Harper, Enbridge “poisoning the well” for northwest BC industrial development, Cullen says

Both the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and Enbridge Northern Gateway have “poisoned the well” against industrial developers in the northwest of BC and that is increasing resistance to all projects, Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House Leader told reporters Thursday, February 14.

Cullen was speaking during a regular conference call held with northwest BC media and was promoting his current Renewal Northwest tour of the riding.

“[There is a] huge amount of investment in the northwest,” Cullen said. The Renewal Northwest tour, he said, is intended to “bring the public into it, knowing good from bad, right from wrong.because some of these projects that will be excently suited for the northwest and others pose far too many risks. And how do you make that decision?”

“It’s a conversation a lot of people have been itching to get at.” Cullen said because in northern British Columbia a significant number of people have resisted development, whether it’s the proposed Northern Gateway pipline or fracking in the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass Rivers.

“Once you get past the conversation of what you don’t want, comes the conversation of what we do want.” Cullen said. “That means good jobs that fit in with our local ecology and our own values. It’s never been really been brought altogether.”

“To be honest most of the developers I talk to, most ofthe people looking to do mining or a gas pipeline or some other project are also looking for those same guidelines. What is it that the northwest wants? How is it that we can the social licences we call it to operate here?

“I’ve spoken to a number of these proponents and a lot of them realize that the well has been poisoned in part by the Harper government who has tried to bully people and call them names and shut down their voices. People get their backs up when they do that. It’s won them no friends.” Cullen said.

“In the case of Enbridge, a lot of those proponents will privately talk to you about how much harder it is to have a conversation in a community after Enbridge has been through town and offended people or just presented something in such a way that people get very resitant.

“I think that there has to be some repair work that has to be done. People do not have faith in the Harper government to protect some of these other values.

“Some of these companies have an up hill struggle based on recent community experience from which the likes of Enbridge has made them quite aware.

“A lot of them are picking up best practices.which is ‘don’t do what Enbridge did,’ do something smarter, more inclusive, and less abrasive. So people are learning there’s a path. We just have to describe what that path looks like.”

(An executive of one company planning an LNG development told Northwest Coast Energy News some months ago, “We’re looking at what Enbridge did and doing the opposite.”)

On the other hand, Cullen believes Enbridge is continuing to go in the opposite direction.

“Enbridge has been learning from the Harpter government doing these omnibus revisions to their pipeline and routing plans, dumpng huge amounts of paper, including increasng the amount of bitumen increasing the threat. All the time the federal government doesn’t seem to mind, Consistently British Columbia residents remain opposed and consistently opposed, with very at all supportive, I think the last poll had 11 per cent strongly support the project.”

Cullen was asked about reports, first from PostMedia News Scientist calls new confidentiality rules on Arctic project ‘chilling’ and later on CBC Canadian federal research deal ‘potentially muzzles’ U.S. scientists
that the Harper government is moving beyond trying to control information released by scientists who are government employees to any scientist who may work alongside those scientists or participate in a federally sponsored research project.

“This is a continuation of a pattern from this government, they are now trying to muzzle people , they don’t actually control and folks are resisting cause it goes against every princple of what good science is you put it out into the public sphere for debate and learning,” Cullen said. “It shows that the government isn’t interested in those facts.

“So it gets worse and worse. It goes back to an earlier question about what it’s like to work in the northwest , the well is poisoned by the Harper government when it comes to any of these questions because thy do things like this and people lose any confidence that the government’s impartial. Well, it’s obviously not, It’s only looking for one answer with anything to do with oil and gas in particular. Anyone who presents anything like science or evidence to the contrary is just shut down and muzzled and I am glad to see the scientific community shows backbone and resists.”

Archaeopteryx, original dino-bird, was raven black, scientists discover

The first fossil of a bird, or a bird-dinosaur relative, the archaeopteryx, has fascinated scientists for 150 years since it was first discovered in a quarry in Germany. For all that time there has been a debate, was archaeopteryx, a bird or a dinosaur? Could it fly or were the wings, tipped with claws, helping it climb and glide?

Now scientists at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, have analyzed a single fossil feather from an archaeopteryx, and come to the conclusion that not only is it highly likely that it could fly, but the archaeopteryx, which was the size of a modern raven, was also as black as its distant descendent, the raven at home here in the northwest, sacred to the First Nations of British Columbia and  sacred or honoured in other cultures around the world.

The archaeopteryx feather used in the study was discovered in a limestone deposit in Germany in 1861, a few years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

archaeopetrex fossil
An archaeopteryx fossil, like this one discovered in Germany, placed the dinosaur at the base of the bird evolutionary tree. (Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)

For most of that time, as paleontologists studied that feather fossil and other fossil specimens, popular science portrayed the archaeopteryx as the dinosaur at the base of the bird evolutionary tree. The traits that make archaeopteryx an evolutionary intermediate between dinosaurs and birds, scientists say, are the combination of reptilian features (teeth, clawed fingers, and a bony tail) and avian features (feathered wings and a wishbone).

