Crude Awakening: Audubon Magazine Tells the Tale of Tar Sands and Bird Habitat

Audubon Magazine Crude Awakening Photo: Jon Lowenstein

Last summer, Audubon Magazine reporter Barry Yeoman travelled north to the open pit mines in Alberta, Canada where a dense form of oil is dug from the earth like coal. He saw the devastation caused by these tar sands mines first hand and has written about them and the surrounding Boreal forests and wetlands in a well-crafted article just published this month. The story includes striking photographs by Jon Lowenstein.  The article tells the story of the high price of an oil addiction that leads oil companies to go after ever more costly and destructive forms of fuel for our cars and trucks. The Peace-Athabasca Delta, downstream from the tar sands mines, is critical bird habitat and nesting area for many of America’s migrating birds. Water use and water and air pollution from the tar sands are helping to kill it – not to mention the fears that local communities have for their health.

Barry describes the Delta aptly in this way:

The boat glides between banks lined with cattails and bulrushes that bow as we pass. The only houses along some stretches were built by beavers. A dozen kingfishers keep pace with us, and we spot pelicans and pileated woodpeckers. Marcel points to a distant flash of movement: a bald eagle. This avian display, he says, is nothing. “Some days in the springtime, when the birds are migrating north—oh, man! For days on end there are flocks in the thousands.” The delta, part of North America’s 1.5-billion-acre boreal forest, serves as the convergence point for all four major North American flyways. Some 215 species—including the endangered whooping crane and neotropical migrants like the olive-sided flycatcher and the American wigeon—use its freshwater wetlands for breeding, nesting, or stopping over.

I travelled with Barry to the tar sands and the Peace-Athabasca Delta last summer and I saw and felt the truth that his words describe. Read his story and you’ll have a good sense of the beauty and the danger in this remote part of Canada that is so closely connected to us through the birds that we love. Go to NRDC’s BioGems action page for the Peace-Athabasca Delta and you’ll be able to send a letter to the Environment Minister of Canada asking for tar sands oil expansion to stop so that the birds of the Peace-Athabasca Delta can be protected.

Photo by Jon Lowenstein, Noor Images

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