Edmonton Journal from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on April 5, 1992 · 41
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Edmonton Journal from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada · 41

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Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
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Sunday, April 5, 1992
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The Edmonton Journal, Sunday. April 5, 1 9S2 E 5 Sunday Environment LASTSTA.'D' Jasper environmentalists want special conservation areas declared ED STRUZIK Journal Staff Writer If Alberta's dwindling population of w oodland canbou is going to survive into the next century, Jasper National Park has got to lead the way by providing special sanctuary for its animals. That proposal seems ironic given the mandate of the Canadian Parks Service to protect wildlife from hunters, poachers, and tourism development And coming from a tiny group calling itself the Jasper Environmental Association, it seems doomed to fail. But already the idea is being backed by some high profile wildlife scientists like David Suzuki and Ian McTaggart Cow an as w ell as a long list of the country's largest conservation organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Nature Federation. And more importantly, the Canadian Parks Service is warming to it "This is really the caribou's last stand in Alberta," explains Ben Gadd, vice-president of the Jasper group. "Jasper has the only herds of woodland caribou that stay within a national park all year round. It's a lucky coincidence, because even here, we have some other herds that move outside park boundaries in the winter where they get poached, or killed accidentally by hunters, or find their habitat logged off." Indeed, the fate of the declining Jasper population mirrors a province-wide trend over the past 30 years. There were as many as 9,000 animals in the province in the mid-19ti0s. Today there are less than 2,000, w hich makes them endangered, rare, or threatened depending on w ho you talk to. Veteran caribou biologist Jan Edmonds attributes the decline primarily to habitat loss. Woodland caribou depend on old-growth forests which are most suited to producing lichen. And those kinds of forests are disappearing rapidly in this era of unprecedented logging in Alberta But Edmonds also cites low productivity female caribou produce only one calf each year and high mortality due to hunting, poaching and traffic deaths. Even though Jasper is one of the few places in the province w here caribou are fully protected, its numbers have also been declining in recent years. This can partly be attributed to abnormally thick ice cover w hich has made it difficult for them to find food the past three winters. It's also due to increased human activity and changes in predator-prey systems. But the most vulnerable of the park caribou is one herd located at the north r , I 1 V. i v, Poearortas Alberta Jasper :) v.. Woodland Caribou Conservation Araa f 1 I WaoHland 1 .? V ... Woodland Caribou Conservation Araa 2 Bnitsh Columbia "'hB Journal Grasnc The number of woodland caribou in Alberta has dropped from 9,000 In the mid-1960s to less than 2,000 today end of the boundaries. These animals often migrate out of the park on a seasonal basis into unprotected provincial lands in Alberta and British Columbia where hunters or poachers can get them. Two other herds one in the south, and the other in the western portion of the park, also migrate outside of park boundaries, but into provincial parks or wilderness areas. So only one group of animals known as the Maligne herd stays within the park year-round. Gadd says the Jasper association would like the Canadian Parks Service to designate two large sections within Jasper as Woodland Caribou Conservation Areas (WCCA). Under the National Parks Act, the environment minister has the power to This is really the caribou's last stand in Alberta. Jasper has the only herds of woodland caribou that stay within a national park all year round." designate zones of special preservation. No development of any kind is allowed in zone one. The most development is allowed in zone five. A precedent of sorts has already been set with the establishment of the Clear-water-SifTleur Region of Banff National Park as a zone one area. But the Jasper group says this isn't the answer for woodland caribou within Jasper National Park. "The situation in Banff does set a precedent for protecting caribou habitat, and we're glad to see that," says naturalist Volker Schelhas. "But the problem is that no man-made facilities are allowed inside these kinds of zones. Therefore, the boundaries of any special preservation areas for Jasper's caribou would have to be drawn to exclude roads, parking lots, picnic areas, commercial leases, boat docks, etc." The problem in Jasper is that there are already a number of man-made facilities in the Maligne Lake area of Jasper, and several of those, are looking to expand, according to Schelhas. He is especially concerned about a recent proposal for a major cross-country ski area at Maligne Lake, and about helicopters landing tourists on the western boundary of the park w here passengers can walk or ski into major breeding areas. "If the WCCA is in place, the park can easily say no to this kind of thing," says Schelhas. Schelhas says the cost of creating a WCCA would be minimal because both the infrastructure and expertise needed to monitor the caribou in the conservation areas is already in place. The Canadian Parks Service could also recover some of the costs from