The team examining the fossil feather not only determined that it was raven black but that the wing feathers were rigid and durable, traits that would have helped archaeopteryx fly.

Fit for flight from Brown University on Vimeo.

The fact that archaeopteryx’s feather structure is identical to that of living birds, shows that modern wing feathers had evolved as early as 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period.

“If archaeopteryx was flapping or gliding, the presence of melanosomes [pigment-producing parts of a cell] would have given the feathers additional structural support,” said Ryan Carney, an evolutionary biologist at Brown and the paper’s lead author. “This would have been advantageous during this early evolutionary stage of dinosaur flight.”

Carney, with researchers from Yale University, the University of Akron, used a powerful scanning electron microscope at the Carl Zeiss laboratory in Germany to analyze the feather. They discovered that it is a “covert,” so named because these feathers cover the primary and secondary wing feathers birds use in flight.

They were were looking for melanosomes, the organelle in living organisms that contain melanin, which help determine colour.

Using the high powered electron microscope, the team located patches of hundreds of the structures still encased in the fossilized feather.

“We finally found the keys to unlocking the feather’s original colour, hidden in the rock for the past 150 million years,” said Carney, a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, studying with Stephen Gatesy.

Many artists’ conceptions over the years have shown archaeopteryx brightly coloured, often with brilliant blues like a tropical jungle bird today. Others show it with brownish camouflage like plumage.

The team measured the length and width of the sausage-shaped melanosomes, roughly 1 micron long and 250 nanometres wide. To determine the melanosome’s colour, Akron researchers Matthew Shawkey and Liliana D’Alba statistically compared Archaeopteryx’s melanosomes with those found in 87 species of living birds, representing four feather classes: black, gray, brown, and a type found in penguins. “What we found was that the feather was predicted to be black with 95 percent certainty,” Carney said.

Time to change the colour. An image of a blue archaeopteryx, as imagined by the Chicago Academy of Sciences as it appears on the Animal Planet website.

Next, the team sought to better define the melanosomes’ structure. For that, they examined the fossilized barbules — tiny, rib-like appendages that overlap and interlock like zippers to give a feather rigidity and strength. The barbules and the alignment of melanosomes within them, Carney said, are identical to those found in modern birds.

What the pigment was used for is less clear. The black colour of the Archaeopteryx wing feather may have served to regulate body temperature, act as camouflage or be employed for display. But it could have been for flight, too.

“We can’t say it’s proof that Archaeopteryx was a flier. But what we can say is that in modern bird feathers, these melanosomes provide additional strength and resistance to abrasion from flight, which is why wing feathers and their tips are the most likely areas to be pigmented,” Carney said. “With Archaeopteryx, as with birds today, the melanosomes we found would have provided similar structural advantages, regardless of whether the pigmentation initially evolved for another purpose.”

The study, which appears in Nature Communications, was funded by the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Oysters, mussels threatened by ocean acidification from climate change


A study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is warning that mollusks, especially oysters and mussels, are increasingly vulnerable to the acidification of the oceans caused by rising carbon dioxide emissions.

A news release from the institute  on Aug. 2 notes

As CO2 levels driven by fossil fuel use have increased in the atmosphere
since the Industrial Revolution, so has the amount of CO2 absorbed by
the world’s oceans, leading to changes in the chemical make-up of
seawater. Known as ocean acidification, this decrease in pH creates a
corrosive environment for some marine organisms such as corals, marine
plankton, and shellfish that build carbonate shells or skeletons


The new study, which was published online July 7, 2011, by the journal Fish and Fisheries, assesses each country’s vulnerability to decreases in mollusk harvests caused by ocean acidification.

It appears, that the higher latitudes, which would include the northwest coast, are, for the moment, at lower risk than tropical regions.

The news release goes on to say:

In order to assess each nation’s vulnerability, researchers examined several dependence factors: current mollusk production, consumption and export; the percentage of the population that depends on mollusks for their protein; projected population growth; and current and future aquaculture capacity.

Using surface ocean chemistry forecasts from a coupled climate-ocean model, researchers also identified each nation’s “transition decade,” or when future ocean chemistry will distinctly differ from that of 2010, and current mollusk harvest levels cannot be guaranteed. These changes are expected to occur during the next 10 to 50 years, with lower latitude countries seeing impacts sooner. Higher latitude regions have more variability, and organisms there may be more tolerant to changing conditions.

The author of the study, Sarah Cooley, says, “”Mollusks are the clearest link we have at this point,” Cooley said. “As ocean acidification responses of fin fish become more apparent, and as we learn more about the biological relationships between mollusks and other animals, then we can start zeroing in on how non-mollusk fisheries can also be affected.”

The salmon study controversy. How to write a news release without answering the question


Fisheries minister Keith Ashfield and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans today issued a news release concerning the controversy over the muzzling of DFO scientist Kristi Miller and her genetic study of Fraser River salmon which suggests a virus may be responsible for the decline of the stock.  Although Miller published her study in the journal Science, she was not permitted to speak the media about it.

