Warm waters send millions of salmon to Canada, not Wash.

Unusually warm water off the Washington coast is sending the vast majority of the sockeye-salmon run to Canadian waters, leaving Puget Sound fishermen with nearly empty nets.

 

By: Associated Press

 

BELLINGHAM — Unusually warm water off the Washington coast is sending the vast majority of the sockeye-salmon run to Canadian waters, leaving Puget Sound fishermen with nearly empty nets.

According to data from the Pacific Salmon Commission, nearly 2.9 million sockeye have been caught in Canadian waters, while only about 98,000 have been netted in Washington through Aug. 19.

That means 99 percent of sockeye have gone through the Johnstone Strait around the northern part of Vancouver Island into Canadian waters.

During a typical sockeye-salmon run, about 50 percent of the run goes around the south end of Vancouver Island through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, putting them in U.S. waters, The Bellingham Herald reported.

This year’s diversion rate is unusual. If it stays around this level, it would be the highest diversion rate on record, dating from 1953, said Mike Lapointe, chief biologist for the Pacific Salmon Commission.

The sockeye run is expected to continue for several more weeks, so U.S. fishermen like Pete Granger hope to salvage what they can. Granger is a reefnet fisherman who is operating his boat near Lummi Island. He has been catching fish for the Lummi Island Wild Co-op for the past eight years.

“It could be one of the worst seasons we’ve had in a long time,” Granger said. The fishing numbers in U.S. waters started to improve at the end of last week, with several weeks left in the season.

Several factors could be behind why sockeye decided to head for the Johnstone Strait this summer, but researchers are looking closely at an area of ocean water off the coast that is about 3 degrees Celsius warmer than normal. Nick Bond, a research scientist for the University of Washington, refers to this area as a “warm blob” that developed last winter as the Pacific Northwest went through a period of unusually quiet weather. Last winter, the area had stretches of cool, windless and foggy days.

The calm weather meant the ocean didn’t do its usual churning of deeper, colder water up to the surface. With this pattern continuing into summer, the warm area has persisted. Sockeye prefer cooler water, which may be why most of the run went north around Vancouver Island.

Bond believes the development of the warm blob is not a direct result of global warming but more of a fluke. Looking back at past data, there has been the occasional season when a cold area has developed off the coast, sending the sockeye south of Vancouver Island into U.S. waters.

This season’s event is giving scientists a chance to learn what impact a warmer ocean would have on this area’s ecosystem, giving them more information to make better predictions.

Given the current weather models, Bond said, the warm blob could be around for a while, possibly well into 2015. There’s also the potential of El Niño developing later this year, bringing warm water to the area. If that’s the case, it could be disruptive for next year’s pink-salmon run as well.

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Government takes heartless stand against efforts to help First Nations devastated by Mount Polley tailings pond catastrophe

Government-takes-heartless-stand-against-efforts-to-help-First-Nations-devastated-by-Mount-Polley-tailings-pond-catastrophe

Via newswire

 

Source: West Coast Native News

 

COAST SALISH TRADITIONAL TERRITORY, Aug. 9, 2014 – In a heartless and illogical move, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is refusing to allow Secwepemc First Nations devastated by the worst mining disaster in BC history to apply some of their Section 35 fish for salmon to catches in Musqueam First Nation’s downstream waters.

The Secwepemc First Nations refuse to catch the salmon they rely on at this time of year because of the water contamination fears from the impact of Monday’s massive Mount Polley tailings pond breach, which sent millions of liters of mine sludge flooding into the rivers and tributaries in the Cariboo region at peak spawning season. First Nations are already finding dead fish in the debris field. Yet rather than recognize this and act out of common sense and decency, DFO is insisting any salmon caught in Musqueam waters before they head further up the water system must be counted against Musqueam’s quota.

Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow stated, “This event illustrates the difference between ancient First Nations cultures and the governments. When people are in need the First Nations response is: how can we help? We will invoke our traditional protocols and will respond to the Secwepemc people whose vital salmon resource is impacted. We simply respond to the needs of the Elders and Secwepemc Chiefs rather than apologize for the irresponsible actions of industry.”

On August 8th, the Musqueam held a teleconference with Chief Bev Sellars and Chief Ann Louie and offered to provide them with salmon from the mouth of the Fraser. Chief Wayne Sparrow stated, “it was a moving telephone discussion to hear of their loss and the fears that they have to collect salmon in their territory. We have great respect for the interior First Nations who hold the territories that incubate the eggs for all of our communities’ future use.”

Chief Bev Sellars from the Xatsull First Nation states, “we don’t believe the BC government’s water tests and have reviewed the list of toxic heavy metals that were released from the tailings dam earlier this week. The Provincial and Federal governments seem to be taking the position that the water tests are fine so no harm is done. They are doing their best to stand up for the mining industry and leave us in the background to suffer the consequences. Governments should not be apologists for the reckless acts of industry but should work to reassure and support the Elders need for salmon.”

MacLean’s magazine is calling the fears raised by First Nations as ‘eco-babble’ because now the initial water tests are not as serious as expected. Chief Ann Louie from the Williams Lake Indian Band states, “I challenge anyone to come up to our territory and look at this disaster and say everything is fine. We are talking about the respect for basic human dignity and telling us the water tests are fine and at the same time don’t go in the water confirms our fears that we should not consume the fish in the impacted area as a source of food for the coming winter.”

The Musqueam are asking for others to speak out against the government’s ridiculous position that penalizes any First Nation that attempts to help others in need. Regardless of this decision by governments we are committed to support these communities with healthy fish.

