Two prominent water scientists say a debate over Canada’s largest national park has become politicized and industrial development is being blamed for changes it didn’t cause.
Brent Wolfe of Wilfrid Laurier University and Roland Hall from the University of Waterloo say B.C. Hydro’s Bennett Dam on the Peace River has had only a marginal effect on northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park.
After 20 years of research and nearly two dozen published papers, they conclude climate change has been drying out the world’s second-largest freshwater delta for more than a century.
And that there may be nothing anyone can do about it.
“What our research shows is that this landscape is overwhelmingly influenced by natural processes,” says Hall. “You’re going to end up wasting a lot of effort.”
Their conclusions are disputed by the author of a report done for the federal government, as well as by another leading researcher.
Wolfe and Hall criticize the 561-page study that was done in response to concerns the park’s environment has deteriorated, which potentially threatens its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The study concluded that 15 out of 17 measures of environmental health are declining in the area, mostly because of lower river levels and fewer floods to replenish lakes. It said industry and dams, as well as climate change and natural cycles, are behind the problem.
Wolfe and Hall say sediment cores in area lakes show that the Wood Buffalo region has been drying out since the early 1900s.
“All of our evidence suggests that drying began in the early 20th century,” Wolfe says. “We also have evidence that the flood frequency has been declining.”
Commissioners table windmill reinvestment zone after public hearing
Matagorda County Commissioners will readdress an ordinance on a reinvestment zone for Peyton Creek Wind Farm at a later meeting after tabling the issue Monday.
Representatives from the company E.ON Climate and Renewables, proposing the wind farm, said at a commissioners meeting two weeks ago that there wasn’t much controversy over their plans to build a 50-acre windmill farm between Bay City and Wadsworth.
That certainly didn’t seem to be the case at Monday morning’s public hearing because it was standing room only as the courthouse room was filled with people concerning the windmill farm.
“We have some specific concerns with the location of this wind farm,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Gretchen Nareff said. “We generally try to discourage companies from building in this area. The iconic endangered species of Texas, the whooping crane, have barely 450 individuals left in this population.”
E.ON announced plans for a 150-mega watt wind farm on the south side of the county more than a year ago that will contain about 50 turbines. Specifics are still pending on the model and size of turbines that will be selected after wind studies will be completed by the end of the year, E.ON Wind Development manager Nathan Yates said.
Yates also stated that biological impact studies would be completed by that time as to what the affect would be on birds in the area, a fear to the community known for its bird watching.
“We wanted you to know that we are highly concerned with how these windmills will affect birding and tourism in the area,” Bay City Tourism manager Heidi Martinez said at Monday’s public hearing next to Bay City Public Information officer Marissa Valentine. “We are a huge birding destination… something we are very proud of. Because of our central location for migratory birds, we have concerns about the specific location these windmills are to be placed.”
“Friends of the Wild Whoopers has read the following article about Wood Buffalo National Park and it is disturbing. Over the past couple of years we have read other stories claiming serious environmental problems on or near Wood Buffalo. We have been advised by Canadian officials that these problems do not affect the endangered Whooping Crane nesting area. Now we are hearing otherwise. We will continue to monitor the situation and seek the truth.
The environmental deterioration described in the following reports reminds me of the tremendous problems that have been caused over many years to the Mississippi River ecosystem by United States government agencies.
Chester McConnell President
Friends of the Wild Whoopers”
The 561-page report on Wood Buffalo National Park says industry, dams, climate change and natural cycles are sucking the watery lifeblood from the vast delta of northeastern Alberta’s Peace and Athabasca rivers.
Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” are increasing in importance on Corps of Engineer lakes according to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW). Chester McConnell, FOTWW’s wildlife biologist explains that, “due to numerous land use changes on private lands, many wetlands and ponds that once served as Whooping Crane habitat are being drained and converted to other uses. So the large Corps of Engineer lakes are being used more and more by the cranes.”
Mostly, during migration Whooping Cranes “stopover” on lakes, natural wetlands and small ponds on private farms just to eat and rest overnight. Like humans on a long trip they just need a small place to briefly stop, feed, rest and then continue their journey. Importantly, Whoopers are compatible with other wildlife and briefly share their habitats. Ensuring that sufficient areas with the proper conditions as stopover sites are available is important for the survival of the species. Sensible practices applied by conservation interest can help reduce potential morality that occurs during migration.
FOTWW’s evaluations continue
FOTWW is continuing its evaluations of Corps lakes to identify areas with good Whooper habitat; habitats that need improvements; and areas that can be developed into good habitat. McConnell reasons that: “Corps lakes are federally owned and, if we can design projects that do not interfere with the Corps mission, then projects that help endangered Whooping Cranes should be authorized. Land cost are the major expense in such projects and using federal lands would eliminate that cost.”
Whitney Lake visited
McConnell visited Whitney Lake on April 12, 2018 to assess potential habitats for Whooping Cranes. Michael Champagne, USACE – Natural Resources Specialist, Fort Worth District made arrangements for our trip. Nickolus Mouthaan, Park Ranger led us on a tour of the lake to examine all potential places that could provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. Brandon Mobley, Natural Resource Specialist, Fort Worth District Office participated in the tour. We discussed the natural resource objectives for Whitney Lake and needs for management (Figure 1).
About Whitney Lake
Whitney Lake was authorized by the Flood Control Acts of August 18, 1941 to provide flood control, hydroelectric power, water conservation for domestic and industrial uses, recreation and other beneficial water uses. The lake is located along the county lines of Hill and Bosque Counties on the main stem of the Brazos River. It encompasses a total of 49,820 acres and has a flood capacity of 1,372,400 acre-feet of water. At elevation 533 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL), the normal pool level, the lake covers 23,560 acres and has a capacity of 627,100 acre feet.
Approximately 13,500 acres of government-owned land surrounding the lake are dedicated as natural areas. Primarily used for flood storage, this land is also intended for low impact public use with a minimum of facilities provided. The lake’s large size and diverse habitat support a number of native and introduced species of fish. The lake is a common stopping, resting and feeding area for Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, shore birds and other waterfowl. This same land is primarily where FOTWW has recommended projects to increase benefits for Whooping Cranes (Figure 2).
***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****
Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.