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B.C. Hydro’s planned Site C dam threatens critical wildlife: report

The Peace River forms a critical part in a conservation puzzle spanning the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the U.S. and is at risk from rampant resource development, including B.C.

The Peace River forms a critical part in a conservation puzzle spanning the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the U.S. and is at risk from rampant resource development, including B.C. Hydro’s planned Site C dam, a wildlife consultant’s report concluded Wednesday.

In a report for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, author Clayton Apps said the “ecologically diverse” Peace Break is considered a “key linkage ... a natural east-west break” in the Rockies.

The Peace is one of 11 contiguous geographic areas extending from the greater Yellowstone ecosystem in Montana and Wyoming north as far as the Mackenzie Mountains in Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Unlike other areas of the Rockies, the Peace Break has relatively little protected area and a substantial footprint of human development, creating a “critical pinch-point” in the continuity of the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative, Apps said in a report to a Joint Review Panel studying the Site C proposal. The break also funnels warm, moist Pacific air through the Rockies, creating a microclimate conducive to wildlife and farming.

“The tenuous continuity and unique ecological values of the Peace Break” stand to be impacted by the cumulative effects of resource development such as oil and gas along with B.C. Hydro’s planned $7.9-billion, 1.100-megawatt Site C dam, he said.

In his report, Apps looked at a regional area of 74,325 square kilometres, including a local area of 13,416 square kilometres defined by a 25-kilometre buffer surrounded the original course of Peace River. There are two existing dams upstream of Site C: W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon, built in 1967 and 1980, respectively.

The impact of habitat loss and fragmentation over the next 25 years varies by species under a model that assumes approval of Site C dam, said Apps, noting the estimates are conservative and cannot foresee all future impacts.

Wolves are predicted to suffer a loss of 22 per cent of landscape productivity, caribou 31 to 37 per cent, and grizzlies 42 to 44 per cent.

With its dams and transmissions lines, B.C. Hydro says in its own documents submitted to the panel it is “not the lone organization contributing to the decline in wildlife resources” in the area, citing gas pipelines and plants, mining, wind turbines and forestry.

Hydro says the Site C reservoir “will not effect the wide ranging movement of grizzly bear and other large carnivores” because they will be able to swim across. It argued that the valley does not support a resident grizzly bear population and that non-resident grizzlies move infrequently through the valley, adding that existing roads and livestock protection by farmers pose a greater obstacle.

Threatened caribou do not occur along or adjacent to the Peace River between Peace Canyon Dam and the Alberta border, hydro adds, saying construction of the dam, reservoir, transmission lines and upgrades to Highway 29 will not directly affect the existing caribou population.

Powell River-based Apps is a consulting research ecologist and is also principal investigator for the B.C. government on the southwest grizzly research project, aimed at recovery of at-risk populations.

He said in his report to the panel that fishers, members of the weasel family, are also expected to suffer a major loss of habitat due to flooding for the dam. Bull trout and Arctic grayling will also be negatively impacted by Site C.

Apps concluded that the cumulative impacts “are highly significant for all species.” While wildlife habitat is at risk of being increasingly fragmented even without Site C, “effective long-term conservation is a less likely outcome” if the dam proceeds.

New protected areas and improved land management, including additional research and inventories of wildlife, are critical to reversing the trend, with involvement of governments, industry, private organizations and individuals, he said.

The Site C dam would flood 83 kilometres of the Peace River from approximately Fort St. John to Hudson’s Hope. The dam would be 1,050 metres long and 60 metres high and would also flood 14 kilometres of the Halfway River, 10 kilometres of the Moberly River, eight kilometres of Cache Creek, three kilometres of Farrell Creek and one kilometre of Lynx Creek. About 5,500 hectares of land would be submerged.

A report by the David Suzuki Foundation and Global Forest Watch Canada about one year ago calculated there are 28,587 kilometres of pipelines, 45,293 kilometres of roads and 116,725 kilometres of seismic lines used for oil and gas exploration within the Peace region.

The Joint Review Panel is expected to conclude public hearings on Jan. 23.

The panel will have about 90 days to submit an environmental assessment report to the federal Minister of the Environment and the executive director of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office outlining its recommendations and conclusions.