Environmental groups say birds in Sask., Alta., in danger of extinction The Canadian Press
The threat comes in a letter sent Wednesday to federal Environment Minister Peter Kent, in which the groups say Canadian law requires Ottawa to preserve threatened species if provincial governments aren't doing the job. "It's a legal demand letter and a clear threat of legal action down the road," said lawyer Sean Nixon.
survival, given the rapid decline in the numbers."
Scientists say a species that numbered 20,000 a few years ago across the
southern prairies is down to 13 male birds in Alberta and 43 in
"The probability of them being around in the next couple years is slim," said
biologist Mark Boyce of the University of Alberta. "They've just gone down,
Oil and gas development the main concern
The reason, he said, is oil and gas development. Overgrazing by cattle has
been a problem, but ranching is no longer the main issue, he said.
The decline "marches right along with industrial development in the area, the
oil and gas development," said Boyce. "The major change in the landscape has
been the very rapid escalation of oil and gas."
The birds depend on thick growths of silver sage, which provides both food
and cover from predators, but that plant is getting scarcer with development.
And raptors use structures such as oil wells as hunting platforms to spot
A male sage grouse can weigh up to 3.6 kilograms and the female can grow to
about half that size. The males have a yellow patch over their eyes, are greyish
on top, have a white breast, a dark-brown throat and a black belly.
The male has a yellowish neck sac for elaborate courtship displays. The bird
inflates the sac, puffs out its chest and struts and dances to attract
Boyce said the federal government has identified critical grouse habitat on
lands under its jurisdiction as part of its recovery plan for the species. But
Alberta and Saskatchewan continue to allow development on lands they
"We now know where the critical habitat is, but they go ahead plunking oil
wells and roads all the way through the middle of that habitat," he said.
"The law says that the federal government will intervene when the provincial
government fails to do its job. It's very clear the provincial government has
failed to do its job."
Nixon said Kent is obliged under the Species At Risk Act to block any further
development despite objections from provincial governments.
"We've given him until Jan. 16 to respond. We're ready and willing to take
him to court to force him to obey the law."
Alberta says it has situation under control
Darcy Whiteside of Alberta's Department of Sustainable Resource Development
said the province is working with industry to reduce its footprint.
He said no new development is allowed in parts of the sage grouse's range and
at least two well sites in the area have been officially reclaimed.
Alberta has the situation under control, said Whiteside.
"We have the research. We have the scientists. We know the land. It's Alberta
Alberta has also arranged with Montana to bring in 60 sage grouse a year for
another three years. There have been problems with the radio tracking devices
attached to the birds, but the department is aware of at least one of the
immigrant grouse laying a clutch of nine eggs last spring.
Boyce called that strategy useless without habitat protection.
"If you don't have the habitat, what good is it to put the birds out there to
David Ingstrup of the Canadian Wildlife Service said the federal government
is aware of the urgency.
"We're always looking at what actions are being taken by provincial and other
jurisdictions," he said.
"In October 2009, critical habitat for sage grouse was identified. We're
continuing to work very actively to work through the studies that are required
to complete further identification of critical habitat."
Ingstrup couldn't say what the time frame might be to protect some of those