the Endangered Species Recovery Program that is being financed with Green Plan funds, he adds. "The proposal fits in neatly with the just-unveiled National Wildlife Strategy introduced under the government's Green Plan," says Gadd. "This strategy aims at recovery of all threatened and endangered species under federal jurisdiction." Faced with a low-cost, positive proposal that fits into everything that the federal government has been espousing, the Canadian Parks Service is taking the proposal seriously. "They've obviously put a lot of thought into this proposal," says Michel Audy, assistant superintendent of Jasper. "In fact, there's a lot in it that we like very much." However, he says the Canadian Parks Service hasn't been able to respond to the proposal to date because it lacks the scientific data upon which a decision can be made. "We're waiting for a report from the Canadian Wildlife Service," says Audy. "At that time, we'll be better able to justify our decision whatever that may be." Schelhas says the groups' strategy of focusing on the Canadian Parks Service is not a concession that it has given up on trying to convince the province to do more to protect caribou. "If the national parks goes for this idea, and says no to more development in caribou breeding areas, as a consequence, then the provinces are more likely to follow suit," he says. "And besides, we think the time is right to press for creation of two Woodland Caribou Conservation Areas. Otherwise, the opportunity may be lost forever, along with the last caribou in the Alberta Rockies." alert' yed for the world's soils LARRY B. STAMMER Los Angeles Times 22 million acres ruined since the Second World War In a report with disturbing implications for the world's food supply, a U.N. study has found that 10.5 per cent of the planet's most productive soils an area the size of China and India combined have been seriously damaged by human activities since the Second World War. As many as 22 million acres have been so ruined by overgrazing, deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices that they will be impossible to reclaim, the study says. Almost 3 billion more acres, considered seriously degraded, can be restored, but only at great cost. "It's ... a red alert," agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan said of the report released last week. Swaminathan is a leading authority on sustainable food production whose research over the past 30 years helped triple India's wheat production. Unless something is done to reverse the trend, Swaminathan predicted, a food crisis is possible in the next 25 to 30 years as the world's population of 5.5 billion climbs toward 8 billion. "It will be very difficult to maintain global or national food security systems," Swaminathan said. "There will be an enormous shortage of food. Obviously the poorer people will suffer more." The study marked the first time since the Second World War that soil conditions had been assessed on a global scale. The three-year survey involved more than 250 soil scientists throughout the world. About two-thirds of all seriously eroded land is in Asia and Africa, home to most of the world's poor. In Central America, about 25 per cent of the vegetated land is moderately to severely degraded. North America has the best record, with moderate to extremely degraded soil accounting for 4.4 per cent of the total. The findings were announced by the non-profit World Resources Institute in association with the U.N. Environment "It is alarming. The resource base to meet the required tripling of world food output is disappearing before our eyes." Program, which funded the study. The study was coordinated by the International Soil Reference and Information Centre in the Netherlands. "It is alarming," World Resources Institute President James Gustave Speth said from Washington. "The resource base to meet the required tripling of world food output is disappearing before our eyes. It's happening on all continents, although it's most severe in the developing world." ' While it is possible to offset the soil losses by applying more fertilizer, chemicals alone cannot reverse soil degradation and eventually may cause further damage such as surface and ground water contamination, scientists said. "We're not talking about merely compensating for a decline in soil and water resources," Speth said. "That won't be nearly enough. We're going to have to produce three times as much food on a resource base that is already badly stretched." Despite the much acclaimed "green revolution" of the past several decades that produced unprecedented gains in food production through the introduction of fertilizers and hybrid grains, per-capita food production has declined in about 80 developing countries in the past decade, the study found. Soil degradation is thought to be a contributing factor. Increased food production that did occur would have been even higher if soil losses had been lower. In North America, where rich prairie soils extend from the Midwest through the Great Plains into Canada, moderate damage from wind and water erosion continues even though the United States boasts one of the world's most advanced soil conservation efforts. One-fourth of U.S. cropland is eroding at a rate faster than is considered sustainable by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, the report said. While soil conservation areas have begun to stabilize some areas, unsustainable farming practices could lead to further losses. Overgrazing, which accounts for 35 . per cent of the world's degraded land, decreases vegetation, exposing the soil to water and wind