Ontario-SaubleBeach-Ploverfamily-Mertzger

What’s gov got to do, got to do with it? A lot

In our latest newsletter, we explore the tie that binds endangered birds, climate migration and resource development

What do piping plovers, deep-sea drilling, Prairie floods and a $16-billion dam have in common?

In each case, governments have pushed ahead with major decisions despite concerns about the ecosystems and people that would bear the brunt of the impacts.

They’re also each the subject of recent must-read stories from our crack team of reporters here at The Narwhal.

First let’s start with the plover, an adorable and endangered bird that weighs about eight toonies and is the size of a ping pong ball. Plovers were considered extinct in Ontario for decades, but thanks to conservation efforts they started reappearing on Sauble Beach, back in 2007, on the eastern shores of Lake Huron.

Alas, they’re not out of the sand dunes just yet. In fact, those sand dunes plovers rely on to make their nests have been raked over as the Town of South Bruce Peninsula tries to make the world’s second-longest freshwater beach more appealing to the one-million-plus tourists that flock to it each year.

Even a $100,000 fine from the province hasn’t deterred the local government, which is prepared to go all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court in a fight that could have huge implications for species protections in Ontario and across the country. Go here to read reporter Fatima Syed’s incredible yarn, which was just recognized by Longreads as one of its five top features of the week.

Seismic vessel in Newfoundland bay; Bay du Nord offshore oil and gas development
A seismic vessel, off the coast of Newfoundland, which uses acoustic waves to map oil and gas deposits in the seabed. Photo: Geoff Whiteway

One big story that’s been making headlines this week is the Trudeau government’s approval of the Bay du Nord deep-sea oil and gas drilling project off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Here’s a not-so-nice dose of the climate stakes at play: the OK came the same week António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, called decisions to invest in new fossil fuel projects “moral and economic madness.”

(Separately, Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault warned Canadian energy giant Suncor that a new oilsands project the company wants to launch in Alberta “may not align” with Canada’s climate change goals and is not likely to be approved as currently proposed.)

There’s no shortage of concerns over the federal process for Bay du Nord, which some say ignored Fisheries and Oceans Canada research on the project’s environmental risks in favour of oil and gas interests out east. Senior editor Elaine Anselmi has all the details.

An older couple pose in front of a trailer in Lehigh, Alta
The community of Lehigh, Alta., is at the centre of a debate over climate change adaptation. Local officials say there’s no choice but to tear down the homes there, which are in a worsening flood zone. But some residents, including John Carls, 83, and his wife Inza, 82, don’t feel the process has been fair and are unwilling to abandon the homes they hoped to retire in. Photo: Leah Hennel / The Narwhal

Climate extremes are already upending the lives of 18 residents in Lehigh, Alta. The community, which sits along the Red Deer River northeast of Calgary, won’t exist come 2024. Lehigh is part of a flood zone in the Drumheller Valley, a region all too familiar with experiencing wicked flooding events.

As climate change contributes to increasingly severe and more frequent extreme weather events in the area, the town of Drumheller has decided that fortifying Lehigh from future floodwaters just isn’t worth the cost. And that means the end of what residents thought would be their “forever home,” Drew Anderson reports.

Joining Nweeia in the research effort are Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, the founder and CEO of the Ugandan nonprofit, Conservation Through Public Health, and Harris Lewin, a professor at the University of California, Davis. Lewin served as lead author of an August publication from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that identified several species that could be at higher risk of infection because SARS-CoV-2 can bind more easily to certain receptors they possess.
Forest in the Peace River valley in the Site C dam flood zone. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

Does the $16 billion Site C dam project infringe on Treaty 8 Rights? That was set to be the key question in a B.C. Supreme Court “mega trial” due to begin last month. Instead, West Moberly First Nations and public utility BC Hydro have pressed pause to negotiate. Site C, a project shrouded in secrecy that’s ballooned in cost to become the most expensive hydro project in Canada’s history, is being pushed forward by the B.C. government despite lingering concerns about the stability of the dam and other geotechnical issues.

Still, there is hope that when it comes to West Moberly’s case, the government might be shifting its approach. As one legal expert told reporter Matt Simmons: “For a long time, there was denial — deny, deny, deny — and now we’re moving into an era where there’s supposed to be an acknowledgement or recognition and reconciliation.”

The Site C negotiations are a reminder that governments have the ability to listen and adapt — sometimes it just takes a lengthy legal battle to bring them to the table. As for how this dynamic will play out for the plovers and deep-sea drilling and communities ravaged by climate change … we’ll have to wait and see.

Take care and try to avoid moral and economic madness,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience


This week in The Narwhal

The Alberta government spent another $22 million on unpaid land rent for oil and gas operators in 2021

A pumpjack behind gates in a farmer's field in Alberta

By Sharon J. Riley

When oil and gas companies are unable, or unwilling, to pay their land rent, the provincial government will pay it for them. More than 99 per cent of the time, Alberta never gets its money back. Read more.


Hold corporations accountable for reconciliation in climate rules, First Nations finance group says

Waves crash on the shore near houses in Tuktoyaktuk

By Carl Meyer

The First Nations Financial Management Board called on the federal government to ‘immediately’ invite Indigenous Rights holders to the table to collaborate on drafting climate change and reconciliation reporting rules for corporations. Read more.


Sea lice are becoming more resistant to pesticides — that’s a problem for B.C.’s beleaguered salmon farms

Sea lice on a wild B.C. salmon

By Judith Lavoie

Open-net fish pens are the perfect breeding grounds for the parasites, which feast on the mucus, skin and flesh of wild salmon, causing infection and even death. But the tools industry has to deal with the legions of sea lice are becoming less effective. Read more.


What we’re reading

Globe and Mail: Amber Bracken wins World Press Photo of the Year for residential school memorial photo
Tyee: B.C.’s chief forester jumps to multinational wood pellet corporation

GIF of a plover looking at the camera and then hopping away.

When the destruction of your habitat prompts you to leave for greener pastures. Share this newsletter with a friend and tell them a) The Narwhal’s first-rate reporting isn’t going anywhere and b) to go sign up for our latest coverage.

RCMP were planning raids while in talks with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs about meeting

The images are familiar now, iconic even: Heavily armed RCMP officers use an axe and a chainsaw to break down the door of a tiny...

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We’re on a mission to add 500 new members in May so we can pull off three more ambitious investigations this year — and we’re nearly halfway there! Will you join the thousands of readers who make The Narwhal possible?
‘These are the stories that need to be told’