Alberta’s environment minister said Wednesday her government has not submitted its plan to save threatened caribou herds to the federal government yet because it wants to get it right.
Shannon Phillips was reacting to criticism from several First Nations and environmental groups who said Tuesday that the federal government needs to step in and take over management of endangered herds on Alberta Crown land.
The deadline to submit the draft plan was in October, but Phillips told News Talk 770’s Danielle Smith her government’s plan will be ready sometime in December.
“There’s a lot of things to balance, and that’s what we’re committed to doing, and filing our plans with the feds in December,” Phillips said.
LISTEN: Environment Minister Shannon Phillips speaks to Danielle Smith about the NDP government’s caribou recovery plan
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.
Phillips said her department is having some final discussions with the oil industry, as well as forestry groups and municipalities and is committed to coming up with a long-term strategy.
She also said the draft plan has to be solid because even if approved by the feds, it could be struck down by the courts. That’s what happened several years ago in southeast Alberta when an emergency protection order was put in place for the greater sage grouse.
“This is a situation that we need to avoid and you don’t avoid it by doing a public relations exercise. You do it by actually having a substantive plan for 15 herds,” Phillips said. “There’s a vast geography that we’re talking about here to recover habitat.”
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.
Phillips admitted this is a challenging issue: “There are a lot of legacy decisions in a couple of herds that are just really, really tough to reconcile.”
“I call this my head-in-my-hands file.”
Alberta is not alone in the delay. None of the other provinces have submitted their recovery plans to Ottawa.
— With files from The Canadian Press