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article imageAlberta 1st Nations demand Canada protect Woodland Caribou

By Stephanie Dearing     Jul 18, 2010 in Environment
Victoria - Four Alberta First Nations communities have called on Canada's Minister of the Environment to issue an emergency order to protect the Woodland Caribou in Alberta from further industrial development.
The situation, said the coalition in a press release issued July 15th, is dire. The government of Canada failed to issue a recovery plan for Woodland Caribou (which it calls 'Boreal Caribou') by it's own mandated deadline of three years ago, and most population groups of Alberta's Woodland Caribou are in decline. Recent research showing two specific groups are facing extinction within 10 to 15 years time have prompted a coalition of four First Nations communities to urge Jim Prentice and Environment Canada to take immediate action to protect the caribou, or else face legal action. A letter to Environment Minister Prentice states "... You have 45 days from the date of this letter to comply with your mandatory statutory duties under s. 80(2) of the Species at Risk Act, by recommending to the federal Cabinet that it make an emergency order to protect woodland caribou and their habitat from any further industrial development in the full ranges of the remaining herds in northeastern Alberta (or in a wider area)."
Should Prentice fail to issue the emergency protection, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Enoch Cree Nation, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation will seek a court order forcing the government to protect the endangered Woodland Caribou. The government had identified the species as endangered in 2002. The government of Alberta created a 10 year recovery plan for the caribou. The plan ends in 2014, and the reason why populations of caribou have declined under the plan might be because the plans is a living document that is "... revised as conditions change or circumstances warrant."
After identifying the caribou as being endangered, Environment Canada was required under its own Species at Risk Act to have prepared a recovery plan by 2007. However, the government is still consulting with the public, a process that will end as of August 31, 2010. The government plans to issue a recovery plan for public review by next summer.
The lawyer for the coalition, Jack Woodward, said “We feel a request for an emergency order is entirely reasonable, given the sharp decline in caribou and given the federal environment Minister’s ongoing failure to prepare a recovery plan more than three years after expiry of the mandatory deadline. The federal government has tried to justify refusing to act on this obligation with the surprising claim that time is needed to consult with First Nations. With this demand we are making it clear that First Nations are not standing in the way of action – they are demanding immediate emergency protection for the caribou until long-term habitat protection is in place.”
The latest research, which has prompted the definitive action from the four communities, shows two specific herds of caribou have decreased in size by over 70% in the past 14 years. Dr. Stan Boutin, the biologist who studies the caribou said “This level of decline is dramatic and it is a strong signal that drastic immediate management action is required to keep caribou from disappearing completely in the Alberta traditional territory of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation."
Dr. Boutin said the steep decline in the population of herds was a result of "... the cumulative effects of rampant industrial development on caribou habitat, particularly by the oil and gas industry." Boutin has recommended that the full range of the caribou be protected from encroachment and restoring habitat.
The Chief of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Al Lameman, said “We are calling on government to immediately halt the destruction of our lands, lands that sustain our caribou and our people. It is difficult for me to express the anger I feel at the loss of this noble animal in our territory. Our traditional land is dwindling. We need habitat for our animals to ensure there is a healthy surplus. These animals sustain us and, as they die, our future becomes uncertain. We must act now to take care of Mother Earth.”
Chief Janvier of the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation told Prentice “The extinction of caribou would mean the extinction of our people. The caribou is our sacred animal; it is a measure of our way of life. When the caribou are dying, the land is dying. We see no respect from government for the caribou or for us as humans. The way Alberta is operating, profit for the oil industry is number one, and everything else can be sacrificed.”
Boutin's report, Expert report on woodland caribou [Rangifer tarandus caribou] in the Traditional Territory of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation estimated two specific populations of caribou, the East Side Athabasca River herd and the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range herd are in danger of becoming extinct within the next 10 to 15 years. All populations of Woodland Caribou in the area are facing eventual extinction due to a lack of protection.
Environment Canada has not commented.
More about Alberta first nations, Woodland caribou, Ministry environment, Federal species risk act, Jim prentice
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