The Tsleil Waututh First Nation, a neighbour to the Musqueam, has also offered to support the Secwepemc people by providing fish.

Wayne Sparrow is the elected Chief of the Musqueam First Nation located at the mouth of the Fraser River. Bev Sellars is the elected Chief of the Xatsull First Nation and Ann Louie is the elected Chief of the Williams Lake Indian Band whose collective communities were directly impacted by the Mount Polley disaster. Their traditional territory is approximately 500 km north of Musqueam.

Cariboo Regional District declares state of emergency after Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach in B.C.

 

Gordon Hoekstra, Tara Carman, Postmedia News | August 6, 2014 11:25 AM ET

 

Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan HaywardContents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area.

 

The millions of cubic metres of water that poured out of Mount Polley mine when the dam collapsed had failed provincial water quality guidelines for human and aquatic health in the past, according to the B.C. environment ministry and early Wednesday the Cariboo Regional District declared a state of local emergency.

Data sent to the ministry by Mount Polley as recently as Monday showed that selenium concentration exceeded drinking water guidelines by a factor of 2.8 times.

There have also been drinking water exceedances of sulphate over the last few years, according to information supplied to The Vancouver Sun by environment ministry spokesman Dave Crebo.

Aquatic water guidelines have also been exceeded in the past for nitrate, cadmium, copper and iron.

Al Richmond, of the Cariboo Regional District, said water tests were being expedited and results are expected by Thursday.

The Regional District declared a state of local emergency early Wednesday. The move will allow access to additional resources that may be needed to further protect the private property and government infrastructure in Likely.

The release of 10 million cubic metres of water — enough to fill B.C. Place more than four times — is also potentially contaminated with toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury, a concern for hundreds of area residents’ water supply and important salmon habitat.

According to 2013 data the company released to Environment Canada on disposal of chemicals, Mount Polley mine disposed of almost 84,000 kilograms of arsenic and its compounds through tailings last year, as well as about 1,000 kg of cadmium, 38,000 kg of lead and 562 kg of mercury.

Mount Polley, operated by Imperial Metals, is an open-pit copper and gold mine with a four-kilometre-wide tailings pond built with an earthen dam located in central B.C., west of Williams Lake and near the community of Likely.

Provincial officials are conducting tests of water samples from the area. Until results come back, the severity of the contamination remains unknown and a drinking water ban remains in effect for about 300 people in the immediate vicinity.

Imperial Metals president Bryan Kynoch apologized to Likely-area residents gathered at a community hall Tuesday afternoon, and said the company would do all it could to make right the effects of the dam collapse. “I know it’s going to take a long time to earn the community’s trust back,” he said. “This is a gut-wrenching experience, I know for you, but I can assure you it is for me.”

 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan HaywardA aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area.

 

Making it right includes reclaiming the environment, but also compensating in areas such as potential tourism business losses, he said.

More than 150 townspeople crowded into the hall to hear from Kynoch, provincial Mines Minister Bill Bennett and regional district officials.

Kynoch said he did not know why the dam collapsed, but acknowledged it is not supposed to happen.

He said he believed there was not likely to be danger to people, fish and animals.

Asked if he would drink the water, Kynoch shot back: “Yes, I’d drink the water.”

The company would soon have boats in the water to ensure that the debris did not reach the bridge in the community, Kynoch added.

He said he couldn’t say whether the mine would reopen, but noted that he would do all in his power to ensure it did.

Al McMillan and Judy Siemens were skeptical about Kynoch’s assurances there was likely to be no serious effects from the tailings spill. They and their pets are suffering from the water ban, and are concerned the slurry spilled into Hazeltine Creek will pose a problem over time, as it could bleed into the lake during rains.

McMillan took his aluminum boat to view where the creek spilled debris into the lake, and said the water made a sizzling, fizzing sound similar to when a pop is opened, which he believes were substances in the water reacting to his boat.

“I’ve seen five or six fish float by my dock, and a family of otters were feeding on them. What’s going to be the effect on them?” he asked.

Anthony Mack of the Xatsull First Nation spoke up at the meeting, questioning Kynoch’s belief the tests would show the environment was not harmed. In an interview, he said they will be conducting their own tests. “We do not trust industry or government,” said Mack.

Imperial Metals said early water tests are encouraging, with no mercury detected and arsenic levels about one-fifth of drinking water quality.

Suspended in the water is another 4.5 million cubic metres of fine sand, which contains the heavy metals.

Of these, the most hazardous to human and environmental health are arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and mercury, said John Werring, senior science and policy adviser at the David Suzuki Foundation.

These are materials that are deemed “priority pollutants” by Environment Canada because they are known to be toxic, cause cancer, birth defects or genetic mutations and accumulate up the food chain, he said. Mercury and lead affect the nervous system.

“Understand that this stuff is washing into a big lake and it will dilute, but as it’s closer to the source, depending on the concentration of those chemicals, they can be lethal. It would be less lethal but still harmful the farther away you go and the longer it is put into the environment, there’s a greater opportunity that over time, the food chain will absorb it.”

The same applies to highly toxic non-metallic chemicals present in tailings that are used to separate metals during the mining process, but companies are not required to report amounts of these substances to Environment Canada, Werring said.

“These chemicals are there and I highly doubt that even now with the kind of water quality testing that’s going to be undertaken … they’re not even going to look for those.”

This is a serious incident that should not have happened

The cause of the breach, which occurred at 3:45 a.m. Monday, remains unknown. Mine personnel and instruments detected no indication of an impending breach, according to a statement from Imperial Metals.

