Cara Cornell doesn’t claim that everyone feels protective and passionate about the wetlands near her home.
But he knows he does.
When she wakes at 5 a.m. – her sleep has been interrupted for the past few weeks by anxiety about birds and animals – she hears a chorus of songs that start the day. Hummingbirds, swallows, finches, cedar waxwings and red-breasted boobies. There are Douglas red squirrels, several families of them so far.
Cornell fears for her little piece of paradise, her place in this world where she finds peace, as a result of a pipeline expansion project – Trans Mountain – that carries notoriously dirty tar sands oil from Canada’s heartland to Alberta to the coast of British Columbia.
Progress on the project has been temporarily halted after some candy cane nests were spotted, forcing workers to down tools. But he believes it will soon start again.
“I want them to go under the wetland,” says Cornell The independent. “This is critical habitat for migratory birds and nesting animals. It’s home to bears, rabbits and wolves.”
“I must talk about the birds and the animals. I see them every day. This is also their home.”
This summer, Cornell joined members of several environmental groups in preparing a “notice of motion,” which seeks to force Trans Mountain (TM) to place its pipe — part of an extension of the original project — under the wetland. They will also ask the company to agree to comply with a series of environmental protections as it has overgrown forests near Cornell’s home in Rosedale, 70 miles west of Vancouver.
Their action comes at a critical time, as the effects of the climate crisis become increasingly acute and against a backdrop of decades of controversy over Canada’s extraction and distribution of polluting fossil fuels.
Justin Trudeau’s government has joined nearly every other nation on Earth in a pledge to cut carbon emissions as part of the Paris Agreement, and limit global warming to 1.5C and prevent catastrophic climate impacts. In 2020, Canada, bound reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Canada is a great country, but it didn’t happen by accident and it won’t continue without effort,” said Trudeau, who made tackling climate action a goal during his 2019 election campaign.
Currently, the extraction and sale of oil and natural gas account for more than seven percent of the national GDP, and the industry is centered in Alberta, with its vast Athabasca tar sands deposits.
And companies like TM are powerful players in the wider political landscape. TM, now owned by the Canadian government, also says it has also employed thousands of people since the first pipeline opened in 1953.
The section through Rosedale is an extension and TM says it is subject to 156 conditions, imposed by the Canadian Energy Regulatory Authority (CER), a government agency.
“Our wishes are for the wetland to be protected,” says Peter Vranjkovic of the Protect the Planet group, which has taken nonviolent, direct action to try to protect the habitats.
“Which means the pipeline company will have to drill under it or put their pipe around it.”
Al Gore compares climate denial to police inaction in Uvalde
Pointing to how activists are used to fighting to save patches of habitat, piece by piece, rather than entire forests, he says the wetland in Rosedale, near Bridal Veil Falls State Park, has old trees. which helps make it so special. Such fatigue veterans are particularly critical for carbon storage.
“It’s a beautiful, wild area. It’s never been logged, or if it was, it was 150 or 250 years ago, so the trees are overgrown and nobody’s developed that little spot,” he says. Some of the trees have started to decay, making them even more attractive to birds.
There are owls and other “unique species not found in other more recently recorded places.”
Another activist who joined the authorities’ request is Lynn Perrin of Pipe Up, a group made up of residents of southwestern British Columbia. He says the importance of the wetland near Bridal Veil Falls has increased as a result of clearing and depletion of neighboring areas.
“In addition to nesting birds, wetlands are home to amphibians such as the endangered coastal giant salamander,” he says.
Cornell is quick to point out that the effort to save the wetland near her home is a team effort, involving many people.
Last year, the project was halted for about five months after activists spotted tiny nests of the Anna hummingbird, a migratory species known for its bright green feathers.
“They’re tiny – just four centimeters (one and a half inches),” says Sara Ross, a member of the Community Nest Finding Network (CNFN), which spotted the bird and notified federal authorities.
In June, Ross found nests belonging to redfish, again forcing the work to stop, at least until the end of the spawning season in late August.
“I will use any tiny nests to stop this project. Why can’t we build more fossil fuel infrastructure,” he says.
“It will kill our world. It’s killing our world. It’s not about the nests, it’s about using whatever means necessary to stop this expansion of the tar sands, for my seven-year-old, for my child, for myself.
He adds: “We can’t do it anymore. So I just have to help our government do the right thing.”
Ross says the Canadian government and TM are spending huge sums of money to project themselves as environmentally responsible and mining tar sands and transporting them 600 miles as they have no impact on the environment.
However, he says such an image is false.
“They advertise tar sands oil as environmentally safe, which is bulls***. Tar sands are the dirtiest fuel on the planet. It takes the most water to clean up, it changes the climate more than anything else. You can sell it any way you want, it’s not true.”
TM was purchased by the Canadian government in 2018. A spokesperson says its entire operation is monitored by CER and its own teams that monitor bird nesting sites.
“Trans Mountain has developed more than 60 environmental protection and management plans related to specific aspects of construction,” says the spokesperson.
“These plans have been approved by the CER and must be implemented before, during and after construction along the pipeline right-of-way, facilities and associated access areas.”
Regarding the area at Bridal Veil Falls, the spokesperson says that “prior to construction activity in the Bridal Falls area various surveys were conducted by Wildlife Resource Specialists and appropriate buffers were created, including a buffer associated with the red-breasted sapsucker cavity nest.” .
A CER spokesperson says its experts “conducted thorough environmental and socioeconomic assessments before the Trans Mountain Expansion Project was approved. This included an assessment of the corridor for the project, including wetlands, watercourses, wildlife and the marine environment.”
The spokesperson adds: “There was also a series of hearings that looked in detail at every section of the route for the project, including the route in and around Bridal Veil Falls.”
A spokesperson for the British Columbia government’s environmental protection department says several studies were done before the project began to assess its impacts and those were accepted.
Asked if the pipeline could pass under the wetland, the spokesman said that if TM “wishes to make any changes to the project that are not approved in the Environmental Assessment Certificate, it would require seeking an amendment that would include an assessment of the proposed changes “.
The spokesperson says Douglas squirrels “have not been identified as an endangered species in British Columbia.”
Cornell and her husband, who owns a business in the area, have lived in the area their entire lives. They moved into their Rosedale home, next to the wetland that spans “two football fields,” five years ago.
He says opinions in the community are divided about the pipeline. Some support it, some don’t. Not everyone feels able to speak.
Asked about the potential cost of putting the pipeline under the wetland, she says she doesn’t know, but assumes it would be more.
However, he asks what price can be given to wetlands, full of birds and animals and trees a sense of calm
“The feeling I get when I walk by this wetland – it’s a sunny day, I feel the wind, I can hear the birds, and you can see all these birds – it really makes you feel peaceful and reminds you of peaceful moments in life. you,” he says.
“And we must have these parts. Some people don’t identify and don’t know, but that’s what these places do for people, and that’s what they do for me.
He adds: “I really hope we can protect it and save it.”