Tracking Raincoast into 2019
Table of contents
Beyond holding the line
A win for the Southern Resident killer whalesWhen the National Energy Board (NEB) approved the Trans Mountain Expansion project in 2016, it arbitrarily excluded the marine shipping component of the project and failed to address the risk increased tanker traffic presents to the Salish Sea’s endangered Southern Resident killer whales.After three years as intervenors in the review process, Raincoast, represented by Ecojustice, took the government to court arguing the NEB broke the law when it excluded the marine component. We argued the government used an overly narrow legal interpretation to avoid addressing the harm caused by tanker noise, ship strikes, and oil spills to the Southern Residents and their critical habitat. Further, we presented a compelling case that cabinet broke the law by adopting the NEB’s flawed report.In August of 2018, the federal court of appeal unanimously agreed. They ruled that the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain project violated its legal obligations to protect these endangered killer whales under the Species at Risk Act. The project’s approvals were instantly rendered null and void. The NEB has now been instructed to review the project again, focusing on the marine shipping component, in a fast tracked time frame of 22 weeks. Raincoast continues to serve as an expert intervenor to ensure the Southern Residents are protected as this process continues.[smartblock id=”42480″]
Wild Salmon, Pipelines, and the Trans Mountain ExpansionThis past year, Raincoast published a new report highlighting the risks posed to wild salmon in the Lower Fraser River from a Trans Mountain pipeline or tanker spill.The report details the year round presence of different salmon species, the river’s unique features, the nature of diluted bitumen, the failures of Trans Mountain’s environmental assessment, as well as the inadequacy of the NEB review process.The Lower Fraser, with its extensive man-made shorelines of riprap, log booms, armoured riverbanks, and developments, provide many opportunities for spilled oil to strand. Salmon are susceptible to the toxic effects of spilled oil. Given our findings that embryos, juveniles, or adult salmon are present year-round, relying on the river and its estuary for migration, rearing, and spawning, there is no ‘safe’ time for an oil spill. This could be catastrophic for the one-third of wild salmon populations at risk of extinction in the Fraser River. Now is not the time to increase risk for salmon in the Lower Fraser – it is time for precaution, restoration, and recovery.
Saving an iconIf Southern Resident killer whales are to live on in the Salish Sea, decisive steps to reduce known threats need to be taken now. The impediments to their survival and recovery are a shortage of prey (primarily Chinook salmon), noise and disturbance from vessels (that interferes with hunting and communication), and exposure to toxic substances in the marine environment. Raincoast’s analysis of their future viability, published in the journal Scientific Reports, confirms that if current conditions continue these whales will slide into extinction. Our work, however, is motivated by the possibilities also evident in our analysis – that if Chinook abundance increases, and noise and disturbance decrease, the population could grow. This is the hope that buoys Raincoast’s ongoing resolute efforts to save this iconic species.
It’s an emergencyIn January of 2018, Raincoast and partners petitioned federal fisheries and environment ministers requesting they use an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act to protect the Southern Resident killer whales. Subsequently, we pushed for immediate protections and provided a detailed, science-based rationale for what those measures should be, including establishing feeding refuges, ensuring adequate Chinook through fisheries restrictions, prohibiting whale watching, and instituting operational measures to reduce noise and vessel disturbance. Fast forward to September 2018, after J35 (Talequah) carried her deceased calf for 17 days in a visible act of grief, with no emergency order or protections in place, and the death of two more whales, including a young female, Raincoast launched a new lawsuit to compel the federal government to protect the Southern Residents.In November 2018, the federal cabinet announced its refusal to issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act, despite two ministers’ recommendation to do so. Instead, the government has promised to take comprehensive actions by Spring 2019 to halt the decline and begin the recovery of these whales. Raincoast is committed to ensuring the government keeps its promise.
Modeling meerkats to inform killer whale conservationPublished in the journal American Naturalist, research led by Raincoast scientist Andrew Bateman examined population effects tied to the social structure of meerkats. The approach could inform our understanding of killer whales. Both highly social species, meerkats and killer whales form social groups, and living together can have a strong effect on individuals’ chances of survival and reproduction over time. While past work had theorized that aggregating in larger social groups produced greater benefit (e.g. more offspring per female), this research concluded that population growth is likely largest when individuals form groups of intermediate size. This new information may prove useful for understanding trends in killer whale populations – for example why the Northern Resident killer whales have increased in number over the last 30 years and the Southern Resident killer whales have declined. Future work will analyze patterns of Northern Resident births and deaths within the context of social groups to attempt to illuminate the difference between the two populations.
