Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

April 16, 2014

Orcas in trouble: gov’t plan for inaction

Ever since early 2012 when the federal court made its final ruling mandating that the federal government protect resident orcas critical habitat, we’ve been waiting for the action plan that would clearly lay out how we would act to protect our endangered southern resident orcas and their habitat.

With the release last month of the draft orca action plan by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), it seems we’ll have to wait longer – and this is a tragedy in the making.

“Vague and inadequate” are the terms you’ll see over and over again in our joint submission to DFO, ably put together by our colleagues at Ecojustice on behalf of Georgia Strait Alliance, David Suzuki Foundation, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Wilderness Committee.

Photo: Lance Barrett-Lennard
Coming in at 21 pages, this so called ‘action plan’ is filled with language such as “considering action”, ”investigating” and “communicating”, all seemingly intended to make it look like something is being done while the major threats to orcas remain unabated. 

We firmly believe that research is essential, but an ‘action plan’ which is vague, with unspecific timelines and where the responsibility for many tasks is left to some unnamed agency in unacceptable.   We can tell you, someone named “other” is going to be very busy over the next 5 – 10 years!   What that means is the orca will continue to remain protected on paper alone - but in our local waters the dangers to their survival go unanswered and those whose responsibility it is to act are shirking their responsibility. 

According to the recovery strategy developed for both northern and southern resident orcas, these are the goals we need to reach in order for these whales to survive:

1.      Ensure that Resident Killer Whales have an adequate and accessible food supply to allow recovery;
2.      Ensure that chemical and biological pollutants do not prevent the recovery of Resident Killer Whale populations;
3.      Ensure that disturbance from human activities does not prevent the recovery of Resident Killer Whales;
4.      Protect critical habitat for Resident Killer Whales and identify additional areas for critical habitat designation and protection

As we state in our formal submission: “Unfortunately, while the Draft Action Plan identifies some important research projects, it generally fails to identify concrete actions or measures that will ensure any specific outcomes on the ground.”

Here are just a few of many incredible gaps in the “action plan”:       
  • In light of the many projects being proposed for the Strait, there is no mention in the action plan about “shipping” or “tankers” nor any proposed action on mitigating oil spill impact. The orca recovery strategy clearly lays out these issues as being of critical concern, yet the action plan remains silent. 
  • Research is a primary focus of this plan but with the slashing of research at the federal level, who is left to do it?  Notably, the closure of the lab led by world renowned marine mammal toxicologist Dr. Peter Ross has left the possibility of doing much of research listed as questionable.  So even in this ‘inaction plan’, the tasks identified are unlikely to occur as no one is responsible and no one is accountable
Again from our submission: “Unfortunately, apart from reiterating these four broad recovery objectives, in many other respects the Draft Action Plan is not based on the Recovery Strategy as is required.”

The orca recovery strategy laid out what needed to be done and in the last 2 ½ years, DFO has developed a plan that does not build on that strategy but instead asks us to wait – but the orcas can’t wait.

So what now? In our submission, we have made it clear to DFO that we demand better and we’ve laid out specific ways they can do that.  Also, we stated that we are willing to work with them to make this plan stronger because we believe it can be.

Orcas are not only a critical part of our local ecosystem but they are an integral part of our culture, society and economy – and we are committed to making their recovery a reality.

Your support has helped us be at the table to fight for the orcas for more than decade and we hope we can count on you as we continue to be the orcas voice at this important time because it seems from what we’ve read, the fight isn’t over.

April 10, 2014

Gathering to learn, share and protect the Salish Sea

We all have particular events we look forward to.  If you’re a fan of comics and science fiction, then the event you count the days to is ComiCon.  If you’re that person who has to have the latest gadget, then you can’t wait each year for the Consumers Electronics Show. But if you’re someone who’s passionate about the Salish Sea – like me – then you have on your calendar the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.