Officials from the provincial Ministry of Energy and Mines are investigating the site at Mount Polley, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said in a statement Tuesday.

“This is a serious incident that should not have happened,” Bennett said Tuesday. “We are devoting every appropriate resource working with local officials to clean up the site, mitigate any impacts to communities and the environment, and investigate the cause of the breach. We will determine the cause of the event and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

In an interview in Likely, where Bennett spoke to the community, he said the last dam inspection was in September 2013. They also took a look at the dam’s water levels in May when the water was high, but found no problems, he said. “They’ve been in compliance,” said Bennett.

He said he expected to get water samples back in a day or two, which would be shared with the public.

The comprehensive investigation of the collapse would take longer, noted Bennett.

 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Cariboo Regional District

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Cariboo Regional DistrictThe tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine, southeast of Quesnel, was breached, discharging waste water into Hazeltine Creek (shown ) on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.

 

There remains a complete ban on drinking, swimming and bathing in the waterways surrounding the mine, including Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and the entire Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers systems right to the Fraser River.

The ban does not apply to people in Williams Lake or other towns along the Fraser.

Residents have been told not to allow pets or livestock to drink the water.

Likely resident Doug Watt said Tuesday that he was just starting to see the first debris from the breach float by his home on Quesnel Lake, where he gets all his drinking water.

Watt, whose water supply was cut off while his son, daughter-in-law and two small grandchildren were visiting on the weekend, stockpiled water from the lake as soon as they heard about the breach, knowing it would take several hours before any contaminants reached their area.

“We just filled up all sorts of containers.”

Watt said he is frustrated by a lack of information about water quality and availability. The first formal notice he received from authorities was a paper notice from the Cariboo Regional District taped to his door Tuesday morning warning people not to drink the water and directing them to the district’s Facebook page for more information, “which is fine if you have Internet. Many people don’t,” he said, noting that his Internet is unreliable.

“There’s a lot of confusion and I think a lot of people are very scared. People that are working at the mine have mortgages and kids to feed. They’re wondering what’s going to happen now … we can’t drink the water, but they don’t have the money to go buy the water.”

Important fish and wildlife habitat alongside Hazeltine Creek has been destroyed by the spill and is unlikely to recover as the fine sediment settles into the ground, Werring said. The full environmental impact won’t be known for decades, as animals that graze on any vegetation that grows back in the contaminated area will also be affected and the effects of toxins such as mercury is amplified as it accumulates up the food chain over time, he pointed out.

“Over a lengthy period of time, we can see long-term metal contamination of fish and wildlife in that area.”

We can see long-term metal contamination of fish and wildlife in that area

Consultants hired by local First Nations and mine owner Imperial Metals raised flags about the capacity of the tailings ponds as far back as 2011.

“The tailings pond was filling out and they needed to get rid of the water,” said consultant Brian Olding of the dam, which he described as “earthen.” “The walls were getting too high and the water was getting too high.”

In 2009, the mine applied to the B.C. Environment Ministry for a permit to discharge effluent into Hazeltine Creek. An amended permit was approved in 2012.

Watt, who worked at the mine as a metallurgist and shift supervisor nine years ago, said there were problems with the tailings ponds overflowing as recently as last winter, but the overflow was contained in retaining pools.

Werring, who is familiar with the environmental assessment process for mines, said tailings can be more safely managed by dehydrating them to make bricks, and then stacking them in such a way that water flow can be managed through them.

“It’s more expensive and it’s typically always written off,” he said.

Canadian protesters set up camp — politely — along Line 9 pipeline

By: Heather Smith, Grist

 

Line 9 Blockade

Line 9 Blockade

 

This morning, a group of protesters drove through the farm country of Kitchener, Ontario. They pulled up at a dirt-and-gravel-paved job site occupied by a security guard.

The guard knew the drill. While he phoned everyone who normally reported to the job site to tell them not to come in to work that day, the protesters set up camp. They posted a statement on Tumblr, inviting any interested parties to come and join them, along with guidelines for the occupation:

Here are some things to keep in mind while visiting the Dam Line 9 Action:

– We are on stolen Indigenous land. Deshkaan Ziibing (Antler River, so-called Thames River), Anishinabek territory.

– Have fun, but also remember that this is a site of struggle.

 

All summer, protesters have been appearing at job sites along the path of Line 9 — a pipeline that had lived in obscurity until the regulatory limbo surrounding the approval of Keystone XL made it famous. Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns Line 9, announced plans to expand it and to reverse its flow. Normally the pipe carries crude from Africa and the Middle East into Canada’s heart; Enbridge would like it to move oil from the Alberta tar sands to Quebec, where it could be refined and exported.

Line 9 is 38 years old, and crosses the path of every river that drains into Lake Ontario. But because it was already in the ground, it didn’t require the same standards of approval that a new pipeline would. The reversal was approved by Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) last March, after several months of contentious public hearings, which adhered to a newly developed rule that required anyone who wanted to make a public comment to submit a 10-page application for approval first.

One of the protesters, Dan Kellar, was working on a PhD in environmental impact assessment and the application of environmental laws, so he was able to navigate the application process well enough to submit a comment, along with a group called Grand River Indigenous Solidarity. The NEB, unswayed, approve the pipeline anyway.

Then something unexpected happened. In June, the NEB ruled that the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation had not been adequately consulted on the portion of Line 9 that passed through their territory, which meant that they had the right to appeal the expansion. This was one of several rulings in the last few months that have greatly expanded First Nations power over what happens on Canadian soil.

