Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on October 1, 2012 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Time for Minister Kent to get serious on caribou

Kimberly Shearon headshotKimberly ShearonStaff

Caribou in northeastern Alberta, where unchecked oilsands development is destroying the habitat they need to survive, are still in limbo while Environment Minster Peter Kent mulls over their fate.

That’s why we filed a special application with the Federal Court yesterday. Our hope is that it expedites the protection the caribou need to have in place if their herds are to recover.

Last year, we were in Federal Court seeking a decision to that would force Minister Kent to recommend emergency protection of the boreal forest the caribou call home, something he has so far declined to do.

In its ruling, issued six months ago, the Court criticized the Minister’s failure to make such recommendations as “out of the blue” and ordered him to reconsider.

The Minister has since made no headway on the file, even as oilsands expansion in northeastern Alberta continues to threaten the caribou.  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.

Today’s application, filed on behalf of the Pembina Institute and Alberta Wilderness Association, asks the Court to amend its original ruling to include a deadline to force a decision from the Minister.

Emergency protection is needed because while a federal recovery strategy for the caribou is in the works, it is more than four years overdue. Once released, it will still take years to be implemented. Meanwhile, some herds have declined by more than 70 per cent during the past 15 years and a 2009 Alberta government study found that if the current industrial development trend continued, local caribou are likely to become extinct in less than 40 years.

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