The government has released a made-in-Alberta draft plan to help woodland caribou populations across the province recover.
Alberta’s Draft Provincial Woodland Caribou Range Plan is a working document that seeks to find a balance between achieving self-sustaining caribou populations, meeting federal requirements under the Species at Risk Act and addressing economic and environmental realities here at home.
Throughout the first half of 2017, the government held Phase 1 engagement, which involved First Nation and Métis information sessions, stakeholder meetings and an online public survey and open feedback form. Feedback received during the first phase of engagement informed the draft plan. Phase 2 of engagement on the draft plan itself begins today and ends in March 2018.
“This is an important step in building a made-in-Alberta plan that will protect caribou and jobs. 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.”
Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks
In 2012, the federal government issued a requirement that provinces develop plans for caribou recovery by 2017. Failure to act could result in an environmental protection order from Ottawa, as was the case with the greater sage grouse in 2014 which affected energy development in the southern part of the province.
The Alberta government will spend more than $85 million over the next five years for habitat restoration, rearing facilities and other measures to improve caribou outcomes. This includes the $9.2 million already spent to date on caribou recovery.
Habitat restoration, in partnership with Indigenous peoples, industry and the federal government, will be an important part of caribou recovery planning and will help the province move toward the federal goal of 65 per cent undisturbed habitat within caribou ranges.
“We are proud to be working on forming partnerships with Indigenous peoples, industry and the federal government for habitat recovery work, which is a crucial part of our caribou recovery strategy and a great investment in Alberta’s future.”
Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks
This fiscal year, the Alberta government allocated more than $5 million for habitat restoration efforts. Restoration work has begun in the Little Smoky and A La Peche ranges where, in partnership with industry, 70 kilometres of legacy seismic lines are being deactivated and 100,000 trees are being planted. The province hopes to replicate this approach across other caribou ranges.
In addition to restoration, the draft plan proposes a variety of tools, including:
• Integrated Land Management: achieving a working landscape where carefully managed industrial activity can co-exist with caribou.
• Habitat protection areas: establishing candidate areas that will support caribou recovery without affecting existing forestry or energy activities.
• Rearing facilities: providing safe habitat for caribou population growth, as well as economic certainty and job opportunities for local communities.
Built on a foundation of science, the draft plan will be strengthened by social and economic studies the province is undertaking to shed light on how range plans fit within local and regional economies and communities.
The Alberta government encourages all interested parties to submit feedback online and participate in public information sessions held in communities throughout caribou ranges. These sessions are scheduled for:
• Feb. 20, 2018 – Whitecourt
• Feb. 22, 2018 – Edmonton
• Feb. 27, 2018 – Cold Lake
• March 1, 2018 – Fort McMurray
• March 6, 2018 – High Level
• Through the Species at Risk Act, the federal government directs that action and range plans to help woodland caribou populations recover must be developed by 2017.
• Federal requirements for caribou recovery require Alberta to find ways to reduce current habitat disturbances and increase caribou habitat in the long term.
• Under the Federal Recovery Strategies, if sufficient actions are not demonstrated to protect critical habitat, the federal government has the authority through the Species at Risk Act to intrude in provincial species management. This could strand resources and existing investments, prevent future investment in existing sectors and eliminate economic benefits, jobs, income and tax revenue.
• Alberta released a range plan for Little Smoky and A La Peche in June 2016 for public input, along with Setting the Path to Caribou Recovery (also referred to as the Denhoff Report).
• Phase 1 engagement on Alberta’s caribou range plans occurred throughout the first half of 2017. Government held First Nation and Métis information sessions, stakeholder meetings and an online public survey and open feedback form.
• Alberta’s Draft Provincial Woodland Caribou Range Plan was drafted throughout the summer and fall of 2017, to be released in early December 2017.
• Phase 2 engagement will involve continued dialogue with Indigenous peoples, stakeholders and the public, and will occur throughout the winter. This engagement will help government complete the provincial plan as well as detailed range-specific plans for each of Alberta’s 15 caribou ranges, expected to be finished by spring 2018.
• Phase 3 engagement will be conducted thereafter.