Still, while the appeal works its way through the system, the NEB has allowed the retrofit  to continue. That’s why the protests at various sites along the retrofit’s pathway have continued, too.

In this latest case, the work being stopped is a valve replacement, but most of the projects that the protesters have interrupted have been “integrity digs” — areas where Enbridge has dug up a section of the pipeline to check it for leaks.

Most of the occupations last for a few days, according to Rachel Avery, one of the protesters at the site. In this case, police told the protesters that they would be checking in on the site at 6 p.m., but gave no word as to whether they had plans to arrest anyone.

In the meantime, says Avery, there’s lots of stuff to do, like set up tents and shade structures, and install solar panels. There’s also plenty of time to  educate curious passers-by about the hydrology of the local watershed.

That’s what the call-out to visit on Tumblr was about — kind of like a consciousness-raising group, but under threat of arrest. Why not turn your site occupation into an educational opportunity? It’s just another way, says Avery, “to build a stronger movement.”

As this report went to press, the protesters had settled in for a frisbee match.

 

Line 9 Blockade

Line 9 Blockade

Ontario First Nations ready to die defending lands: chiefs

5 chiefs serve notice that they’ll assert treaty rights over their traditional territory

 

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven't respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

 

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press Posted: Jul 30, 2014

Aboriginal people in Ontario are prepared to lay down their lives to protect their traditional lands from any unwanted development, a group of First Nations chiefs said Tuesday.

Five aboriginal chiefs served notice on the Ontario and federal governments, developers and the public that they’ll assert their treaty rights over their traditional territory and ancestral lands.

That includes the rights to natural resources — such as fish, trees, mines and water— deriving benefit from those resources and the conditions under which other groups may access or use them, which must be consistent with their traditional laws, said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says "all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent."

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says “all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent.”

 

“All those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, inquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent,” he said.

“We will take appropriate steps to enforce these assertions.”

‘No respect’ for agreements with ancestors

Tuesday’s declaration follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in late June which awarded 1,700 square kilometres of territory to British Columbia’s Tsilhqot’in First Nation, providing long-awaited clarification on how to prove aboriginal title.

The ruling also formally acknowledged the legitimacy of indigenous land claims to wider territory beyond individual settlement sites.

But in a separate decision a few weeks later, the court upheld the Ontario government’s power to permit industrial logging on Grassy Narrows First Nation’s traditional lands. Grassy Narrows is different from the Tsilhqot’in decision because it involves treaty land, not aboriginal title.

Grassy Narrows argued that only Ottawa has the power to take up the land because treaty promises were made with the federal Crown.

The high court ruled that the province doesn’t need the federal government’s permission to allow forestry and mining activity under an 1873 treaty that ceded large swaths of Ontario and Manitoba to the federal government.

The Ontario chiefs who spoke out on Tuesday said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which gives First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources.

‘Land has become sick’

Aboriginal communities have seen what Canadian and Ontario laws have done to their land over the last 147 years, Beardy said.

“The land has become sick,” he said. “We become sick. We become poor, desperate and dying.”

The people of Grassy Narrows First Nation are still suffering from mercury poisoning decades after the Wabigoon river around their land was contaminated by a local paper mill, Beardy added.

Grand Chief of Treaty 3, Warren White, argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizes the state of Israel, but not the lands of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

“He needs to have the same principles that he’s saying about Israeli lands to Treaty 3 territory and native lands in Canada,” White said.

“Clean up your own backyard before you go and spill a lot of money into disasters in other countries.”

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation added that the province’s aboriginal people will draw a line in the sand, put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario's aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that's what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario’s aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

“We’re no longer just going to be civilly disobedient. We’re going to defend our lands, and there’s a big difference there,” he said.

“Our young people are dying, our people are dying. So let’s die at least defending our land.”

Aboriginal communities don’t want to harm others, said Beardy. But they’ll do what they must to stop an incursion on their lands, such as forming human blockades to stop the clearcutting of trees, he said.

“Anything that happens on our aboriginal homeland now, they must consult with us,” said Roger Fobister Sr., chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation. “Even if they’re going to cut down one tree, they better ask us.”

How a town in Maine is blocking an Exxon tar-sands pipeline

By Roger Drouin, Grist

 

tar sands protestors in Maine
350.org
 

Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction.

“It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.

The measure is intended to stop ExxonMobil and partner companies from bringing Albertan tar-sands oil east through an aging pipeline network to the city’s waterfront. Currently, the pipeline transports conventional oil west from Portland to Canada; the companies want to reverse its flow.

After an intensely debated, year-and-a-half battle, the South Portland City Council on Monday sided with residents like Jones who don’t want their city to end up as a new “international hub” for the export of tar-sands oil.

South Portland city council meeting
Dan Wood
Proponents of the Clear Skies ordinance, wearing blue, packed a South Portland city council meeting on July 9.
 

“The message to the tar sands industry is: ‘Don’t be counting your chickens yet,’” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “There is a pattern of communities saying ‘no’ to the threat of tar-sands oil.”

A clear signal

The ordinance could have global implications. The Canadian government expects the nation’s oil industry to be producing 4 million to 6 million barrels of tar-sands bitumen a day within a few years, and it’s pinning its hopes on somehow getting all that oil to coastal ports, said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Washington-based pipeline safety consulting firm Accufacts Inc. Indeed, a recent report from the International Energy Agency found that the industry needs export pipelines in order for its boom to continue.

