Grande Cache – Last month a federal panel of expert scientists found that populations of caribou in the northern Alberta were endangered due to increasing industrial activity.
The Alberta government’s response? It is selling much of the land critical for caribou habitat to the energy industry for further development.
Conservation groups are expressing their displeasure at the land leases, which they say undermines the current caribou recovery strategy undertaken by the federal government. “Alberta’s ongoing energy leasing in caribou ranges leads directly to more surface disturbance, which increases the already high risks to its threatened caribou,” says Carolyn Campbell, conservation specialist at Alberta Wildlife Association.
The local concern is echoed by national studies and reports that point to elevated risks for caribou in Alberta. A recent report called Population Critical: How Are Caribou Faring?, produced by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and David Suzuki Foundation, found that caribou populations were “at elevated risk” in Alberta due to increased development pressure from energy and forestry industries, and that protection measures in the province were lacking.
Since 2012, Alberta has auctioned off more than 5400 square kilometres for oil and gas leases and licenses, which will lead to further surface disturbances within threatened woodland caribou ranges. That was the very same year the federal government’s recovery strategy mandated provinces to start developing plans to protect caribou habitat.
In May 2013, Alberta temporarily stopped new energy leasing in two caribou populations (Little Smoky and A La Peche regions) pending range plan development there. “The hold on new energy leasing for Little Smoky and A La Peche needs to extend to Alberta’s other caribou ranges, all of which are well past disturbance thresholds,” says Campbell. “Meanwhile, Alberta needs to implement broad on-the-ground actions to reduce net disturbance within its caribou ranges. We are still very far from responsible development in threatened caribou areas.”