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‘Berta ‘bou plan falls short: enviros

There are good takeaways but Alberta’s new caribou management plan is insufficient at best and breaks federal law at worst, according to environmentalists.

CPAWS Northern Alberta is disappointed to see a plan that fails to meet the legal requirements for caribou recovery, according to program director Tara Russell.

“Alberta’s caribou populations have been declining for decades and urgently need habitat protection and forest restoration to recover,” she said. “Caribou need binding commitments of how, and where, we will achieve the necessary undisturbed boreal habitat, and how that intact habitat will be legally protected.”

In 2016, Alberta promised to protect 1.8 million hectares in the northwest as Wildland Provincial Parks. These areas do not overlap with forestry tenure, and the designation would not impact existing oil and gas leases. Most, though not all, of these areas are identified in the plan as potential conservation areas.

“The permanent protection of these areas would bring four of the herds to near compliance with federal species-at-risk requirements for protection of critical habitat, as well as bring the province closer to its commitment to the international target of protecting 17 percent of land by 2020, the chapter’s executive director, Kecia Kerr, said. “We urge the government not to delay action on this key piece for success while detailed plans are being developed for the entire province. Consultation and collaboration with local Indigenous groups should happen immediately to achieve protection that satisfies legal requirements and supports treaty rights.”

The Alberta Wilderness Association criticized the province’s “plan to plan.”

“Alberta’s duty and commitment to keep caribou on our landscape requires strict, clear disturbance limits to reduce disturbance in their home ranges, as well as restoration work and legislated protected areas,” conservation specialist Carolyn Campbell said. “Further avoidance of the minimum required habitat protection and restoration is no longer an option – it is a recipe for extinction.”

The Draft Provincial Woodland Caribou Range Plan was described by the Environment ministry as a working document that straddles federal Species at Risk Act requirements and “economic and environmental realities here at home.”

It is a response to a 2012 decision by the federal government to require all provinces to have a caribou recovery strategy by 2017.

The government held “First Nation and Métis information sessions,” stakeholder meetings and an online public survey and open feedback form in the first half of 2017, according to a press release. Feedback received during the first phase of engagement informed the draft plan. Phase two of engagement on the draft plan itself began on Dec. 19 and ends in March 2018.

“This is an important step in building a made-in-Alberta plan that will protect caribou and jobs,” Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips said. “We know that the environment and the economy go hand in hand and that doing nothing is not an option. That’s why we are taking a collaborative, balanced approach that will be good for the caribou and good for Albertans.”

Feedback sessions are scheduled for Feb. 22 in Edmonton and Feb. 20 in Whitecourt.

The report is available on the Environment and Parks website.

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