at least 130 of those are threatened by tar sands development.

In all, according to the report, 22 million to 170 million birds use the boreal forest region as a breeding grounds, and that tar sands development’s impact on the region has resulted in the loss of 58,000 to 402,000 birds.

Of the 130 internationally protected American migratory and songbird species listed in the report as threatened by tar sands development, many are familiar names, including: snow goose, American goldfinch, evening grosbeak, great blue heron, common loon, Northern pintail, wood duck, pine siskin, trumpeter swan, cedar waxwing and the pileated woodpecker.

Tailings ponds, which store the mix of water, sand, clay, residual oil and numerous toxic contaminants that are produced in tar sands operations, can be deadly for waterfowl, which land on the ponds after mistaking them for bodies of water.  As the report notes, when the birds land on these ponds, the oily wastewater weighs them down, making them unable to fly, and toxins can be absorbed through their skin or through inhalation or ingestion.

Last month, a study found that about 200,000 birds land each year on tailings ponds, pointing to the need for oil companies to adopt better ways to keep birds off of the ponds.  Right now, companies use noise cannons, high-power noise machines and scarecrows to try to scare birds away from the ponds, but these techniques aren’t doing enough to ensure the birds avoid the ponds.  Luckily, though, most of the landings over the last few years haven’t been deadly.

Tar Sands Development Is Killing Birds, New Study Finds

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