Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that for the past five years, an oil company called TransCanada has been fighting to win an American Presidential Permit to build a 1,700-mile Alberta-to-Texas pipeline that would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day across six American states, terminating in Texas.
The oil supply in question lies in the Canadian Boreal Forest, just downstream from Canada’s side of the Rocky Mountain foothills. As you can imagine, that remote forest is filled with wildlife, from lynx to wolves to black bears, and other species. In the years since energy-related development began in the area, several species have been pushed out of their habitats.
But one species in particular could face greater consequences from our government’s interest in foreign oil. According to the National Wildlife Federation, woodland caribou in this pristine woodland could face extinction.
Caribou, also known as reindeer, are some of the most mystical creatures in North America. Only a handful live in the U.S., just south of the Canadian border. But in recent years, in southern Alberta, they have also become one of the most critically endangered mammals, thanks to poaching, logging, construction, climate change, and development. “Development” in this case would be a nice word for petroleum extraction.
Elizabeth Shope of the National Resources Defense Council says the pipeline itself doesn’t pose direct threat to caribou and other species, but what could is the mining of oil, the activity around the pipeline, and the precedent its completion would set.
“Even industry projections, such as Shell Petroleum’s application for a separate tar sands mine in Alberta, show that woodland caribou would lose 40 percent of their habitat if the mine is completed,” Shope says.
In the same area, some caribou populations have dropped so low that the Alberta government has talked about penning the remaining caribou herds and shooting wolves to keep them alive. Shope and thousands of others believe that “removing significant habitat of caribou, given how close they are to extinction,” would be a heavy price to pay for the pipeline.
Although Keystone XL’s application has now been through several State Department-sanctioned Environmental Impact Studies, Shope says, they have failed to address the impact on wildlife in Canada. On April 22, the most recent public comment period for the next-to-last Draft Environmental Impact Statement ended. But according to Shope, it’s not too late to tell Obama, through blogs, letters, and discussions with your representatives, that Americans believe caribou (along with wolves, lynx, black bears, whooping cranes, and other species) are more important than the extraction of oil, which, according to the Rainforest Action Network, would lead to the destruction of pristine forest amounting to an area larger than the state of Florida.
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Tracy Ross is a 2009 National Magazine Award winner, a contributing editor at Backpacker Magazine, a contributor to Outside, Skiing, Bicycling, and other magazines, and is the author of critically lauded The Source of All Things: A Memoir, which O Magazine named one of its "Memoirs We Love" in 2011. She is currently reporting or writing features that include everything from the mysterious deaths and disappearances of several young, solo female trekkers in Nepal, the impact of river travel and kayaking on the terminally ill, and remedies for overcoming her lifelong fear of scrambling in rocky, exposed mountain environments (problematic for an "outdoor" writer)—from a technique called "tapping" to virtual reality therapy. TakePart.com