South Portland’s move is just the latest setback for plans to pipe the bitumen out to international markets. Another big hurdle is the long delay over the Keystone XL pipeline. And in Canada, pipeline plans have met with opposition from indigenous peoples (known as First Nations), who are taking the lead to stop projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar-sands pipeline through British Columbia.

Now, there is a clear signal that communities along the U.S. East Coast will fight tar-sands expansion too.

“Do not under estimate the power of a local government,” said Kuprewicz.

“A lot of perseverance”

In early 2013, residents formed Protect South Portland to try to stop the Portland-Montreal Pipeline reversal. They put an initiative on the November 2013 ballot to block the project, but it lost narrowly at the polls.

So the city council took up the cause. In December of last year, the council voted to impose a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil out through its port. Then a council-appointed committee crafted the Clear Skies Ordinance to permanently block tar-sands shipments, which is what the council officially approved this week. The law also changes zoning rules to block the construction of twin smokestacks that would be needed to burn off bitumen-thinning chemicals before the oil could be shipped out.

Over the past few months, concerned residents met in homes and Protect South Portland grew. Meanwhile, the group Energy Citizens, backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s largest trade group, ran ads that said “It’s just oil. From Canada.” The oil companies hired a number of lawyers and brought public relations firms on board.

Protect South Portland spokeswoman MJ Ferrier estimates that the grassroots group was outspent by at least 6 to 1.

So how did residents win over Big Oil? “A lot of perseverance and a lot of community engagement,” Voorhees said.

After the vote, supporters of the ordinance went to a local bar, and “we raised our glasses,” Jones told Grist.

Cautious celebration

But while local activists are celebrating this week’s win, they know “this is not the end,” said Jones.

South Portland Councilor Tom Blake, who’s been a champion of the effort to protect the city from tar sands, said a legal challenge seems imminent, by either Portland Pipe Line Corp., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, or by the Canadian government. Blake had this message for the oil company and Canadian officials Monday evening: “This ordinance is the will of the people,” he said. “Do not spend millions of dollars and force the city of South Portland to do the same.”

But the oil interests are unlikely to heed his warning.

Tom Hardison, vice president of Portland Pipe Line, told reporters that the city had made a rush decision and bowed to environmental “off-oil extremists.” He added that the zoning changes amounted to a “job-killing ordinance” that prevents the city’s port from adapting to meet the energy needs of North America.

Matthew Manahan, attorney for Portland Pipe Line, told the city council before the vote that its ordinance is “illegal” and “would clearly be preempted by federal and state law.”

“The council is ignoring the law” and “ignoring science,” the lawyer added.

Air and water worries

Like the process of extracting tar-sands oil, the process of transporting it takes a huge toll on the environment. Before the heavy, almost-solid bitumen can be sent through pipelines, it has to be thinned with a concoction of liquid natural gas and other hydrocarbons. And then before it can be loaded onto ships, that concoction has to be burned off. ExxonMobil currently holds permits to build two smokestacks on South Portland’s waterfront that would do the burning.

Ferrier, a retired psychologist and a nun, joined Protect South Portland largely out of concern for what the oil companies’ plans would do to air quality in an area that has already received a “C” for ozone pollution from the American Lung Association. The proposed smokestacks would emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “We know there is benzene in it, a known carcinogen,” said Ferrier.

Resident Andrew Parker had similar concerns. “Tonight is about children,” he said at Monday’s city council meeting. “The oil company will put poison in the air, that is a fact.”

For Mayor Gerard Jalbert, who also sits on the city council and voted in support of the ordinance, it came down to concerns about water quality. The risk of water contamination in the case of a spill far outweighed the nebulous claims about job creation.

“When I look at the economic benefit, which no seems to be able to detail, the risk seems to outweigh the benefit,” Jalbert told Grist.

The easternmost 236-mile stretch of pipeline crosses some of the most sensitive ecosystems in Maine, including the Androscoggin River, the pristine Crooked River, and Sebago Lake, which supplies drinking water for 15 percent of the state’s population.

Blake, the council member, is worried that using old pipes to transport heavy bitumen could lead to a spill like the one that happened in Mayflower, Ark., in March 2013, when an ExxonMobil pipeline built in the 1940s ruptured and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil.

Saying “no” to tar sands is part of a bigger shift to a greener future in South Portland, Blake added. “Being a community that has been heavily dependent on petroleum, this turns a tide,” the councilor said.

He pointed to a new electric-car charging station at the city’s community center and potential plans to build a solar farm on an old landfill as steps toward a sustainable future. “I think we are starting to walk the talk,” Blake said.

Roger Drouin is a freelance journalist who covers environmental issues. When he’s not reporting or writing, he is out getting almost lost in the woods. He blogs at rogersoutdoorblog.com.

March in Saskatoon supports Marlene Bird as she returns to Saskatchewan

Event highlights issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women

Colleen Whitedeer participates in today's march in Saskatoon in support of assault victim Marlene Bird. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Colleen Whitedeer participates in today’s march in Saskatoon in support of assault victim Marlene Bird. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

 

Source: CBC News

Saskatoon’s police chief and the chief of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation led a march in support of Marlene Bird this morning.

Bird is the homeless woman who was brutally attacked last month in Prince Albert. She has been receiving treatment at a hospital in Edmonton and was set to arrive in Saskatoon Wednesday for further treatment at a hospital in her home province.

About 70 people joined in the Saskatoon walk.

