Moose and Caribou Numbers Drop from Tar Sands Production

Felice Stadler filed this dispatch while on a tour of tar sands producing Alberta, Canada. National Wildlife Federation is working to slow production of tar sands fuels in Alberta. Tar sands are one of the dirtiest fuels in the world and wreak havoc on people and the environment.

Location: Suncor’s Tar Sands and Fort McKay

MooseOver the past 40 years, the tar sands industry has exploded in Northern Alberta, and has transformed this isolated area in the boreal forest to a massive web of roads and smokestacks, bringing with it air and water pollution and a wasteland of unfathomable size.

Yesterday’s industry-led tour of Suncor’s operations, and a visit to the First Nations town of Fort McKay, gave our delegation varied perspectives on the enormity of the industry, their land footprint, and the tremendous impact the oil companies are having on the region’s wildlife, its fragile ecosystem, and the First Nations communities that have lived here for generations.

In the area, woodland caribou populations have plummeted 70%. Moose populations around Fort McKay have dropped 60%, with elders now needing to traverse 200 km for their annual moose hunt, around mines, roads, polluted ponds. None of the elders in Fort McKay (a community of 800 that is completely surrounded by tar sands operations) fish in the Athabasca River anymore, despite living on its banks. In fact, they have not fished in the river for nearly 20 years knowing what lies upstream.

What’s striking in our conversations is that those who don’t depend on the land, and who don’t really have a deep connection to the land, are seemingly not invested in its health, its vitality, its beauty. They see the land as a resource that will line their pockets with money. Is it any different in the coal fields of West Virginia or the gas fields of Wyoming? Or is it, sadly, more of the same? Big oil making big profits at the expense of people and wildlife, and the resources on which we depend to sustain life: clean air, clean water, healthy lands.