EDMONTON — Environmental groups are in Federal Court today to fight for immediate protection of caribou habitat facing unchecked oilsands 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,” he said.
“Without immediate protection, entire herds of this iconic species will disappear.”
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 oilsands operations contribute to caribou population declines, yet as of July 2010, there were 34 current or approved oilsands 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.
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.”
“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 majestic animals from Alberta’s forests.”