EDMONTON — The highly-anticipated Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP), rolled out this morning to much fanfare, is another glaring example of Alberta’s unwillingness to enact swift, meaningful protection of the province’s dwindling caribou population, Ecojustice said today.
Virtually none of the new protected areas designated in the LARP include habitat areas critical to caribou survival and recovery.
“The failure to ensure protections for caribou under the LARP is likely the final nail in the coffin for caribou in northeastern Alberta,” said Melissa Gorrie, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “The Alberta government is virtually ensuring the extirpation of caribou from northeastern Alberta.”
The province’s chronic reluctance to introduce protection for caribou highlights the importance of Ecojustice’s work in the Federal Court, where it seeks emergency protection for Alberta’s northeastern boreal caribou.
An internal memo to the federal Minister of Environment, a document in the Federal Court case, states that: “Alberta has not, to date, effectively managed the cumulative effects within caribou range and has not applied appropriate mitigation (eg. habitat restoration, minimizing footprint) in a coordinated landscape-level approach to conserve caribou.”
“This statement was made before the LARP was released, and is even more accurate now,” Gorrie said. “The LARP clearly indicates that the Alberta government has little concern for caribou. Now the federal government needs to step in and enforce caribou protections before it is too late.”
A date for the Federal Court case hearing is forthcoming and is expected to occur this summer.
For more on Ecojustice’s caribou case, please see: https://www.ecojustice.ca/cases/woodland-caribou.
The LARP is the first of seven regional land-use plans to be developed by the Alberta government as part of the new Land Use Framework.
Meant to guide future resource development decisions in the lower Athabasca region, the LARP is supposed to articulate the desired outcomes for the region and set thresholds to manage developments’ cumulative effects on air, land, water and biodiversity.
The plan sets aside 10.6 per cent of the lower Athabasca landscape as new protected areas, a figure that is significantly less than the 32 per cent recommended by the Regional Advisory Council established by the Alberta government to provide expert advice.
Of the new protected areas, 85 per cent have no oil and gas, oil sands or commercial forestry potential, suggesting an intent to avoid implementing protections in areas where it is needed most (i.e. where development is occurring).
In the protected areas where oil and gas dispositions do exist, the LARP allows for the development of those dispositions. In other words, existing oil and gas development will be allowed to continue in those protected areas.