Alberta woodland caribou battle goes to Federal Court

barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groen...

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Edmonton — Environmental groups recently went to Federal Court to fight for immediate protection of caribou habitat facing unchecked oil-sands development in northeastern Alberta.

Ecojustice, on behalf of the Pembina Institute and Alberta Wilderness Association, is seeking a court order to force Environment Minister Peter Kent to recommend emergency protection of critical habitat for threatened caribou herds in northeastern Alberta.

“We intend to prove that Minister Kent’s failure to protect woodland caribou is illegal and places the future of Alberta’s caribou at risk,” said Devon Page, Ecojustice executive director. “Going to court is the only course of action left. The caribou are in rapid decline while the province turns a blind eye and the federal government drags its heels on its recovery strategy.”

The federal recovery strategy, expected to be released this summer, is more than four years overdue.  Once released, it will still take years to be implemented, leaving the caribou herds’ future in limbo. Some herds have declined by more than 70 per cent during the past 15 years. Abundant scientific evidence indicates that oil-sands operations contribute to caribou population declines, yet as of July 2010, there were 34 current or approved oil-sands projects and 12 additional proposed projects within the herds’ ranges.

A 2010 Alberta government study found that if the current industrial development trend continued, local caribou are likely to become extinct in less than 40 years.

“The federal government has all the information it needs to protect the habitat of woodland caribou,” said Simon Dyer, policy director for the Pembina Institute. “Declining woodland caribou herds in Alberta are a symbol of the failure to responsibly manage oilsands development.”

The Government of Alberta’s reluctance to introduce any meaningful caribou habitat protection through its recent Lower Athabasca Regional Plan makes immediate federal action even more critical.

“Alberta’s chronic failure to protect its caribou means the federal government must step in with emergency protections before it’s too late,” said Cliff Wallis, Alberta Wilderness Association vice-president. “If they continue to ignore Alberta’s reckless behaviour, the feds will be complicit in the disappearance of these majes

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