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Timberwolf Wilderness Society

Activities

Re: Timberwolf Statement on Decision of the Joint Review Panel on the Grassy Mountain Mine (D. Mayhood, June 16, 2021)

The Decision: Timberwolf Wilderness Society welcomes the finding of the provincial-federal Joint Review Panel (JRP) that approval of the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Mine is not in the public interest.  The JRP found that the environmental effects of the proposed mine on surface water quality and threatened westslope cutthroat trout and habitat alone were sufficient to outweigh the "low to moderate" positive economic impacts of the project.  It denied the proponent's application on those grounds, even though it found that there would be additional significant adverse effects beyond those two.

Timberwolf, as a full participant and major player in the proceedings, acknowledges the outstanding contributions of the many other intervenors that contributed evidence crucial to this outcome. This appears to be the first time in Alberta that a regulatory body has placed the greater importance of protecting a native species and its habitat above economic interests in its decision.

Where Do We Go From Here? Timberwolf believes that wilderness is the right and best use of public lands on the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta.  These lands now need to be restored to protect this iconic landscape as our source of water, wildlife, natural refuge, and inspiration.  The Grassy Mountain site should be an integral part of a recovered natural ecosystem stretching from the Montana border to Kananaskis Country, with Crowsnest Pass as its principal service centre. We urge people of the Crowsnest Pass to recognize this outcome as an opportunity to reorient its economy and purpose to that end.

 

Re: Call for a Wilderness Bill to Protect Alberta's Headwaters: Letter to the Editor Lethbridge Herald (May 27, 2021)

Mike Judd, Director, called for a Wilderness Bill to protect Alberta's water sources in a recent letter to the editor in the Lethbridge Herald (www.lethbridgeherald.com/commentary/letters-to-the-editor/2021/05/27/alberta-needs-a-wilderness-bill-to-protect-the-water/).  In his letter he points to the extensive fragmentation and destruction of public lands in the headwaters he and friends witnessed in a tour between the Crowsnest and Highwood rivers along the eastern slopes.  Pipelines, cutlines, clearcuts, trails and roads crisscross the region acting as a conduit for motorized recreation that degrades habitat and cements an industrial footprint on what once was a reserve for non-motorized humans, and species at risk animals alike.

 

Re: Athabasca Rainbow Trout & Bull Trout Critical Habitat

Endangered and at risk populations of Athabasca Rainbow trout and the Saskatchewan-Nelson rivers Bull trout, respectively, require Critical Habitat Orders to facilitate their recovery.  Dave Mayhood, a Director of Timberwolf, on April 5 2021, issued a Demand to Comply statement to Canada's Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Coast Guard to ensure compliance with the Species at Risk Act (SARA) with respect to habitat are released.

 

 Re: Grassy Mountain Coal Mines (Benga Mines) Hearing

Timberwolf Wilderness Society participated in the Benga Mine Ltd. hearing in the fall of 2020, on the application for the contentious Grassy Mountain Mine coal project in the Crowsnest Pass region of the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta.  This project involves removal of waste rock from the mountain surface to access coal, and depositing that waste in adjacent valleys that are nearby the headwaters for Gold and Blairmore Creeks.  Long-term selenium contamination in Gold Creek is expected to harm endangered Westslope Cutthroat trout populations. Climate change is also of concern as increased winter precipitation and rain on snow events raise the probability of extreme events, such as early spring floods.

 

Re: Pieridae Energy, Shell Canada Ltd. transaction 

Southern Alberta resident, Mike Judd, submitted a statement of concern to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) on Nov. 6, 2019 regarding the proposed transfer of Shell Canada Ltd. (Shell) licenses in the Waterton field to Pieridae Alberta Production Ltd. (Pieridae).

Shell has applied to AER to transfer their licenses to operate all of Shell’s midstream and upstream assets in the southern Alberta foothills area – including the Waterton, Jumping Pound, and the Caroline fields (the Fields) to Pieridae.  Before Alberta approves the transfer, the province should be certain that Pieridae is able to pay for the cleanup.  The proposed transfer from a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest companies (with a stock value of $229 billion) to Pieridae, currently trading at $0.86 on the Vancouver stock exchange (CVE: PEA, 2019/11/18 closing price), massively increases the possibility that an insolvency situation will slow or completely prevent the multi-billion dollar environmental cleanup of all three fields, that will ultimately and possibly imminently be required.

PREVIOUS ACTIONS

& INFORMATION

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Timberwolf sues Fisheries Minister to release long-delayed action plan for threatened trout

 

Decline & Loss of Southwestern Alberta’s Signature Native Trout,

the Westslope Cutthroat

 

Federal Court Application 

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Castle Region

The Castle River region has been the subject of sometimes bitter conservation battles for more than 100 years.  Actions by Alberta's NDP to create a park and wildland region in the Castle have initiated resolution to conflicts that arose due to its former multi-use designation.  Ongoing efforts are needed however, to ensure the area is not disturbed by motorized vehicle access and random camping.