The DFO news release from this afternoon is a classic example of not answering the actual question while seeming to assure the public that the minister and department are doing their job. DFO also says it supports the department’s scientists, without mentioning that the DFO was originally willing to make Miller available to the media, it was Stephen Harper’s Privy Council Office that said she couldn’t.

You can read the full  news release. Response to Media Reports about Science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada

On Miller’s study the news release says:

 In fact, the research and report by Dr. Kristi Miller on Pacific salmon was not withheld from anyone; Dr. Miller’s report was published in a broadly circulated science magazine and remains widely available to the media and public through the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website, and as an exhibit through the Commission’s website.

(The Commission refers to the Cohen Commission on the decline of salmon stocks)

The publication of a scientific article in the journal Science is not at question.

What the Privy Council Office did was forbade a prominent scientist the opportunity to explain to the public in layman’s terms the significance of her findings.

Science journalism works like this. The major journals advise the media well ahead of time, under embargo, about the pending publication of major papers. The reason for this simple and supported by both the media and the scientific community. It takes time and effort to craft an accurate report of a scientific paper, whether reporting for a newspaper or the web. Creating an accurate and accessible television item on a scientific paper, a television item that also needs pictures and voice clips is both an art and science. Even in these days of cutbacks, the networks hunger for reporters and producers who can do it in under two minutes. If instead the media has to rush out a story on a scientific article on the day of publication, it is bound to be superficial and inaccurate. This was the process that was short circuited by the Privy Council Office when it, not DFO, muzzled Kristi Miller.

This is the question that the DFO news release ignores.

The news release then raises a smokescreen by saying:

Our scientists have also published hundreds of reports subscribed to by tens of thousands of people throughout Canada and the world. For example, this week, Fisheries scientist Dr. Kenneth Frank released a report about positive signs in the recovery of groundfish stocks off the coast of Nova Scotia. Dr. Frank’s research was published in Nature, the world’s most highly cited science journal, and he spoke to nearly a dozen interested members of the press on his report this week alone.

. While it is true, that the report on the rebound of groundfish stocks is receiving wide attention and as DFO says, Kenneth Frank was made available to the media, a cynical observer would be quick to point out that the Kenneth Frank story is good news for Canada and for the Harper government, while the Kristi Miller salmon virus could be bad news for both the country and the government.

So now it looks that the Privy Council Office is adopting a “good news” agenda. If it’s good, a government scientist can talk to the media, if it’s bad news, bury it.

 Finally the government relies in this case, on the “before the courts” excuse it used when the story of the salmon study first broke in Post Media News, referring to Justice Bruce Cohen’s commission of inquiry into the decline of the Pacific salmon stocks.

 Moreover, at Justice Cohen’s request, the government has provided almost 500,000 documents and many hours of testimony deemed relevant by Justice Cohen to his inquiry. Dr. Miller will also present her research findings at the Commission in the coming weeks along with several other scientists and officials.

Our government has been very clear that judicial inquiries are not conducted through the media. Evidence that may be relevant to Justice Cohen’s findings should be managed through the commission process.

What this means is that government may use the “before the courts” excuse in the future to muzzle any scientific debate on a controversial issue. In reality, of course, that simply means excluding the public and media from a debate on any subject that would likely be discussed openly at any scientific gathering or congress.

Of course, if the Harper government is in favour of something, then a “commission process” appears to be irrelevant. As has been widely reported, the Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, is ignoring the quasi-juidicial nature of the National Energy Board hearings into the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and the various LNG projects, all potentially using the port of Kitimat, by telling any reporter and any audience that the projects are in the “national interest” when finding the public interest is the mandate of the NEB.

Harper government muzzles scientist who studied salmon collapse, noted possible virus as cause

Post Media News

Feds silence scientist over West Coast salmon study

Post Media News reports that the Privy Council Office, part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office, is refusing to allow a prominent scientist speak to the media and the public about her study on the collapse of salmon stocks on the west coast, suggesting a virus may be involved in salmon deaths, despite the fact her scientific findings have already been published in the journal Science.

Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years….

Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400” journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study…

Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island.

Abstract of Miller’s paper in Science. (Subscription required for full text), Jan 14, 2011.

Long-term population viability of Fraser River sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is threatened by unusually high levels of mortality as they swim to their spawning areas before they spawn. Functional genomic studies on biopsied gill tissue from tagged wild adults that were tracked through ocean and river environments revealed physiological profiles predictive of successful migration and spawning. We identified a common genomic profile that was correlated with survival in each study. In ocean-tagged fish, a mortality-related genomic signature was associated with a 13.5-fold greater chance of dying en route. In river-tagged fish, the same genomic signature was associated with a 50% increase in mortality before reaching the spawning grounds in one of three stocks tested. At the spawning grounds, the same signature was associated with 3.7-fold greater odds of dying without spawning. Functional analysis raises the possibility that the mortality-related signature reflects a viral infection.