Salish Sea Emerging Stewards Program
Preparing the conservation leaders of tomorrowThe Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program has completed its third successful season of inspiring the next generation of stewards with a combination of contemporary science and traditional knowledge. With Raincoast’s research vessel, Achiever, serving as our mobile classroom, participants had a rare and immersive opportunity to learn about their coastal environment with input from Raincoast scientists, conservationists, and Indigenous knowledge holders from the Tsleil Waututh Nation and the Cowichan Nation. Youth sailed the Salish Sea experiencing the marine environment and exploring the forests of the Southern Gulf Islands, while sharing in the knowledge of stewardship and conservation from a variety of perspectives.
Evolving and expandingThrough 2018, we engaged more youth, conducted longer trips aboard Achiever, and benefitted from new learning contexts, including terrestrial field trips through old-growth forests and immersive study with Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science Lab at the University of Victoria. We are excited for the coming year, which includes a growing network of education partners, citizen science experiments, youth-led projects, and a community event to share and celebrate this unique learning experience.
Reducing barriersThe program is offered free of charge to reduce barriers to environmental and experiential learning, working with with First Nations and marginalized youth from underserved communities. In 2018 the program engaged youth from the Red Fox Healthy Living Society and an Indigenous leadership program from the Cowichan School District, along with a host of new partners including Cowichan First Nation knowledge holders, Dr. Nancy Turner’s lab at the University of Victoria, and Ocean Networks Canada.
Join our teamYour support makes our research and advocacy programs possible.Donate now
Protecting the backbone of coastal ecosystems
Salmon conservation in the Lower FraserThe Fraser River is one of the world’s great salmon rivers. Its vast estuary links fish, birds, and marine mammals in a food web that crosses thousands of kilometers of Pacific Ocean. Despite its ecological, cultural, and economic importance, intense development and habitat loss dominate the landscape. In addition to field research and restoration, Raincoast and our Lower Fraser River partners are now examining new ways of decision making for the region that makes the resilience of salmon a top priority.
Three years of Fraser estuary juvenile salmon researchFor the past three years, Raincoast has been actively studying juvenile Chinook and other young salmon in the Fraser estuary. This year we had a new focus on our restoration goals, expanding our sampling areas to sites that we expect to restore as part of our Fraser Connectivity Project. This made our 2018 field season our most extensive to date. In total, our team spent 76 days in the field capturing more than 35,000 fish, including more than 6,400 juvenile salmon.By briefly catching young salmon, we gather information about migration timing, habitat preference, and which part of the Fraser watershed the salmon were born. Chinook, in particular, remain in the estuary for the longest time. By knowing how the different populations use this habitat, we can make informed decisions to implement our restoration projects.
Restoring connectivity in Fraser River estuaryThe Lower Fraser River and estuary is a highly modified environment with more than 70% of juvenile salmon rearing habitat lost or locked away behind dykes and armoured shorelines. As the Fraser River arms meet the Salish Sea, jetties and causeways cross the delta to control the channels and aid navigation. These structures impair the movement of young salmon and their access to prime rearing habitat. They have also changed the natural function of the estuary.To address this, Raincoast and partners are undertaking a five-year major restoration initiative, funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to create openings in several of these human-made barriers that restrict juvenile salmon migration. Our collection of baseline information on existing conditions and the movement of salmon near structures before we create openings, allows us to evaluate the success of the thoroughfares once they are established. This means we can adaptively manage our restoration activities and provide new information that can guide other restoration projects.
Restoring ecological governance in the Lower Fraser RiverSince 2016, Raincoast has engaged with more than 80 organizations, including the Kwantlen, Tsleil-Waututh, Sto:lo, and Tsawwassen Nations, academics, conservation groups, stream keepers, and numerous individuals active in efforts to protect Fraser salmon habitat. These discussions reveal a desire for a broad vision that captures the importance of the Lower Fraser River and estuary for its local and global significance. In partnership with the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, University of British Columbia, and West Coast Environmental Law, we are examining systemic issues driving habitat loss with the goal of restoring ecological governance to the Lower Fraser. Our guiding principles of ecological co-governance include honouring aboriginal rights and title, recognizing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, committing to sustainability that spans seven generations, and maintaining stable funding.
Prioritizing habitat restorationTo inform this process, Raincoast is establishing a scientific basis for habitat restoration initiatives in the Lower Fraser River and estuary. We are partnering with the University of British Columbia to apply spatial analysis tools to provide an objective, science-based review of salmon habitat restoration priorities. Given the severe extent of habitat loss, the potential for freshwater habitat protection and restoration is significant. This mapping work will help to lay the foundation for more detailed assessments to guide conservation planning and restoration throughout the whole Lower Fraser River and estuary.
Concerns for the salmon coastRaincoast’s concern for salmon populations across the BC coast is increasing. This ranges from sockeye returning to the Fraser River, Chinook to feed Southern Resident killer whales, to pink and chum salmon necessary for bears and river valleys in the Great Bear Rainforest. There is a disconnect between the federal government’s status quo management of commercial and sport fisheries and the status of salmon populations struggling with climate change, overfishing (via ocean-based mixed-stock fisheries), habitat loss, hatcheries, and aquaculture impacts. Federal and provincial governments are not responding appropriately to the scale of this crisis.
