Ecojustice lawyers filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on behalf of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, Alberta Wilderness Association, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

It’s official: Ecojustice is going to court to protect five herds of at-risk caribou in Alberta.

Famously found on the Canadian quarter, boreal caribou are one of most recognizable and iconic species in Canada. With their crescent-shaped toes — adapted to dig for food under snow — and impressive spread of antlers, they are remarkably fine-tuned for survival in the boreal ecosystems where they live.

Unfortunately, industrial development has destroyed and fragmented huge portions of critical boreal caribou habitat in northeastern Alberta, leaving herds there at risk of disappearing.

In November 2017, Ecojustice issued a petition on behalf of Alberta Wilderness Association, Cold Lake First Nations, and the David Suzuki Foundation, calling on Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna to help protect five boreal caribou herds in Alberta. Specifically, the groups urged the minister to recommend that Cabinet use a legal tool called a safety net order to protect the herds under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

More than a year later, that recommendation has failed to materialize. So, on behalf of our clients, we’re going to court to make sure the minister fulfills her legal responsibility to protect boreal caribou.

A species at risk safety net

Time and again, we’ve seen that Alberta is unwilling to do what it takes to protect boreal caribou. The federal government re-affirmed this in December 2018, when it released its most-recent report on critical habitat for boreal caribou. The report found that, across the country, there are gaps in protection for boreal caribou.

When the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change finds that a province has failed to protect critical habitat, the law says the minister must recommend Cabinet issue a safety net order. The lawsuit launched today is asking the Court to compel the minister to do just that.

If the case is successful, then it will be up to Cabinet to issue the order and put interim protection in place until the province does its job.

The bigger picture

Alberta isn’t the only place where boreal caribou are in trouble.

According to conservation biologist Justina Ray, who was quoted in this article from the Globe and Mail, caribou are “on the pathway to extinction in every region where it is currently found.”

On behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature, and Wildlands League, Ecojustice filed another petition in November 2018, asking the minister to recommend a safety net order to protect boreal caribou in Ontario. If she fails to do so, we may be forced to launch a second lawsuit.

In Alberta, Ontario, Ecojustice is committed to speaking up for boreal caribou, and prepared to use the power of the law to make sure governments fulfill their legal responsibilities to protect species at risk.

We couldn’t do this work without our dedicated community of supporters. Thank you.

If you’d like us to keep you in the loop about Ecojustice’s legal fight to protect boreal caribou, you can subscribe to our email list and get updates on the most pressing environmental issues delivered straight to your inbox.

Photo of caribou by peupleloup, via Flickr. Image obtained under Creative Commons.