The Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) is speaking out in support of a federal emergency order to restrict oil production in the endangered sage grouse's habitat despite vows from the City of Medicine Hat to fight it.

In a press release Monday, the group says the emergency order is an essential first step in the bird's recovery and the federal government is in danger of failing to properly implement the order.

"This is the slowest emergency I have ever seen," said AWA vice-president Cliff Wallis in the press release.

The group was one of the first to go court to force the federal government to put the protection in place.

"Postponing the emergency order for the protection of the greater sage grouse, as requested by the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil and Gas Inc., would delay recovery and be counterproductive."

The City of Medicine Hat is going to court to in an effort to delay implementation of the emergency order, which was announced in early December. It is set to take effect Feb. 18.

Roughly 90 birds still exist

Under the order, about 1,700 square kilometres of Crown land in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan will come under a set of rules to protect the sage grouse, thought to be down to as few as 90 birds in those provinces.

AWA says only 14 male birds were counted in Alberta in 2013.

The emergency protection order grew out of a 2012 court case brought by several environmental groups to force the federal government to live up to its Species At Risk legislation.

The order forbids the construction of new roads, tall fences or high objects and restricts loud noises during certain times of year — which would restrict oil and gas production.

Coun. Bill Cocks, the chair of Medicine Hat's energy committee, insists the city already goes to great lengths to protect the endangered species. 

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Cocks says the goal of the court action is to buy the city time to negotiate with the federal government.

Group says it shares concerns but wants action

The AWA says it shares the concerns expressed by Medicine Hat and LGX Oil and Gas Inc. — which both filed the federal court application last Friday — over how the order is being communicated and implemented. 

However, the group says it is time for the federal government to act firmly and ensure both the sage grouse and all those who will be impacted by the new rules are protected and able to act accordingly.

"The energy companies and ranchers are assisting with recovery efforts," said Wallis.

"We want to make sure they are not penalized for that."

Environment Canada estimates the plan will cost about $10 million in forgone oil revenues over 10 years. The document says impact on farming and ranching will be minimal.

The plan makes no extra commitment to restoration or research.

With files from The Canadian Press