Federal government ices polar briefings

Ice floes float in Baffin Bay above the Arctic circle as seen from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent on July 10, 2008. ~ JONATHAN HAYWARD CP

Ice floes float in Baffin Bay above the Arctic circle as seen from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent on July 10, 2008.
~ JONATHAN HAYWARD CP

Federal scientists who keep a close eye on the Arctic ice cap would like to routinely brief Canadians about extraordinary events unfolding in the North. But newly released federal documents show the Harper government has been thwarting their efforts.

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Migrating shorebirds — and the goo they eat — is a sticky issue for Port Metro Vancouver Will giant new terminal threaten the sandpiper?

 Western Sandpipers flocking near Roberts Bank  ~ BEN NELMS for Postmedia


Western Sandpipers flocking near Roberts Bank ~ BEN NELMS for Postmedia

Published: April 30 2014

VANCOUVER — The sandpipers are right on schedule, hundreds of thousands of them touching down on the mudflats just south of the city.

The “peeps” are here to refuel, some almost doubling their weight in just a few days. Then the tiny aerial acrobats liftoff continuing their marathon journey to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

The world’s western sandpipers migrate up the Pacific coast touching down at the Fraser Delta each spring. They arrive like clockwork to slurp up the gooey biofilm on the mudflats — goo that has created a rather sticky issue for a massive port expansion planned just south of Vancouver.

Port Metro Vancouver believes its megaport, known as Roberts Banks Terminal 2, and the “peeps” can coexist.

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Hungry polar bears robbing Arctic bird colonies

A female polar bear and her two cubs made short work of the eggs in this East Bay Island eider colony in Nunavut. The eiders make their nests on the ground. PHOTO: SUPPLIED: STEVE MARSON

A female polar bear and her two cubs made short work of the eggs in nests on the ground in this East Bay Island eider colony in Nunavut. PHOTO: STEVE MARSON

Published: February 4, 2014

There were more than 300 nests in the bird colony when the polar bear arrived.

When it meandered off with a belly full of eggs only 24 nests remained, say scientists who witnessed the  “near total” destruction of nests on the bird colony off Baffin Island.

It was far from an isolated event, the team from Environment Canada and Carleton University reported Tuesday. Continue reading →

Last chapter for many federal science libraries

Books and reports from a Department of Fisheries library at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont Joli, Que., tossed into a dumpster, according to scientists distributing the photo.

Books and reports from a Department of Fisheries library at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont Joli, Que., tossed into a dumpster, according to scientists distributing the photo.

January 9, 2014 – Environment Canada has a phone number for its library in Calgary. But a meteorologist answers, and he can’t say what’s become of the books.

It’s a similar story in Edmonton and Quebec City where federal libraries, with shelves loaded with reference books and scientific reports on everything from beluga whales to songbirds, now exist only in name.

Environment Canada lists the libraries on its website but the books are long gone. Continue reading →

Mercury levels rising in expanse around Alberta oilsands

Environment Canada research scientist Jane Kirk collects snow samples near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The snow may look pristine but it can contain traces of toxins. PHOTO: RODNEY MCINNIS/ENVIRONMENT CANADA

Environment Canada research scientist Jane Kirk collects snow samples near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The snow may look pristine but it can contain traces of toxins.
PHOTO: RODNEY MCINNIS/ENVIRONMENT CANADA

Published December 29, 2013

Mercury wafting out of oilsands operations is impacting an area – or “bull’s-eye” — that extends for about 19,000 square kilometres in northeast Alberta, according to federal scientists.

Levels of the potent neurotoxin found near the massive industrial operation have been found to be up to 16 times higher than “background” levels for the region, says Environment Canada researcher Jane Kirk, who recently reported the findings at an international toxicology conference.

Mercury can bioaccumulate in living creatures and chronic exposure can cause brain damage. It is such a concern that Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq signed an international treaty in October pledging Canada to further reduce releases to the environment. Continue reading →

Lake Toxins Tied to Oilsands

oilsands - smol

Alberta’s oilsands operations ~ Queen’s/Environment Canada photo

Story published Jan 8, 2013, A1 Calgary Herald

Margaret Munro, Postmedia News; With Files From Dan Healing, Calgary Herald.

Leading federal and academic scientists have uncovered “compelling” evidence that Alberta’s oilsands operations have been sending toxins into the atmosphere for decades.

The team has found “striking” increases in contaminants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at the bottom of six lakes up to 90 kilometres from the massive oilsands operations in northeastern Alberta.

“Industry’s role as a decades-long contributor of PAHs to oilsands lake ecosystems is now clearly evident,” the team reports in a study published Monday in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Continue reading →

Top federal bureaucrats using “preapproved’ messages


Published 03/12/2012
Environment Minister Peter Kent

Environment Minister Peter Kent     ~ CP

At first, a top Environment Canada official seemed game to discuss “unmuzzling” government scientists during an international science conference earlier this year.

“I would be very interested in participating,” Karen Dodds, an assistant deputy minister, said by email to colleagues when she received an invitation to sit on a panel aimed at opening the lines of communications between the news media and federal scientists.

Instead, she sat in the audience as a spectator during the session at the Vancouver conference, and was informed she should refer questions about the government’s strict communication policy to Ottawa, where a government “tactics” committee was working on a response, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

The response  –  that Environment Canada is “exemplary”  at responding to media inquiries – was eventually released as a letter to the editor signed by Paul Boothe, then the deputy minister of environment, after it was edited and pre-approved by Environment Minister Peter Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office. The Privy Council Office, or PCO, reports to the prime minister.

The federal government is so involved in supervising messaging that even officials defending its communications policy use lines “preapproved” by their political masters, the documents show. Continue reading →