DeeAnn Mercier was among them. She works at the Lighthouse shelter and said homeless people are often victims of random attacks.

“Our mobile outreach team was out last night and picked an individual up who had been urinated on and someone had stolen his pants,” Mercier said. “It’s just so humiliating for folks.”

Mercier said fortunately that person was physically unhurt, but she worries that other Lighthouse clients may not be so lucky.

Part of the aim of today’s walk is to spur more donations for Bird’s care after she is released from hospital, said Eldon Henderson, one of the event’s organizers.

“She’s going to need a home… and wheelchair accessibility,” Henderson explained.

Two fundraising efforts are underway, including one by the Prince Albert YWCA. The Montreal Cree Nation has also set up a trust account at the Royal Bank.

By Henderson’s estimate about $13,000 had been raised as of the start of Wednesday morning. He was unable to say at this point how much more money is needed.

Meanwhile, Montreal Lake is focusing more attention on the wider issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. It’s co-hosting the 1st Annual Canadian Indigenous Women Conference this November in Saskatoon.

In August the community will begin raising money to establish a Foundation for Aboriginal Women in Canada. It will offer help to the survivors of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“We want to make sure that we have the expertise and the staff there that’s going to complement that healing process for the families,” Henderson said.

It’s hoped the foundation will also have a scholarship program.

Canadians are eating tar-sands pollution

Caelie Frampton

Caelie Frampton

 

By John Upton, Grist

Tar-sands extraction isn’t just turning swaths of Canadian land into postapocalyptic film sets. New research shows it’s also contaminating the wild animals that members of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations have traditionally relied on for food.

We already knew that the tar-sands operations have been dousing northern Alberta with mercury and other forms of pollution. Now university scientists have collaborated with the First Nations to test the pollution levels in hunted animals found downstream from the tar-sands sites. Here are some lowlights from their findings, which were included in a report published on Monday:

 

Arsenic levels were high enough in in muskrat and moose muscle; duck, moose, and muskrat livers; and moose and duck kidneys to be of concern for young children. Cadmium levels were again elevated in moose kidney and liver samples but also those of beaver and ducks … Mercury levels were also high for duck muscle, kidneys, and livers as well as moose and muskrat kidneys, especially for children. …

Total levels of PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] and levels of carcinogenic and alkylated PAHs were very high relative to other food studies conducted around the world.

The First Nations members aren’t shocked to hear this. Some have already started avoiding their traditional foods because of worries about contamination, they told researchers. More from the report:

Participants were concerned about declines in the quality of [traditional] foods, in the greatest part because of environmental pollutants originating from the Oil Sands. It was notable how many participants no longer consumed locally caught fish, because of government-issued consumption advisories and associated human health concerns. Muskrat consumption had also declined precipitously, along with muskrat populations, a decline that was attributed to changes in hydrology and contaminant levels associated with the WAC Bennett Dam and the Oil Sands. The only effective alternatives to traditional foods are store-bought foods. …

All participants were worried about ongoing declines in the health and wellbeing of their community. They generally viewed themselves as less healthy than their parents, who rarely got sick. Neurological illnesses (e.g. sleeping disorders, migraines, and stress) were most common followed, in descending order of frequency, by respiratory illnesses (e.g. allergies, asthma) as well as circulatory (e.g. hypertension, coronary) and gastrointestinal (e.g. gallbladder, ulcers) illnesses. Yet, everyone was most concerned about the current and escalating cancer crisis.

A documentary about the research — One River, Many Relations — will be released in October. Here’s a trailer:

Can Canada’s indigenous communities stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper from turning the country into a petrostate?

foreignpolicy.com

VANCOUVER, Canada — On Canada’s western coast, where rain-forested mountains dip into gray-blue seas, the political anger is ready to explode. The indigenous people, whose ancestors have fished, hunted, and thrived here since the last ice age, are furious about an energy policy dreamed up in Ottawa that they fear could permanently damage their land and destroy their way of life.”Opponents can mock our love of our home as sentimental, but it won’t change what we feel,” the award-winning indigenous novelist Eden Robinson wrote recently in the Globe and Mail. “[T]he mood in our base is simmering fury.”

Robinson lives in Kitamaat Village, a small community some 400 miles north of Vancouver, near where the Kitimat River meets salt water. Its 700 indigenous inhabitants belong to the Haisla nation, one of 630 such recognized “First Nations” across Canada, which has called this coastal region home for thousands of years, going back to long before European settlers first arrived in the 18th century.

Lately the Haisla have had to reckon with a new unwelcome visitor: Calgary-based Enbridge, one of the world’s largest fossil fuel transporters. If the Northern Gateway project the company has been proposing for the past decade goes forward, a pipeline pumping 525,000 barrels per day of heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands would end within walking distance of Robinson’s home. Tensions in her community are so high, she wrote, that “people will spit at you if they think you support Enbridge.”

It’s likely they will also spit at someone they think supports Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In June, his Conservative government approved the $7.3 billion Gateway project, which would ship oil across the Rocky Mountains to the Port of Kitimat, load it onto supertankers, and sell it for a premium to Asian markets. To reach the Pacific, supertankers must first navigate the winding Douglas Channel. In 2006, a provincial ferry crashed and sank in the channel, and people living in the nearby Gitga’at Nation village of Hartley Bay fear that history will repeat itself — but on a scale of environmental and cultural damage hard to fathom. They recently stretched a 2.8-mile crocheted rope in protest of Gateway across the Douglas Channel.