 

  Environmental Issues

  • Rare and At-Risk Species

There are over 250 rare and at-risk species including grizzly bears and native westslope cutthroat trout, both listed as threatened under Alberta's Wildlife Act.  Both species continue to be threatened by habitat fragmentation as a result of multi-use activities in the region.

  •  Watershed Hydrology

The foothills and Rocky Mountains act as water storage and recharge sites for the headwaters of many east and northward flowing rivers including the Castle and the Carbondale rivers which feed into the Oldman and Crowsnest rivers.  These rivers and the groundwater flow that feeds them are subject to changes in the characteristics of surface runoff in the foothills and  mountains. Human impacts on the basins, including trail use, clear-cut logging and wildfires can significantly reduce the capacity of these basins to store water: an important consideration in light of the expected changes in the frequency of intense precipitation events that are expected from to global warming.  Soil erosion can limit the potential for the region to regenerate forest cover and restore wildlife  habitat.  In order to safeguard the Eastern Slopes for the enjoyment and health of future generations of wildlife and humans, as well as plant life and all manner of interconnected relationships to soils, microorganisms and insects that support them, these catchments need to be managed primarily for watershed protection.

  •  Forests

Forests are the living basis for the Castle ecosystem and need to be considered not just as renewable resources for human use (tree farms), but as integral components of the function of the Castle watershed for all manner of life forms along the Eastern Slopes.  Changes to the forest soils due to long-term deposition of atmospheric pollutants puts the soils and the future of the forests and their inhabitants at risk when clear-cut logging removes the overgrowth and exposes soils to erosion. Overgrowth as well as the diverse grasses and shrubs maintain a balance between organic and mineral materials within the soil structure that help the system to recover and restore native plants adapted to this environment.

  •  Wildlife

The Castle region is the site of dens as well as more than 500 known rub sites for threatened grizzly bears.  Logging takes place within critical winter habitat for ungulates during a period when the area is supposed to be closed to logging according to provincial government guidelines.  The Castle-Carbondale elk herd is one of the most robust and important in Alberta, yet is one that is under considerable pressure from habitat disturbance from logging roads and potentially the impacts of Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) use.  Elk seek habitat away from the influence of roads, to which they are surprisingly sensitive: OHV use as far away as a kilometer is known to cause a response in elk. Enforcement of limited or no motorized vehicle access to the area is a critical issue that requires concerted action.

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Land Claim

Timberwolf Wilderness Society, a coalition acting in defense of wildlife and wilderness areas, initiated legal actions to protect the Castle Wilderness region.  Land claim proceedings were brought forward on behalf of rare and endangered plant and animal species living in the Castle region.

Mike Judd, a second-generation outfitter from Beaver Mines, Alberta, is a spokesperson for Timberwolf Wilderness Society. "As far as we know this is the first time in Canada anyone has filed a land claim on behalf of the resident wildlife.  Legal proceedings to date have failed to protect the Castle. Timberwolf is pursuing new and innovative legal strategies that will hold the Alberta Government accountable for the environmental devastation taking place in the Castle and require the Alberta Government to take action to protect the Castle."

 

Legal Protection and Species at Risk

Shaun Fluker, as Assistant Professor with the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, confirm the Alberta Government has an obligation to provide legal protection for the endangered and threatened species in the Castle and is not fulfilling this obligation. "Alberta is signatory to the 1996 National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk which obligates Alberta to establish legal protection for endangered and threatened species. The Wildlife Act (Alberta) provides no meaningful protection for endangered species in Alberta despite its legal status as an endangered species under the Wildlife Act is perhaps the clearest evidence foe this." Professor Fluker agrees that new legal strategies are needed to protect the Castle.

Dave Mayhood is an Aquatic Ecologist with Freshwater Research Limited: "Several of the very few remaining pure native Alberta cutthroat trout populations live in the Castle drainage.  These tiny but critical stocks are highly likely to go extinct if the land continues to be abused.  They must be protected if native cutthroats are to survive here. The Carbondale drainage in the Castle River Country has been almost denuded by decades of logging and wildfire. Its fish and wildlife are under severe threat from its dense network of roads. More logging and more roads in this basin are unconscionable."

Legal actions to hold the government accountable to the law regarding species at risk habitat are underway.

 

Other 

Timberwolf Wilderness Society provided input to the Provincial government opposing further development of the Castle Mountain Ski Resort.

