EDMONTON — The federal government’s draft woodland caribou recovery strategy — released today, four years overdue — is illegal and fails on multiple fronts to comply with requirements under the Species at Risk Act, Ecojustice said today.
“This is not a recovery plan. This is barely a survival plan,” said Melissa Gorrie, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “SARA requires that recovery plans be based in science, but this plan clearly prioritizes political and industrial interests over that of the animals it is supposed to protect.”
Caribou need large, continuous tracts of old-growth conifer forests and peatlands to survive. In the case of Alberta’s struggling northeastern herds (the subject of an Ecojustice court application earlier this year — see ‘Background’ below), the science is clear that their habitat must be improved if these herds are to survive.
The proposed recovery strategy however, makes no mention of improving habitat. Rather, it allows for further habitat destruction, so long as a “stabilization plan” is in place. Habitat protection is only guaranteed in cases where a herd has five per cent of its habitat untouched.
“The federal government is setting an insultingly low bar. Essentially any herd in serious decline is being written off,” Gorrie said. “The bottom line is that this plan is illegal under SARA, as it defies scientific evidence on what caribou need to survive, nevermind actually recover. “
Recovery strategies are intended to ensure the recovery — not simply the survival — of species listed under SARA.
Caribou in northreastern Alberta are in rapid decline due to unchecked oilsands development and human disturbance destroying the habitat they need to survive. A 2010 report from the Government of Alberta stated that should the pace of current industrial development continue, herds in the area are likely to disappear in less than 40 years.
“Unfortunately, it seems the federal government is willing to sacrifice Canada’s caribou for more unsustainable industrial development,” Gorrie said. “This recovery strategy is destined to fail its purpose — to ensure the survival and recovery of this iconic species.”
Ecojustice is currently reviewing its legal options, but must wait until the final recovery strategy is posted to proceed.
Earlier this year, Ecojustice, on behalf of the Pembina Institute and Alberta Wilderness Association, sought a court order to force Environment Minister Peter Kent to recommend emergency protection of critical habitat for threatened caribou herds in northeastern Alberta.
Last month, the Federal Court ruled that Kent’s “out of the blue” decision not to recommend emergency protection for woodland caribou in northeastern Alberta ignored scientific evidence and must be set aside.
Kent must now reconsider the government’s position on emergency protections for the caribou.