Tar Sands Spell Big Trouble for Whooping Cranes
Canada's tar sands operations are posing serious new threats to the long-term survival of one of the world's most endangered birds.
The recovery of the North American whooping crane is one of conservation's most inspiring success stories.
A century ago, there were thought to be between 500 and 1,400 of these
birds living in the wild, but loss of habitat and hunting decimated the
population to an all-time low of 15 in the early 1940s. Thanks to
aggressive conservation efforts, the world's last remaining flock of
self-sustaining cranes has climbed to approximately 200 today.
But now, Canada's tar sands operations are posing serious new
threats to the long-term survival of one of the world’s most endangered
From their Alberta breeding grounds which are being ravaged by toxic
tailing ponds, open-pit mines, smokestacks and processing plants; to the
proposed massive Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline
which would cut through their habitat; to devastating droughts in their
Texas wintering grounds—increasing tar sands production is making the
cranes' rebound a challenge.
Last year was the driest and second-hottest year on record in Texas, and droughts have made food and water scarce for whooping cranes--leaving
at least one bird dead and many more scrambling to find food to sustain
them through the winter. And this is not the first time cranes have
felt the impacts of drought in their wintering grounds:
In 2009, when Texas last suffered a severe drought, an
estimated 23 whooping cranes died between November and March, when they
typically head north to nest in Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park.
Tests indicated some had contracted rare diseases and were
undernourished. Scientists believe some died of starvation. –CBS News
This extreme weather is not a fluke. It is part of the trend of climate events around that world
that scientists project will increase in severity if global warming
emissions continue unabated. Increased tar sands oil production--which emits three times the carbon dioxide than conventional oil production--is exacerbating the crisis.
President Obama has committed to fighting global warming and has
already taken our country in a direction to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions from raising fuel efficiency standards to limiting pollution from coal-fired power plants. Now,
he has an historic opportunity to have a major say in the future of tar
sands, as the deadline for a decision on the dirty and dangerous
Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline approaches on February 21.
The massive Keystone XL pipeline would double the amount of highly
toxic tar sands currently being imported in the United States--carrying
up to 900,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil through the same narrow
migratory corridor that endangered whooping cranes rely on each spring--threatening rivers, marshes, wetlands and streams with sludgy, toxic tar sands oil.
In addition, if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, it would drive a
massive expansion of tar sands operations over the coming decades and
add immense volumes of global warming pollution into the
atmosphere--putting whooping cranes in further jeopardy.
Now is a critical time for whooping cranes and for the future of our planet. We must make sure President Obama stands strong against the oil industry and protects vulnerable wildlife from the unacceptable risks of tar sands .
Cross-posted from NWF's Wildlife Promise blog.