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BACKGROUNDER

Decline & Loss of SW Alberta's Signature Native Trout, the Westslope Cutthroat

The westslope cutthroat trout was once widespread and abundant in southwestern Alberta, primarily in mainstem rivers and their tributaries below barriers to upstream movement. Many of the populations existed as metapopulations; that is, populations composed of numerous subpopulations (stocks) exhibiting a variety of life-history forms. Stocks were genetically and often morphologically distinct. Their stock structure, each adapted to local conditions, allowed them to optimize their use of the available streams and lakes.

With settlement beginning in the late 1880s, westslope cutthroat trout populations declined rapidly from a combination of overfishing; habitat fragmentation, degradation and loss; introgressive hybridization with non-native trout; and replacement by non-native species introduced from elsewhere. Most westslope cutthroat stocks within the native range have been decimated, hybridized populations are widespread and less fit, and genetically-pure populations are rare. The very few true native stocks remaining are small and isolated. A single domesticated stock has been transplanted widely within and outside of the native range. The habitats of most stocks outside of protected areas (and often inside of them) have been dramatically altered by human land-use and dams. Changing climate is irreversibly limiting usable habitat, especially in larger, lower elevation mainstems and tributaries.

In the existing state, the remaining native cutthroat populations are small, isolated, less fit, and likely use the habitat less efficiently or less completely than was the case under pristine conditions, making them highly vulnerable to local extinction. These weakened remnants are confronted with artificial habitats, changing climate, and other habitat changes that the native stocks have never encountered before, while having to contend with new predators and competitors. These habitat changes tend to favour hybridization, accelerating stock losses. The subspecies as a whole has lost much of its adaptive and evolutionary potential with the loss of so many locally adapted stocks.

— summarized & adapted from Mayhood, D. W. 2014. Conceptual framework and recovery guidelines for restoring westslope cutthroat trout populations in Alberta. FWR Technical Report 2014/03-1 prepared on behalf of Timberwolf Wilderness Society for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, and Species At Risk Division, Fisheries & Oceans Canada. https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/2.1.1931.6809

Dave Mayhood, M.Sc, an aquatic ecologist & President, FWR Freshwater Research Limited https://www.fwresearch.ca/Home.html, has worked in the field for 50 years. He wrote the first conservation assessment of Alberta’s westslope cutthroat trout, and authored or co-authored several reports that formed the basis for Alberta’s recovery plan and the federal recovery strategy for the species.

                                             

Road Construction on Speers Creek in the Livingstone River Drainage

A new road is being constructed into the watershed of Speers Creek despite the fact that Speers Creek is designated critical habitat under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) for westslope cutthroat trout. It is unclear whether a permit for the construction of the road was issued as it is not found on the SARA registry.Speers Creek 2019 Road ConstructionSpeers Creek 2019 Road Construction

 

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Alberta’s Westslope Cutthroat Trout and the

Species At Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) is a federal law intended to provide legal protection for species at risk and meet Canada’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Biological Diversity. Central to the act is the identification and protection of 'critical habitat’ - habitat that is necessary for the survival and recovery of the species at risk.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada identified the westslope cutthroat trout as threatened in 2005, but the Canadian government took until 2013 to put the species on the list of legally identified at-risk species. SARA requires the minister to issue a recovery strategy that identifies the critical habitat of the species within one year of a species being put on the list. The recovery strategy was released in 2014, but it only partially identified the critical habitat of the westslope cutthroat trout and noted the identified habitat was insufficient to recover the species. In the recovery strategy, the minister said a second round of critical habitat sufficient to recover the species would be identified in an action plan by March 31, 2015.

SARA requires the Minister to issue an order protecting critical habitat within 180 days of critical habitat being identified in an action plan. However, the Minister did not do so until December 2015, after being sued by Timberwolf Wilderness Society and the Alberta Wilderness Association.

The legal protection of critical habitat sufficient to recover the species should have been done almost four years ago. Freedom of information requests for government records show critical habitat was identified by mid-2017, if not earlier. The records also raise concerns that Alberta Forestry and Agriculture has resisted expanded critical habitat that might interfere with logging operations around the habitat of the westslope cutthroat trout. Leaving critical habitat identification for action plans and then delaying them for years at a time cheats species at risk out of the habitat protection the act was supposed to provide them. Timberwolf Wilderness Society is suing the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to get the legal protection SARA promised for the westslope cutthroat trout.

Drew Yewchuk is staff lawyer with the University of Calgary’s Public Interest Law Clinic. He has worked extensively on the westslope cutthroat trout file in connection with the Species At Risk Act.

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Timberwolf Wilderness Society acts to protect and improve wild lands and wildlife habitat along the Eastern Slopes of Alberta, Canada, through legal, political and public action.

     

We are a small group of individuals interested in ensuring that sustainable habitat for wildlife continues to exist along Alberta's Eastern Slopes in western Canada. We act in concert with legal entities to ensure that habitat is protected.