“Each stitch is shaped like a teardrop,” said blockade organizer Lynne Hill, “because this is a very emotional thing for us.”

“Each stitch is shaped like a teardrop,” said blockade organizer Lynne Hill, “because this is a very emotional thing for us.”

For Harper, Gateway promises a $300 billion GDP boost and the prestige of achieving his most important foreign-policy goal, to remake Canada into a global “energy superpower.” But to many First Nations living along the pipeline’s 731-mile-long route, Gateway symbolizes “everything that people don’t want,” Robinson said.

They intend to fight the pipeline in court by arguing for legal authority over land they’ve lived on for millennia and never surrendered to the federal government. A landmark decision from Canada’s Supreme Court on June 26 may have brought groups like the Haisla one step closer to achieving that authority.

Tension between indigenous people and the pipeline project are nothing new. In 2006, Enbridge sent surveyors, chain saws in hand, into the ancient forest near Kitamaat Village to scout sites for an oil terminal. They felled 14 trees that bore living evidence of First Nations history: deep notches made by the Haisla hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of years earlier. “We compared it to a thief breaking into your house and destroying one of your prized possessions,” Haisla Councilor Russell Ross Jr. told me in 2012.

The relationship between the Haisla First Nation and Enbridge only got worse. Five years after the tree-cutting incident, the company offered a $100,000 settlement, which was “almost an insult” in the opinion of Chief Councilor Ellis Ross, as he stated in a letter to Enbridge’s president. Even worse was Enbridge’s additional offer to make amends with a “cleansing feast.” If such a ceremony was practiced widely in Haisla culture, Ross wasn’t aware of it.

“I have never witnessed Haisla Nation Council initiate a cleansing feast and I doubt I ever will,” he wrote to the firm. “I would appreciate it if your company’s shallow understanding of our culture is kept out of our discussions.”

All along the Gateway route, Enbridge was making similar cultural flubs. These gaffes, along with a negotiating style Robinson described as heavy on “talking points” and light on listening, had by 2011 caused 130 First Nations across British Columbia and Alberta to oppose the project, many of them not even directly impacted by it. “If Enbridge has poked the hornet’s nest of aboriginal unrest,” Robinson wrote, “then the federal Conservatives, Stephen Harper’s government, has spent the last few years whacking it like a pinata.”

The whacks began coming after Harper’s Conservatives won their first-ever majority rule in 2011. Since then, his Conservative Party has made it easier to get oil and gas projects approved, has cut environmental protections, and has proposed contentious changes to indigenous education. “It’s felt like the Conservatives have just been hammering us with legislation,” Robinson said. Tension with the Conservatives are so widely felt among First Nations that in late 2012 there emerged a protest movement called Idle No More, whose sit-ins, rallies, and hunger strikes brought national attention to the cause of indigenous sovereignty.

This May, a United Nations envoy deemed native distrust of Harper a “continuing crisis.” On Gateway, Harper has done little to ease the problem. After the U.S. rejection in early 2012 of TransCanada’s Keystone XL, a pipeline that was supposed to link Alberta’s oil sands to Texas, the prime minister “expressed his profound disappointment” to U.S. President Barack Obama, Harper’s office said in a statement. A week later, at the World Economic Forum, Harper vowed to export oil to Asia instead. Projects like Gateway were now a “national priority,” he declared.

For Harper, the economics of the project provide good reason for its priority status. Enbridge estimates that, once completed, Gateway would boost Canada’s GDP by $300 billion over the next three decades. Ottawa alone stands to gain $36 billion in taxes and royalties. And there is the issue of Canada’s role in the world. One month after the World Economic Forum, in February 2012, Harper traveled to China, where an influential crowd of Chinese business executives that Canada is “an emerging energy superpower” eager to “sell our energy to people who want to buy our energy.”

While Harper delivered that pitch in Europe and Asia, his then-natural resources minister, Joe Oliver (now finance minister), was declaring war on Gateway opponents back at home. In an open letter, Oliver lashed out at the “environmental and other radical groups” that in their protests against the pipeline project “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

It was a tactical stumble, wrote George Hoberg, a University of British Columbia professor who studies the Gateway standoff, that pushed “many moderates who were offended by the style of the attacks into strong opponents of the pipeline.” Oliver’s letter was mentioned again and again during two years of federal hearings on Gateway, for which 4,000 Canadians registered to speak.

By the time those hearings finished last December, Gateway had become one of the top political issues in Canada. Much credit for that is due to a sustained media campaign coordinated by British Columbia’s major green groups, which deliberately evoked memories of Exxon’s 1989 Valdez disaster. On the spill’s 20th anniversary in 2009, they declared a “No Tankers Day.”

“There will be a sacrifice we’re asked to make at some point, and the [ecological] damage will be permanent,” said Kai Nagata from the Dogwood Initiative, one of the leading groups in that campaign. “Nobody’s come up with a compelling argument about why we should accept those risks.”

The continual focus on Gateway’s risks — to one of North America’s vastest wildernesses and to the indigenous people living within it — allowed green groups to broker alliances with First Nations all along the pipeline route. They appeared together at joint press conferences and waged a two-front opposition to Gateway so effective that, by this June, nearly 70 percent of people in British Columbia opposed immediate federal approval of the project, according to a Bloomberg-Nanos poll.

“The reason why Gateway has become such a political albatross for Stephen Harper,” Nagata explained, “is he’s managed to find a way to align the majority of British Columbians with the majority of First Nations.” Not to mention Vancouver’s mayor, British Columbia’s premier, and Harper’s political opponents in Ottawa, all of whom have spoken out against the project.

