How pipeline companies protect species at risk

Canada is home to 521 animal and plant species listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), meaning they are federally classified as being extirpated, endangered, threatened or a special concern. Once listed, the measures to protect and recover a listed wildlife species are implemented. That number, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, is growing all the time.

So, with approximately 119,000 km of transmission pipelines crossing Canada, it’s easy to see why construction and maintenance activities will, from time to time, encroach on areas where those at-risk species live or grow.

How do we minimize the impact of pipeline companies’ activities on species-at-risk?

In addition to company actions, CEPA has formed a sub-work group within our environmental work group to manage cross-sector species at risk issues. CEPA’s work groups consist of employees from CEPA’s member companies, working together to address industry issues, practices and operations.

The species at risk sub-work group is exploring both species-specific efforts – such as identifying and communicating key practices for caribou – and broader policy initiatives, such as how to protect critical habitat while still conducting required activities.

To learn more, we spoke with Bevin Sears, environmental advisor at Inter Pipeline Ltd., and chair of the sub-work group.

Q: Why is it important for pipeline operators to identify species at risk?

Bevin: If species at risk are identified prior to a pipeline project, it allows us to mitigate potential adverse effects to individuals or their residences. Once we know about them, we have a suite of options available to us – from avoiding the localized area completely, timing construction outside key life cycles, installing artificial nest options or relocating plant species outside the right-of-way.

Q: How are species-at-risk identified?

Bevin: We start by using government data to identify potential species at risk habitats along the pipeline route. We then refine the route wherever possible to avoid those habitats, and conduct ground studies to verify those habitats and species locations.

Wildlife sweeps and surveys can also be conducted to ensure that there are no active nesting or young in the area prior to any crews, equipment or vehicles being mobilized to the site.

caribou

The species at risk sub-work group is identifying and communicating key practices for caribou.

Q: What happens when a pipeline route encroaches on a species at risk habitat?

Bevin:  Once identified, each species is evaluated individually. We look at key aspects of their life cycle, habitat requirements, sensitivities, etc. Then mitigation measures are planned to minimize or avoid disturbance. For example, if the species at risk is migratory, scheduling construction in a time period where the species is not present avoids potential impacts.

It’s not always possible to completely avoid species-at-risk or there may be multiple species drivers and timing windows, so additional mitigation measures and considerations may be required. For example, birds or animals might be encouraged away from the right-of-way using barriers or deterrents, habitat enhancements such as nest platforms, or by removing vegetation along the right-of-way, within regulated timing windows to protect migratory birds and their nests. Other actions might include using buffers or narrowing the right-of-way. Wildlife will also be monitored throughout the activities, and  rights-of-way are revegetated after construction is complete. The process comprises preconstruction assessment, monitoring during construction and post-construction inspection.

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

Q: Are there laws protecting species-at-risk during pipeline activities?

Bevin: At-risk plants and animals are protected by the Species at Risk Act (SARA); the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA) protects migratory birds and their nests; while provincial wildlife acts or regulatory regimes protect specific species and their habitat (e.g. caribou).

Pipeline companies often take actions to minimize their impacts on these habitats even where there is no regulatory requirement. They use all the information available to them from government, databases, ground-truthing (environmental surveys), science and research to identify critical habitats or other sensitive habitat (e.g. wetlands), so that they can take mitigating measures.

You can read about a real-life project where at-risk species were encountered in ‘From squirrels to rare mosses: what’s involved in planning for reclamation, part 1’