Championing solutions and place-based fisheries2018 was the worst return of Chinook to the Fraser River on record, with spring and early summer runs now collapsed. We argued in federal planning processes for fishery closures on these salmon for four years, with little change. Fisheries management is not just affecting numbers of salmon; it is changing the age and size at maturity, their run timing, and diversity, especially for Chinook. Despite these consequences, conventional fisheries management remains entrenched. As a challenge to the status quo, Raincoast and our partners at the Wild Fish Conservancy published criteria for sustainable fisheries in the journal FACETS. We call for an end to unsustainable mixed stock (predominately ocean) fisheries, and to instead replace them with place-based fisheries that occur at rivers, are selective, sustainable, and target known populations. In 2019, Raincoast will be working to get these and other escalated measures, such as moving fisheries, implemented to protect wild salmon, “the back bone of the BC coast.”
Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science Lab
Hallmarks of science missing from managementAcross Canada and the US, hunt management agencies claim to be “science-based.” However, what that term means is rarely specified, and the extent to which such claims are substantiated has, until recently, never been tested.To fill this gap, we embarked on a multi-year project, recently published in Science Advances, poring over wildlife management plans for 667 hunting systems across the continent (e.g. moose hunting in Alaska, deer hunting in Manitoba, etc.). We searched for signs of four fundamental ‘Hallmarks of Science’: clear objectives, evidence, transparency, and external review.We found surprising gaps. In most hunting systems (60%), less than half the hallmark criteria were present. Only 26% of systems had measurable objectives (e.g. maintaining or increasing population levels), fewer than 10% explained how they set hunting quotas, and fewer than 10% specified being subject to any form of review.These results were alarming. Wildlife management practitioners often use “science-based” claims to defend their actions, including controversial policies such as the trophy hunting of large carnivores. Our results suggest such claims might be unsupported, and highlight the need for transparency in where the science begins and ends in environmental stewardship and management.
Calling out governments on ‘political populations’While defending the trophy hunt in 2015, BC’s premier at the time asserted that “We have a record number of grizzly bears…a huge and growing population.” This authoritative statement not only lacked evidence, but also contradicted Raincoast’s research that revealed the enormous uncertainty in population sizes across the province. Contradictions like this, which are common, inspired a Raincoast-led investigation. We explored whether there might be a broader-scale pattern of misrepresenting population dynamics for political reasons, namely to support (or defend) preferred wildlife policy. Reporting in Conservation Biology, we reviewed the cases where scientists scrutinized government reporting of population sizes, trends, and other data used to defend associated wildlife policies.Studies from around the world revealed patterns of politically preferred policies by exaggerating – without empirical justification – the size or resilience of wildlife populations. Such a process creates what we called, ‘political populations’: those with attributes constructed to serve political interests.
Towards wildlife management reformAlthough the grizzly hunt is now banned, exploitation of other animals, especially carnivores, continues across our province. Following our model of informed advocacy, we are empowered by our research to inform broader improvements to wildlife governance in British Columbia and across the continent. Science could play an important role. As researchers, we have unprecedented responsibility and opportunity to examine government wildlife policies and data.But science alone is never enough. We also have a responsibility to speak directly to the public about potential government malfeasance. This includes ensuring that management actions are ethically grounded and supported by the public, who ultimately pays for wildlife management. Collectively, our efforts can help shape transparent, adaptive, and trustworthy policy.
Safeguarding Coastal Carnivores
One Shot for Coastal CarnivoresRaincoast has long recognized the value of photography to inspire and has been fortunate to have many talented photographers as supporters throughout the years. In the fall of 2018, we launched a unique photographic exhibit – One Shot for Coastal Carnivores – featuring inspiring wildlife photographs donated by a roster of amazing photographers: April Bencze, Tavish Campbell, Karen Cooper, Colleen Gara, Bertie Gregory, Melissa Groo, Brad Hill, John Marriott, Cristina Mittermeier, Neil Ever Osborne, Eric Sambol, and Andrew Wright.The collection was exhibited through the generosity of the Karen Cooper Gallery in Vancouver, the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria, and the Audain Art Museum in Whistler. Each piece was auctioned online, with prints available for purchase and all proceeds supporting our purchase of the Nadeea trophy hunting tenure.
A Snapshot of 20 Years Saving the Great Bears
Friends of Raincoast
Profiles of individuals and businesses who deserve special recognition for their dedication and generosity in helping protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia
Tracking Sponsors 2019
When we publish Tracking Raincoast, we reach out to our supporters for help with the costs. Publishing Tracking Raincoast into 2019 couldn’t have happened without the generous support of these sponsors.