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Take Action: Put a Stop to Migratory Bird Deaths on Tailings Ponds

October 7, 2016

Dear Wilderness and Wildlife Defender,

On Migratory Bird Day, help us ensure that migratory birds have safe passage through Alberta. Please send a strong message in support of these birds today.
-Andrea Johancsik, Conservation Specialist

The Issue

Every year, hundreds of thousands of birds land on toxic tailings ponds in northern Alberta thinking they are natural bodies of water. The unfortunate birds that land on these toxic ponds are then at-risk of being trapped and drowning. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 die each year after landing on tailings ponds.

Under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the federal government has a responsibility to protect migratory birds and has the power to hold oil sands operators responsible for their deaths. But despite there being a law to protect migratory birds, the government has failed to take swift, decisive action.

Take Action!

These birds need the federal government to step up on their behalf. Add your voice to our call for the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development to open a thorough investigation into this matter.

Send a letter from Ecojustice’s website or write in your own words to the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, at:

Julie Gelfand, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Office of the Auditor General of Canada
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2

AWA is asking for:

-Canada’s federal Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development to open a thorough investigation into this matter
-Stronger regulations that would see long-overdue removal of remaining tailings from the landscape
-Protection of adjacent wetlands, especially the outstanding McClelland Lake wetland complex, for it to be left intact and undisturbed by industrial incursion
-Removal of floating bitumen and bird attractancts and the elimination of harmful, ineffective deterrents
-The issue of polluted water-related injuries, disorders, or deaths associated with birds that fly away after landing on the ponds to be addressed.


In Alberta, in 2010 more than 550 birds had to be put down after an early winter storm forced them to land on tailings ponds – an event that resulted in no charges for the oil company in charge. In 2014, 122 birds were killed after landing on tailings ponds, with no enforcement action taken by the provincial or federal government. And in 2008, 1,606 migratory birds died in a tailings pond. In the latter case, Syncrude was found guilty of breaking federal and provincial laws on the Aurora mine tailings pond; fines paid went to fund the Oil Sands Regional Bird Monitoring Program. AWA has written about the program in 2013 and in 2014.

Melissa Gorrie, Ecojustice lawyer, sent a letter today to the Commissioner in the Office of the Auditor General of Canada on behalf of Alberta Wilderness Association and Greenpeace Canada, seeking answers about the federal government’s failure to regulate and carry out enforcement actions related to migratory birds and tailings ponds.

If you can, please copy me at on any of your correspondence.

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