A coyote trots along a lush, green clearing near the town of Fort McMurray, Canada. It is brazenly undeterred by the presence of humans. Sniffing the grasses still wet with rain on an overcast summer day, it pauses at the edge of a wide expanse of thick, dark sludge. The air here is harsh with chemicals that rise off the muck—they burn the mouth and throat, almost like being on the outskirts of a tear gas cloud.
These are the Athabasca tar sands, the result of open-pit mining of bitumen and crude oil. The boreal forest that stood here for millennia was razed to allow miners to dredge up the natural resources that form the backbone of the region’s oil industry, creating vast black pits in its place. Heavy machinery used in this process sits empty on a Saturday, and a huge smokestack spewing gray smog in the distance is the only indication of industrial activity.
“‘Now is a great time to be building a pipeline, because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,’ Savage said on a local podcast. ‘Let’s get it built.’”
The coyote surveils the slick, toxic swamp that splits the landscape, as if wondering how this smelly mess came to be there, in the center of what would have been its natural habitat a few decades ago. Then it disappears into the bush.