How Canadian pipeline companies protect species at risk

A growing number of plants and animals are considered endangered or threatened in Canada and around the world. Canadian pipeline companies often cross paths with these species at risk and are taking special measures to protect them.

Crossing paths


Canada is home to 521 animal and plant species listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). That means they are federally classified as being extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern.

Transmission pipelines span thousands of kilometres across Canada. With such a vast network of pipelines, and as more species are considered to be at risk, the two worlds sometimes collide.

When pipeline construction and maintenance activities cross paths with species at risk, special measures are taken to protect and, when possible, even help the plants or animals increase in number.

Identifying species at risk


Any time a pipeline company plans to disturb land or potential habitats, they identify species in the area that may be at risk before any work begins.

The companies use government data to identify potential habitats of at-risk species along the pipeline route or work area. They also conduct ground studies to verify those habitats and species locations. Wildlife sweeps and surveys can also be done to ensure there are no active nesting or young in the area before any crews, equipment or vehicles arrive on site.

Pipeline companies take protective measures


Once identified, each species is evaluated individually. Experts look at key aspects of their life cycle, habitat requirements and sensitivities. Then mitigation measures are planned to minimize or avoid disturbance. These measures may include:

  • Avoiding the area completely or refining routes to avoid habitats
  • Scheduling construction outside of key life cycles and migratory patterns
  • Installing artificial nest options
  • Relocating plant species outside the right-of-way

It may not always be possible to completely avoid species at risk. Or there may be multiple species involved. In those cases, additional mitigation measures and considerations may be required. Some examples include:

  • Encouraging birds and animals away from the area using barriers or deterrents
  • Enhancing habitats using tools such as nest platforms
  • Removing vegetation along the right-of-way within regulated timing windows to protect migratory birds and their nests.
  • Using buffers
  • Narrowing the right-of-way

For example, with ferruginous hawks, options might include a buffer to protect the nest from disturbance, enhancing the habitat by adding nest platforms, and working within the timing windows.

Wildlife is always monitored throughout construction activities. When the company is finished, the land is returned to the same – or better – condition as before. It is a carefully planned and meticulously executed process that involves pre-construction assessment, monitoring during construction and post-construction inspection.

Minimizing impacts by law


Several laws and acts protect species at risk in Canada, including:

Not only do pipeline companies’ practices meet legislative and regulatory requirements; their commitments extend beyond legal compliance to environmental responsibility, protection and stewardship. They use all the information available to them from government, databases, environmental surveys, science and research to identify critical habitats or other sensitive habitats so that they can take mitigating measures.

Working together to protect species at risk


In addition to company actions, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) has a work group mandated to manage cross-sector species at risk issues. The work groups consist of subject matter experts from CEPA’s member companies, who work together to address industry issues, practices and operations.

The work group explores species-specific efforts, such as identifying and communicating key practices for caribou. It also manages collaborative initiatives, such as updating a best management processes document. That document serves as a starting point for project-specific plans that are founded on compliance and excellence, while reflecting the unique circumstances and conditions in a region.

Visit our “Protecting the environment” page for more on how pipeline companies protect Canada’s land, water and wildlife.