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Caribou Worse Off After 10 Years of Alberta Recovery Plan

3 Nov 2014

Ten years after Alberta’s 2004-2014 woodland caribou recovery plan began, habitat disturbance keeps increasing far past limits caribou can tolerate, and populations have significantly declined. Data compiled by Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) reveals that an area ⅔ the size of Nova Scotia (over 33,000 km2) has been auctioned for new oil and gas leases in ranges across Alberta since the plan started, with no meaningful surface disturbance limits. Similarly, oil sands leases cover over 80% of northeast Alberta caribou ranges with no meaningful surface disturbance limits. AWA calls on the Alberta government to adopt rules that steadily reduce industry’s net footprint in its first two caribou range plans expected under the 2012 federal recovery strategy.

“The past 10 years have been a failure for Alberta caribou recovery,” says Carolyn Campbell, AWA conservation specialist.  “Caribou desperately need Alberta’s imminent range plans to reverse habitat loss by actually reducing industry footprint. Will the Prentice government preside over Alberta caribou extinction, or choose solutions for caribou that can also work for industry?”

Alberta’s first plans are expected for the endangered Little Smoky and A La Peche populations in west central Alberta. Demand for liquids-rich gas to produce ‘diluent’ to transport bitumen by rail or pipeline accounts for most current energy activity in caribou ranges in northwest and west central Alberta. The entire foothills ranges of the Little Smoky and A La Peche are also leased to forestry companies that continue logging within range and in critical buffer zones surrounding the small ranges.

It is possible for energy companies to aggregate and reduce their surface footprint in caribou habitat while extracting resources: Alberta could place total surface disturbance limits within ranges and provide companies alternatives to prove tenure, to encourage longer-distance directional drilling and pooling of leases. Alberta could also require forestry companies to share fibre quotas outside ranges to fairly share the burden of ending in-range logging, and could require extensive reforestation crews financed by energy companies to cushion impacts to municipalities.

Premier Prentice pledged during his leadership candidacy: “if we’re serious about becoming a global leader in energy, then we need to become a global leader in environmental performance. Under my leadership, we will establish Alberta as a world leader in the advancement of conservation and the protection of the environment.” AWA looks forward to Alberta’s upcoming range plans for the Little Smoky and A La Peche herds to fulfill that pledge by requiring total habitat disturbance levels to fall.

Energy and forestry footprint in caribou ranges stimulates deer, moose, and predator populations, robbing the caribou of their ability to minimize overlap with predators. Provincial scientists assessed Alberta woodland caribou as ‘endangered’ in 2010, though the province has not yet updated their listing from ‘threatened’. Caribou recovery is both technically and biologically feasible, according to scientists.

For more information:

  • Carolyn Campbell, Alberta Wilderness Association, (403) 283-2025

Posted November 3, 2014 by AEN

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