BY PETER O’NEIL, VANCOUVER SUN APRIL 21, 2014
OTTAWA – The Harper government is downgrading the protection of the North Pacific humpback whale despite objections from a clear majority of groups that were consulted.
Critics say the whales could face greater danger if two major oilsands pipeline projects get the go-ahead, since both would result in a sharp increase in movement of large vessels on the West Coast that occasionally collide with, and kill, whales like the humpback.
The decision was made under the Species At Risk Act (SARA), and declares the humpback a “species of special concern” rather than “threatened.”
The reclassification means the humpback will no longer be “subject to the general prohibitions set out in SARA, nor would its critical habitat be required to be legally protected under SARA,” states the federal government notice published this month in the Canada Gazette.
The decision removes a major legal hurdle that the environmental group Ecojustice said stood in the way of the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project that would bring 550,000 barrels of diluted bitumen crude from Alberta to Kitimat.
Ecojustice said in December that a federal review panel’s conditional approval of the project flies in the face of the humpback’s protections under the federal legislation…
One environmental group questioned the committee’s advice.
“There are outstanding questions about the scientific reliability and sufficiency of the information (the committee) used to make the determination to down-list humpback whales,” said Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
“The proposed change in status for humpback whales would place them in jeopardy, particularly given the impending threats” posed by Northern Gateway and the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to Burnaby…
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