This conference, which was once known as the Georgia Strait-Puget Sound Ecosystem conference, is held every two years and gathers together scientists (from government, academia and other agencies), policy makers, not for profits and businesses from both sides of the border, all with an interest in the health of these waters.  This year the 3 day event will take place in Seattle April 30th to May 2nd, bringing together well over 1000 people, based on past conferences.

If I’m doing my math right, this will be my 6th conference and I have no doubt like the ones before, it will leave me inspired and re-connected to those who share my deep concern for this region.  The scientist in me will revel in the data – I’m a science geek at heart! – but even more in the wide variety of shared learning that will happen.  A small sampling of the sessions that will take place during the conference includes “Shorelines of the Salish Sea”, “Toxics in the nearshore”, “Forage fish research and protection in the Salish Sea”, “Marine birds and mammals” and “Beyond the numbers- how science informs decisions to catalyze action” – to name a few!

The policy geek in me is very much looking forward to spending time with those in government, business and the not for profit sector who make good policy – and promote good ideas – based on the latest great science.

It is not a common sight at a conference to see scientists, policy makers and citizens milling about together, but that is what makes this conference so rich and important.  The Salish Sea – the beautiful waters of Georgia Strait, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound – is under increasing stress from urbanization and growing use, and the only way to protect and improve these waters is through this type of cross-sectoral shared learning and cooperation.  It is what makes this conference so special and so needed.

This is a very important conference to GSA as well, and many program staff will be joining me in Seattle.  I will be speaking about our new Waterfront Initiative, while Energy and Shipping Campaigner Alexandra Woodsworth will be speaking about building a cross-border movement to protect the Salish Sea from the risks of increasing fuel transport.  Clean Marine BC Program Coordinator Michelle Young will be talking about the success story that is our Clean Marine BC program.  We will also be joined by Waterfront Initiative Lead Sebastian Merz who will be sharing more about our newest project and connecting with our local and transboundary partners.

We look forward to sharing our stories with you during the conference (follow us on Twitter @GeorgiaStraitBC, hashtag #SSEC14) and bringing back new ideas, information and partnerships to continue our work to protect the northern arm of the Salish Sea.

April 3, 2014

Who will have a voice in the Kinder Morgan hearings?

Yesterday the National Energy Board (NEB) denied nearly half of those who applied to take part in the upcoming review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion their preferred method of participation.

Of the 2,118 applications received, 452 were ‘downgraded’ by the NEB from intervenor to commenter status, and 468 were denied participation altogether. In addition, 400 were granted intervenor status and 798 who requested commenter status were granted it.  You can find out if you were accepted as an intervenor or commenter, or if your application was denied.

With this decision from the NEB, hundreds of individuals and groups have now been shut out of the hearings, and denied the chance to officially voice their important concerns about Kinder Morgan's tar sands pipeline (and the 400+ tankers it would bring through the Georgia Strait each year).
It’s a sad day for democracy in Canada, when nearly a thousand people who stepped up to take part in a complex regulatory process to have their say about a project of national significance are shut out of the hearings.

Georgia Strait Alliance has been granted permission by the NEB to fully participate in the hearings as an intervenor, and we will do our best to use this as an opportunity to represent the voices of those who have been excluded.

For those who have been accepted as commenters or intervenors, yesterday’s announcement also came with some important information about timelines and advice on how to participate. Here are a few highlights:

·         NEB workshops for commenters & intervenors begin next week and run throughout the process
·         Submitting requests for information to Kinder Morgan begins May 2014
·         Commenters can file one letter, and must do so by September 9, 2014
·         Intervenors can provide written evidence, ask questions, present written and oral argument
·         Oral hearings by intervenors will take place in February 2015 (location and exact date not yet announced)
·         NEB must complete its review by July 2, 2015

UPDATE (April 21, 2014): The City of Burnaby has prepared a very comprehensive information package to help intervenors navigate the process, and will also be holding their own workshops.

We'll keep posting more information about the hearing process – and equally important actions you can take outside the process – in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for updates!