Feds plan permits to absolve companies of liability for bird deaths
1 hour, 51 minutes ago
By Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The federal government is moving toward a plan to change regulations so companies that accidentally kill or maim migratory birds won't be punished.
And that has environmentalists crying foul, saying regulations need to be stronger to help prevent more incidents like the recent death of 500 ducks in a toxic wastewater pond near Fort McMurray, Alta.
Environment Canada wants to amend federal regulations so it can issue a limited number of permits that would allow for inadvertent deaths or injuries to birds, nests and eggs caused by human activity, known as incidental take.
A recent department request for proposals gives details of the plan, which could come into force in two or three years.
"This process would provide for the minister to issue permits for a limited incidental take of migratory birds, nest or eggs during the course of an activity in Canada provided conditions prescribed on the permit are met and the intent of the (Migratory Bird Convention) Act is fulfilled," says the document.
A pair of federal statutes prohibits the nests and eggs of migratory birds - such as ducks, geese, cormorants, hawks and owls - from being disturbed or destroyed.
The blanket prohibition covers everything from oil spills that kill hundreds of birds to a homeowner who disturbs a nest while trimming a hedge.
Ottawa wants a legal mechanism in place to exempt from prosecution those who perform due diligence, but still kill or harm migratory birds.
"The proposed regulatory change will attempt to address the vulnerability of proponents to legal liability . . . while respecting the need to not only protect individual migratory birds but also support the long-term conservation of migratory bird populations," the request for proposals says.
It adds that likely candidates to buy the permits are those in the oil-and-gas, forestry, mining and energy sectors.
Mike Hudema, an Edmonton-based Greenpeace activist, says the permit plan basically absolves companies and governments of responsibility for bird deaths.
"What the government is really trying to do is limit its own responsibility and limit companies' liability under this," he said.
"So it gives (companies) a licence, potentially, to kill migratory fowl rather than holding them responsible for any deaths that occur."
An Environment Canada spokeswoman said the government expects to publish draft regulations in the fall of 2009.
"As you can appreciate, the government takes its responsibility to maintain, protect and conserve Canadian wildlife, including migratory birds, very seriously," Miriam Wood said in an e-mail.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers - which represents 140 companies that explore for, develop and produce more than 95 per cent of Canada's natural gas, crude oil, oilsands and elemental sulphur - says it favours "risk management approaches" like the proposed permits.
"Industry is generally supportive of the government using risk management approaches to enhance certainty for those subject to laws, and efficiency of process for the regulator," said David Pryce, vice-president of western operations, in a e-mailed statement.
The oil-and-gas industry has been beset recently with bird calamities.
The largest by far was the death of the 500 ducks in late April.
The flock died, gasping and covered in oil, after settling on a Syncrude Canada Ltd. tailings pond that lies along the routes birds use to migrate to and from northern nesting grounds. The pond is filled with tainted water left behind after it's used to remove oil from sand in the area.
Blasts from noise-making cannons that circle tailings ponds are normally used from spring to fall to scare away the birds. Syncrude has said a heavy snowfall delayed the deployment of those devices.
At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it "a terrible event" that tarnished Canada's environmental image.
Another oil-and-gas company, ConocoPhillips, reported days later that eight birds landed on a briny pond at its oilsands project northeast of Fort McMurray.
That was followed a week later by the death of 53 birds on a wastewater retention site in western Saskatchewan after they were exposed to oily water.
Ontario's logging industry also destroys more than 45,000 migratory bird nests each year in the province's boreal forest, a recent report by the Commission for Environmental Co-operation found.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]