166 Million Birds Could Die If Tar Sands Mining Continues to Expand

lesser yellowlegs photo

The Lesser Yellowlegs is one of the birds endangered by expanded tar sands mining. Photo: Lesser Yellowlegs

We’ve highlighted many times the unmitigated environmental horror of the Alberta Tar Sands, but one aspect which we haven’t pointed out is the impact on migratory birds. A new peer-reviewed report has just been released by the NRDC which details the impact on avian populations from continued exploitation of these unconventional fuels. Download the full report (Danger in the Nursery: Impact on Birds of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal Forest) if you’re so inclined, but here’s a summary:Millions of Birds Use Boreal Forest as Breeding Grounds, Could Be Killed

Canada’s Boreal forest is a globally important destination for birds as a nesting area and breeding habitat, especially for an array of wetland-dependent birds. Unfortunately the rapidly expanding tar sands oil extraction industry increasingly puts these birds at risk. It is estimated that half of America’s migratory birds nest in the Boreal forest, and each year 22–170 million birds breed in the area that could eventually be developed for tar sands oil. The report projects that the cumulative impact over the next 30–50 years could be as high as 166 million birds lost, including future generations. The report suggests impacts will increase in the next 30–50 years, despite international treaties to protect these birds.
Almost every aspect of oil development affects migratory birds throughout the flyways of North America. In Alberta, tar sands mining and drilling causes significant habitat loss and fragmentation. Toxic tailing ponds result in 8,000 to 100,000 oiled and drowned birds annually (for example, this year 500 ducks died in a single incident after landing in one of the polluted water storage lakes).

The report goes over the specific impacts on bird populations for tar sands projects, these include: Loss of up to 740,000 acres of forest and wetland habitat lost, continued bird deaths due to toxic tailing ponds, fragmentation of bird habitat, water withdrawals due to mining degrading wetlands, air and water toxin accumulation, increased global warming due to the high carbon intensity of tar sands sourced oil.

A Moratorium Needed on New Projects
Because of these potentially devastating consequences of continued tar sand mining, NRDC recommends that a moratorium be placed on all new projects and project expansions; the Alberta government needs to prove that current levels of development can be done without continued serious environment degradation; greater protection enacted for Boreal forests; and oil companies must be made to ensure that their current operations minimize impact on land, air and water.

More (including a cool slideshow of some of the birds at risk) at: NRDC
Tar Sands
Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth
Canadian Tar Sand Look Like Tolkein’s Mordor Says UN Water Advisor
Economic, Environmental Costs of Developing Tar Sands & Oil Shale ‘Unthinkable’: WWF-UK

Related Content on Treehugger.com