erosion. Livestock also tramples and compacts the soil, reducing its capacity to retain moisture. Unsuitable agricultural practices, the second leading problem, are responsible for 28 per cent of damaged soil. The losses result from using too much fertilizer, which can lead to soil acidification, or by cultivating hillsides without taking steps such as terracing to prevent soil erosion. Wind erosion results from failing to cover crop land during fallow periods. Soil salinity which reduces crop yields can occur if the land is not properly drained. Deforestation, which contributes to erosion and water conjtamination, is occurring most rapidly in Asia, but is most widespread in South America Overall, it accounts for 30 per cent of the world's degraded land. EDMONTON ECOLINE Ss by Catherine Fafiey J r W r X Caring tor Our Resources Energy burners Canadians consume 290 gigajoules of energy per person each year -more than any other nation. That's equivalent to 145 tankfuls of gas each, enough for each person to travel 50,000 km in their own car every year. Energy consumed in Canada per year: Oil 529 million barrels Gas 67 billion cubic metres Coal 56 million tonnes O O About 20 of that energy is used in our homes. Source: Ontario Ministry of Energy Canada loses a voice for scientific literacy As the 20th century winds down, environmental prognosticators fall into two broad camps. One group (to which I belong) points to the approach of global ecological collapse, which can only be avoided by massive changes in the way we live. If we don't change, we will be dragged into a new reality of famine, food wars, disease and millions of refugees seeking escape from environmental degradation. To do this, we first have to stop our denial and confront the stark potential of the path we are on and then map out a strategy to change direction. The other group points to the unprecedented "success" of 20th century science and technology (S&T) in providing knowledge and power over our surroundings. Continued progress in S&T is expected to generate the solutions needed to avoid ecological catastrophe while supplying the necessary economic stimuli upon which modern life depends. Both groups agree that S&T has an impact on every aspect of our lives and in every nook and cranny of the planet. Our inventions take us from the outer reaches of Earth's atmosphere to the bottom of the deepest ocean trenches, and nowhere can we avoid using our machines or encountering the toxic detritus of technological activity. 1 . v -'-s if y i .4 David Suzuki Environment Whether we anticipate an ecological Armageddon or a technological paradise, the important challenges of our time are scientific and technological. Industries and politicians often demand ironclad scientific proof of the predicted hazards of global warming, ozone depletion and toxic pollution before they will act. Yet as eminent climatologist Stephen Schneider points out, governments make huge commitments to the military in the face of total uncertainty about where, whether or what kind of crises will occur. Ecological dangers, even if their precise details cannot be stated, are far more real than military ones. How can politicians and industrialists understand such matters? We have to be scientifically informed in order to address the major issues of our time. A politician without at least a rudimentary grounding in science and technology cannot possibly assess information to make informed decisions on ecological problems such as massive clear cutting of old growth forests, toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes, declining cod and salmon stocks, atmosphere change, energy options, agricultural land degradation and population growth. Governments are already making multi-billion-dollar decisions on the future of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, space research and satellites, subatomic particles, fusion energy and telecommunications. But when most politicians and cabinet members are educated in law and business, scientific literacy is a rare commodity. So what are their decisions based on? Whether one believes in classical economics or Malthusian ecology, S&T remain basic factors to contend with right now and in the future. The Science Council of Canada was established to provide the kind of detailed analysis of S&T in the Canadian context that any far sighted society needs. The government's decision to do away with the science council commits this country to flounder blindly into the future and make politics and economics the major factors behind government decisions. I have been critical of the science council in the past because of the way politics has influenced the choice of its members. And its focus has been too skewed by over-representation of business and industry. Nevertheless, it has been an important organization that has translated the arcane and often incomprehensible jargon of S&T into the vernacular. The science council at least was one institution charged with defining the central role of S&T in the modern world and providing some sense of historical and social context, critical analysis and vision of future implications of S&T. As we prepare for a new millennium in which S&T will play a central role in global economics and in both ecological degradation and renewal, the role of the science council is more critical than ever. Its abolition signals our leaders' total disinterest in scientific literacy and renders the future more frightening because it is filled with more uncertainties. (David Suzuki is a writer, TV and radio host, and a geneticist) I

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