Threatened populations of Alberta woodland caribou may disappear entirely before oil sands developers get around to restoring old growth forests, says Environment Canada.
In northern Alberta, where oil sands development is changing vast tracts of wilderness in its pursuit of wealth, the woodland caribou, a threatened species, continues its steady decline without the benefit of adequate government protection.
Despite the Alberta Wildlife Act’s designation of the woodland caribou as a threatened species their populations continue to decline faced with disappearing habitat while governments, including the federal government—also mandated to protect threatened species under the Species at Risk Act—continue to study the issue
The threat to woodland caribou
According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the threats to Alberta woodland caribou include
- loss of prime caribou habitat by logging old growth forest
- habitat fragmentation from seismic lines, pipelines, power lines, and roads
- increased predation by wolves resulting from landscape change
- government inaction despite recognizing the need for action as early as the 1970s
- continued approval of new development in areas of high caribou risk despite no plan for species recovery
Environmental organizations have been fighting for years to protect the caribou population from the continued industrial development that even the Alberta government, in a study, found would, if continued at the current rate, lead to the extinction of the herds in less than 40 years.
Environmentalists take federal government to court
A consortium of environmental groups filed—and won—a lawsuit against the federal government in 2011 to seek emergency protection of critical habitat for threatened caribou herds in northeastern Alberta.
No change—2nd lawsuit filed
Despite the ruling, Environment Minister Peter Kent has not changed his mind, but continues to insist that a national recovery strategy that relies on the strength of herds in other parts of Canada and local predator (wolves) culls to mitigate the problem. Ecojustice, on behalf of the environmental groups, filed a second lawsuit against the federal government in February 2012.
A news report today highlights information from a report prepared by Environment Canada for the federal government in relation to the legal challenges. The report says, “All Alberta local populations of boreal caribou are at elevated risk of extirpation, particularly the seven local populations in the oil sands area.”
Federal government continues to “analyze” issue
As it stands, the federal environment minister continues to work on a recovery strategy which it describes as a “complex” issue, according to the news reports. A spokesman for the Pembina Institute, one of the environmental groups involved in the lawsuits, says he’s pleased to hear the minister was analyzing the issue, but said, “Time is of the essence. We’re losing habitat protection every day.” And caribou.
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