The Right Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper
House of Commons
Honourable Ed Stelmach
Office of the Premier
Room 307, Legislature Building
10800 – 97th Avenue
Honourable John Baird
House of Commons
Honourable Rob Renner
#425 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue
Canada T5K 2B6
Messrs: Neither the Provincial or Federal Governments, the people of Canada nor those beyond our borders will soon erase from their minds the picture of the 500 ducks found dead or dying in the tar sand tailing ponds earlier this year.
Those ducks could well have been a flock that passed through the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park at Big Lake, Alberta, just outside of Edmonton and St. Albert, on their migration to the north. If they did, they escaped one trap only to be caught in another one waiting for them.
The death of those ducks left an indelible black mark on our national and international image. It triggered emotions and focused public attention on the harm man is doing to the world we live in, all in the name of progress, more than anything I can remember in Alberta.
The impact was so great because 500 ducks died in one spot, at about the same time. Their death could have been prevented.
Nobody knows exactly how many migratory birds fall victim to yet another Alberta anthropogenic obstacle in their migratory path: the high, 138kV power line that crosses the Sturgeon River/Big Lake wetlands at the west side of St. Albert, right at the portal to the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. They die, one by one, largely unnoticed. One by one, they probably add up to the hundreds. In the USA alone, it has been estimated that bird death from power line collisions is in the range of 130 to 174 million per year.
It has been known for at least two decades that the location of power lines within 500 meters of a productive wetland or open water invites bird collisions. Those areas are most dangerous to birds because they provide staging, feeding and nesting grounds.
Like a giant spider web, this St. Albert high power line crosses the Big Lake wetlands, Sturgeon River, the lake shore and the open waters of the Riel lagoons at the edge of the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. The line crosses a top birding site, a wildlife viewing area, a provincial park, all major deciding factors of where not to put a power line. This site presents a very high risk for bird collisions.
I understand the Province has plans for a major Nature Interpretive Centre in the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park at a location which will provide a prime view of the power lines.
Visitors could observe a bird hitting the lines, possibly escape with a broken wing, desperately trying to move; see dead birds floating in the river, patches of feathers, piles of bone, on the walkway to the observation platform.
Environmental groups, school children, bird watchers and visitors from as far as Europe and the Far East observe the rich bird life of Big Lake. if these collisions took place in direct observation of environmental groups or the general public, or any other type of situation where the media or politicians would be notified, then it would be considered a politically significant event. (N. Heck, Risk of Bird Collisions with Electric Power Transmission Lines in Alberta, 2007)
The social-political reality is that people are likely to witness collisions from the Interpretive Centre as well as from the BLESS observation platform located at the edge of Big Lake, right beneath the power line, where springs keep the lake ice-free late in the fall and early in the spring, attracting thousands of migratory birds.
It is not so much the economic or biological impact of the bird kills that matters, but how the public perceives them, especially in a Provincial Park where wildlife is expected to be protected.
Recommendations arising from research into the risk of bird collisions with electric power transmission lines in Alberta (Heck 2007) explicitly exclude sites for new lines with extremely high risks, similar to the line at Big Lake Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. I personally believe that in such areas burying the line underground should be considered, if it were safely feasible.
AltaLink has researched possible alignments and prepared cost estimates. Putting the line underground is not cheap. But in this case, there does not to seem to be any choice. It is not a matter of feasibility of relocating the line, but of who pays for it.
You are no doubt aware of the international status of Big Lake as Important Birding area (IBA). This is a project which identifies a network of critical sites to conserve the natural diversity and populations of Canadian bird species. Big Lake is also being nominated under the Ramsar Convention. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands.
If the government will not bury the lines then it must enforce its own legislation that protects birds from this type of harm. Various Acts protect a wide range of migratory birds: The Alberta Wildlife Act, the Federal Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Canada is a signatory to the latter and should enforce this Act, like the USA does. Why do the Province and the Federal Government stand by and ignore their own and international laws?
I respectfully suggest that the Alberta and Federal governments would benefit not only here, but nationwide, even internationally, if they were seen to be making an effort to do something that would mitigate the migratory bird kill, whether the birds die by slowly drowning in the oil of the tar sand tailing ponds or breaking their necks by colliding with a power line. These deaths are largely preventable.
This is a great opportunity for the Province, and the Federal Government, to take some highly visible action and make the point that our Government is serious about dealing with theenvironmental impacts our rapid growth has caused. The Province could gain some environmental credibility with the public if it helped lower the dead bird count in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park and surrounding municipalities by putting the portion of the line underground where it crosses the bird home ranges.