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Environment File

Green TRIP stalls again The province has put the brakes on this year’s Green TRIP funding, but that won’t stop St. Albert’s new park and ride from going ahead in 2011.

Green TRIP stalls again

The province has put the brakes on this year’s Green TRIP funding, but that won’t stop St. Albert’s new park and ride from going ahead in 2011.

The province indicated in its second-quarter update last week that it had cancelled the $10 million it had allocated towards Green TRIP, a provincial program to fund mass transit. Originally announced in 2008 as a $2-billion fund, it’s now been whittled to zero.

It’s a frustrating and disappointing delay, said Mayor Nolan Crouse, who heads the Capital Region Board’s transit committee.

“Everyone’s putting plans together based on the assumption that there’s going to be Green TRIP money, and now there’s not,” he said. “There’s no certainty whatsoever.”

The delay pushes back Leduc’s planned commuter service to Edmonton, Crouse said, but should not affect St. Albert’s north-end park and ride facility, which is scheduled to open in 2011. “We’re going to move forward on the park and ride at this point with or without Green TRIP.”

Leduc is now seeing if it can make up for the $3.5 million it had hoped to get from the province, said Mayor Greg Krischke. “We’re getting to the size where we’re going to need to do that, and we’re prepared to pay the operating cost … where we’re struggling is in paying the capital cost.”

The Capital Region Board has continually lobbied the province to publish the criteria for the fund so they can apply to it, Crouse said. “What we’ve found is they don’t have any money, so they don’t give us the criteria.”

The province has been working on those criteria for about a year, said Doug Horner, MLA for Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert. He said he wasn’t sure why it was taking so long.

“The program has not been cancelled,” he emphasized. “From what I understand, there’s going to be funding for it next year.”

Cities will lose their appetite for mass transit unless the province comes back to the table, Crouse said. “You can’t do public transit without provincial and federal support.”

A new study suggests that bird feeders may drive the evolution of new species.

Martin Schaefer and his team at the University of Freiburg, Germany, examined the effects of migratory paths on Central European blackcaps in Germany. Some of the birds go to the United Kingdom each winter, while others go to Spain.

Schaefer’s team found that these two groups are now genetically and visually distinct from each other and were not interbreeding. If this continues, they predicted, the groups could become separate species.

Blackcaps used to fly southwest to Spain from Germany each year, said Schaefer, where they’d mate and eat fruit all winter. The rare bird that went to Britain usually starved. That changed in the 1960s when the British started putting up more bird feeders. “By now, blackcaps are present at every third garden feeder,” he said.

Despite living in the same German forests half the year, he said, the birds now appear to be evolving in different directions. The British birds have rounder wings suited for their shorter migration, narrower beaks for birdseed and bugs, and browner back feathers. These changes appear to have happened in just 30 generations.

“I am very excited about the speed of evolution that is visible in blackcaps,” Schaefer said, adding that it’s very rare to see these initial steps in speciation. He wasn’t sure if the split would hold, though, as the birds could still interbreed, and there were no disadvantages to being a hybrid.

Bird feeders near places like Big Lake would likely have a similar effect, Schaefer noted; they give resident birds an advantage over migrants, lowering winter death rates.

The study can be found in this week’s Current Biology.