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Alberta postpones oil and gas lease auction in endangered caribou range

The Alberta government says it wants more time to think about the implications of selling off energy exploration leases on the range of an endangered caribou herd near Grande Cache

The caribou population was once rated as stable but has seen a steep decline in the past three years

Scientists say the caribou population near Grande Cache is going down about 14 per cent a year, making it one of the most rapidly declining herds in the province. (The Canadian Press)

The Alberta government says it wants more time to think about the implications of selling off energy exploration leases on the range of an endangered caribou herd near Grande Cache.

Alberta Energy spokesman Chris Bourdeau says a decision to postpone the sale of leases on the range of the Redrock-Prairie Creek herd, located north of Jasper, was made yesterday.

Bidding was to have closed next Wednesday on 21,000 hectares of prime habitat for the herd, which both the federal and provincial governments are legally obliged to protect.

At least half the herd's range is already disturbed by development.

Scientists say the animals' population is going down about 14 per cent a year, making it one of the most rapidly declining herds in the province.

Urgency of caribou recovery

Carolyn Campbell, the spokesperson for the Alberta Wilderness Association says they applaud the postponement.

The caribou population was once rated as stable but Campbell says their number in that area dropped from 212 animals to 127 in just three years.

"That's a steep decline," she said. "So it shows the urgency of how important it is to actually get serious about managing that habitat for caribou recovery."

Campbell says there are ways to extract oil and gas without destroying caribou habitat.

"With tools like pooling of leases and longer distance directional drilling, we think it could be possible for some energy resource extraction at the same time caribou could recover," she said. "So it's not a zero-sum game."

Campbell says if the province gets serious about managing caribou habitat, populations can recover.

With file from The Canadian Press

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