Five Species that will be Forever Harmed by Keystone XL

There are many compelling reasons to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. But the most immediate reason to say NO to Keystone? Wildlife already at risk will suffer catastrophic losses if this pipeline project moves forward.

Let’s start with where it’s extracted – from ancient, pristine, ecologically vital boreal forests in Canada. Woodland caribou live there. And their numbers are plummeting due to increased encroachment and destruction of their habitat…including by tar sands oil development.

“Nobody really knows how to put a boreal forest back together once it has been stripped of its trees, soil wetlands and fish-bearing rivers…Those landscapes took thousands of years to form.” – Andrew Nikiforuk, “A Forest Threatened by Keystone XL,” The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2014

Now, getting this dirty oil out of Canada. (Side Note: Oil companies are proposing an American pipeline, because Canadians already rejected one there).  Imagine someone ran a giant oil pipeline right through your home.  This is what will happen to American wildlife if Keystone XL is built.

If would rip a path 1,700 miles long right through the American breadbasket, uprooting and threatening sensitive habitats and endangered wildlife from start to finish.

Keystone would cross 1,073 rivers, lakes and streams, the nation’s biggest aquifer, and along tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. It will gush 830,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil through these sensitive areas every single day.

The government estimates Keystone could spill 34,000 gallons of tar sands oil each year.

In the last 10 years, there were nearly 6,000 oil pipeline blowouts or other serious incidents. In 2010, a pipeline rupture sent over a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River system, poisoning people and wildlife for miles around.  Following are just five of the countless species that will be harmed by the Keystone XL pipeline and the threat of tar sands oil.

Shy & Tiny: Northern Swift Fox

Swift Fox
Swift fox trio in Colorado by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Barbara Fleming.
Once considered abundant in the short grass prairies from central Alberta though the Great Plains to Texas, the swift fox was wiped out of 90 percent of its historical habitat by the latter half of the twentieth century.

Thankfully, conservation efforts have helped swift foxes make a comeback. But with the looming threat of the massive Keystone XL pipeline, they are not out of the woods yet.

Keystone XL would bring the world’s dirtiest oil right through the foxes’ remaining habitat. Dens crushed by pipeline construction and industrial roads carving up habitat—not to mention leaks or breaks in the massive Keystone XL pipeline—would put swift foxes in grave danger.

Tallest Bird in North America: Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane
Photo courtesy of the Operation Migration program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Electrocution by power line is a grim way to go. Yet if Keystone XL is approved, this is exactly what could happen to whooping cranes in its path.

Tar sands sludge is so heavy and sticky, it requires lots of power to pump it through a pipeline. Keystone would add 300 miles of new power lines in the wide-open spaces where whooping cranes fly.

Power lines account for 40 percent of juvenile whooping crane mortality. This is a big deal when you’re talking about a bird that has a population of about four hundred in the wild.

Whooping cranes deserve better – let’s say no to KXL and no to these power lines!

Dinosaur of the Missouri: Pallid Sturgeon

Pallid Sturgeon
A sub-adult pallid sturgeon in Neosho National Fish Hatchery’s visitor center. Photo by Katie Steiger-Meister, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The endangered pallid sturgeon is a unique fish known for its almost snow white, dinosaur-like appearance. This prehistoric fish can grow longer than 5 feet, weigh more than 80 pounds and live to be 100 years old.

The fish is so rare that anyone catching a pallid sturgeon is required to immediately release it.

The Keystone XL route would pass right through the sturgeon’s prime habitat on the Missouri, Yellowstone, Platte and Niobrara rivers. An oil spill would be devastating – it could even completely destroy habitat for this species.

Northern Woods Feline: Canada Lynx

Canada Lynx
Lynx by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Sue Ratcliffe.
These wild cats are found in northern boreal forests, making their dens underneath fallen trees, tree stumps, rock ledges or thick bushes. The sensitive species is very elusive and avoids human contact.

Researchers are concerned that the Canada Lynx will be so impacted by industrial development and habitat loss associated with tar sands extraction that they will cease to exist in many areas.

A green light for Keystone XL means more industrial roads slicing through critical habitat, less boreal forest and fewer Canada Lynx.

Symbols of Wilderness: Woodland Caribou

Woodland caribou by Steve Kaufman, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Woodland caribou once roamed over half of Canada, but today they remain only in ancient northern boreal forests and wetlands. In the past few years, tar sands mining has destroyed huge swaths of this historic habitat, and their numbers have dwindled to dangerously low levels.

Scientists warn that woodland caribou herds in this area could disappear in fewer than 30 years.

Their decline is part of a much larger story. Woodland caribou are an indicator species of the boreal forest – when they decline, we know their habit is declining. Boreal forests not only feed caribou, they store carbon, recharge groundwater, protect biological diversity and act as protection against floods.

Take ActionThere’s an emboldened push in Congress to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project.  Let’s come through for wildlife by urging President Obama to veto and reject Keystone XL.