None of that opposition has deterred the federal Conservatives, though. In mid-June Harper’s government officially approved Gateway, deeming it “in the public interest.” Within hours of the announcement, a coalition of almost 30 First Nations and tribal councils in British Columbia were vowing to “immediately go to court to vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project,” and promising that “we will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”

Unlike in the United States, where indigenous peoples were conquered and then settled on reservations, few along Gateway’s proposed route have ever surrendered territory. What power they actually wield over that territory is legally disputed. Yet a Supreme Court decision on June 26 granting land title to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation gives greater legal standing to native groups with unresolved land claims.

The consequences of that decision, as well as the autonomy it ultimately provides to indigenous people, will be decided if groups like the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, which represents eight First Nations across central British Columbia, challenge Gateway in court as unconstitutional. “What we’ll really be doing is testing our authority and our jurisdiction over the land,” said Terry Teegee, the council’s tribal chief. “It’s really hard to imagine this project going ahead.”

Enbridge is still confident. “We are prepared” for legal challenges, the company’s CEO, Al Monaco, said during a recent conference call, in which he contested the notion that people like Teegee speak on behalf of all First Nations. Monaco argued that 60 percent of indigenous people living along Gateway’s route in fact want to see it built (a claim called “ridiculous” by the Coastal First Nations group). Those court battles that First Nations do bring, in Monaco’s opinion, are likely to be resolved in Enbridge’s favor over the next 12 to 15 months. Gateway’s construction could begin shortly after. “This is not necessarily an endless process,” he said.

For indigenous people like Robinson, as well as the Unist’ot’en husband and wife now living in a wood cabin built intentionally along the pipeline’s path, the fight against Enbridge stands in for a larger cultural struggle. So long as companies and governments continue to view the rights of First Nations “as an impediment to getting what they want,” Robinson said, the struggle will surely continue.

Jennifer Castro/Flickr Creative Commons

Tsilhqot’in Nation welcomes recognition of full aboriginal title for the first time in Canadian history

Photo from http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2013/11/council-canadians-supports-tsilhqotin-nation-supreme-court

Photo from http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2013/11/council-canadians-supports-tsilhqotin-nation-supreme-court

 

By Tsilhqot’in Nation, June 26, 2014. Source: Intercontinental Cry

The Tsilhqot’in Nation welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision overruling the BC Court of Appeal’s judgment on Aboriginal title. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the 2007 ruling of the BC Supreme Court and declared Aboriginal title to approximately 2000 km2 in the heart of the Tsilhqot’in homeland, in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of British Columbia.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling ends a long history of denial and sets the stage of recognition of Aboriginal title in its full form. Rejecting the BC Court of Appeal’s impoverished view of title as specific, intensely used sites is a step towards true and lasting reconciliation for all First Nations. The Tsilhqot’in Nation has worked tirelessly with many organizations to make this a reality.

“We take this time to join hands and celebrate a new relationship with Canada. We are reminded of our elders who are no longer with us. First and foremost we need to say sechanalyagh (thank you) to our Tsilhqot’in Elders, many of whom testified courageously in the courts. We are completing this journey for them and our youth. Our strength comes from those who surround us, those who celebrate with us, those who drum with us” said Plaintiff, Chief Roger William of Xeni Gwet’in.

Xeni Gwet’in Chief William states, “First Nations across this country have taken legal action, entered into treaty, practiced their language and demonstrated use of the land and through this they have supported us – we thank you. Non-First Nation organizations and First Nation organizations are adamant in helping us and we are grateful. We are especially grateful for the support we received from our neighbors, the non-Aboriginal residents and businesses in the title area, who intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada to say that they welcomed a declaration of Aboriginal title. These organizations have been interveners and in general support – sechanalyagh.”

“Under our own laws and teachings there is no question that these are our lands. This is the end of denying rights and title. We met the legal test in 2007 and that should have been the end of it. This decision will bring much needed certainty for First Nations, government and industry. This case is about us regaining our independence – to be able to govern our own Nation and rely on the natural resources of our land. We are ready to move forward in this new relationship with government and industry. That work starts today” said Chief Joe Alphonse, Tl’etinqox Government, Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chairman.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated “amazing, absolutely amazing! Thank you Tsilhqot’in for your courageous leadership, temerity and relentless tenacity! The Supreme Court of Canada completely repudiated the greatly impoverished and highly prejudicial positions of the BC and Federal governments which formed the basis of the BC Court of Appeal decision. As parties supporting the Tsilhqot’in in this case, we worked collectively to ensure the Supreme Court of Canada would understand that recognizing Indigenous Title and Rights do not diminish Canadian society, it enriches it. Let us celebrate this momentous and historical victory!”

BCAFN Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould stated, “This decision is a game changer. The court has clearly sent a message that the Crown must take Aboriginal title seriously and reconcile with First Nations honourably.” She continued, “The decision is an opportunity to truly settle, once and for all, the land question in BC – where our Nations are not simply making claims to the Crown under an outdated federal policy but where there must be true reconciliation based on recognition and where the outcome of negotiations is certain. On behalf of the First Nations in British Columbia, heartfelt congratulations to the Tsilhqot’in people.”

This decision needs to be acknowledged as a positive step forward in reconciliation between the government and First Nations. Resolving Aboriginal title reduces conflict, creates the opportunity for respectful relations and ends an era of denial. We stand in solidarity with all other First Nations and Indigenous people globally in the necessity of resolving land claims and moving forward.