Rally held at Alberta legislature to press government on caribou-protection plan
The Alberta government is expected to come up with range plans and recovery strategies for the province’s threatened caribou herds before the new year. On Tuesday, two groups who advocate for wildlife protection held a rally outside the legislature to push for a robust plan of action on the matter.
“They’re definitely on the path to extinction,” said Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), which organized the rally along with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). “Caribou populations are declining in Alberta by about 50 per cent every eight years.
“Albertans are coming together today to show their support for wild caribou and to ask the government to protect the places – the forests and wetlands – caribou need to survive.”
Campbell said in addition to the rally, her group presented Liberal MLA David Swann with hundreds of postcards from Albertans who have expressed concern about the caribou population with the expectation he’ll deliver them to the premier’s office.
“Pleased to stand with @ABWilderness & @cpaws at their rally to call for #abgov action on protecting caribou habitat,” Swann later tweeted, with a photo of him attending the rally.
Alberta’s NDP government has promised to work together with the energy sector to try and reverse the decline of the caribou population. Rachel Notley’s government has said over the next several years, it plans to try to restore 10,000 “linear kilometres of land” that was previously cleared for seismic lines within the Little Smoky and A La Peche caribou ranges.
Under the federal Species At Risk Act, the Alberta government needs to come up with range plans and recovery strategies for caribou herds this fall which the federal Liberal government will then either adopt or reject.
Boreal woodland caribou are considered to be threatened across Canada.
Watch below: On Oct. 22, 2015, Global News spoke with a representative from Boreal Manitoba about the Manitoba government’s strategy to prevent woodland caribou populations from local extinction.
Campbell said for decades, Alberta politicians did little to address the problem and while the NDP’s promises are a good first step, more is needed.
“They’ve also paused some energy activity but a lot more is needed,” she said.
“We need energy and forestry to respect the limits for sensitive caribou and other endangered species and we also need to have lots of jobs created for restoring our forests.”
Ray Hilts is the executive director of the Alberta Forestry Alliance (AFA), which calls itself a grassroots organization that represents thousands of jobs in the forestry sector. On Tuesday, Hilts told Global News while he agrees protecting caribou is important, the message being delivered by the AWA and CPAWS is “polarizing.”
“When you look at AWA’s recommendations, they want protected areas and ceasing of all activity,” he said, adding the notion that forestry workers could be employed in wind and solar energy generation projects is a “completely ridiculous solution, economically.”
“All Albertans want to see caribou conserved but they also need jobs,” Hilts said.
“We have to continue to use our forests in a very balanced and pragmatic approach. I think what Alberta has done so far in terms of forest stewardship has been successful. Do we have to do things differently with caribou conservation? Absolutely.
“But we can’t compromise the economic viability of our rural communities by a very stronghanded and unbalanced approach on caribou conservation.
Economic concerns about the province’s caribou protection plans were also brought up this summer when a committee representing a half-dozen municipalities in the northwestern part of Alberta released a draft recommendations report. The document called for governments to consider the potential negative economic impact some population recovery measures could have on the region.
“There would be major socio-economic impacts to the North Peace Country region if a provincial or national park were established – effectively sterilizing the area’s natural resources,” the Northwest Species at Risk Committee said in a July news release.
On Tuesday, Campbell said her group isn’t calling for a dismantling of the forestry and energy sectors, but rather for a more concerted effort to protect the caribou herds.
“We’ve known that we need to set aside some parts of our forests where there’s no human disturbance, and other parts where there can be some human disturbance, but it has to respect the limits of our sensitive wildlife,” she said. “So there’s right now too much forestry cutblocks and too much energy everywhere. What we need is to cluster those areas so that we respect the limits that our wildlife need to survive.”
Watch below: Global News’ 2013 coverage of the challenges faced by the caribou population in Jasper National Park.
Alberta was expected to present Ottawa with its caribou recovery earlier this fall.
Earlier this week, several groups – including the AWA – called on the federal government to take over management of endangered caribou herds on provincial land in Alberta because they say the Notley government hasn’t met Ottawa’s deadline for coming up with a plan to save threatened herds. The letter called on federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to use the Species At Risk Act to protect five caribou herds and their ranges on Alberta Crown land.
In April, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society filed an application for judicial review in an attempt to sue McKenna for failing to adequately report on the progress of caribou recovery plans.
-With files from The Canadian Press
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