'Sitting on our hands is not an option': Alberta releases another draft plan to save threatened caribou
Province commits more than $85 million over five years to restore woodland caribou habitat
Alberta on Tuesday released another draft of its overdue and federally mandated plan to protect threatened woodland caribou in the province.
The 212-page document includes a timeline for public engagement, as well as proposed strategies to restore herds and habitat.
The provincial government has committed to spending more than $85 million over five years to protect the species.
There are 15 caribou herds in Alberta. All but four of the herds are dwindling in numbers, according to research from the province.
A draft plan for two of the most endangered herds, at the Little Smoky and A La Peche ranges, was published in 2015. Both herds have since stabilized.
Detailed plans for all 15 herds will be completed in March 2018, after which the provincial government will hold further consultations.
"We will go back and forth several times with the federal government," Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips told CBC News Tuesday.
"It is up to them, at the end of the day, to determine adequacy because the whole reason we have to file these plans is to fulfil obligations around the Species at Risk Act."
In 2012, the federal government mandated that the nine provinces and territories with caribou populations complete range plans by 2017.
None of the provinces and territories fully met the Oct. 5 deadline.
"We certainly advised the federal government that it was going to take us a little longer to get it right and they were fine with that," Phillips said.
Alberta expects to submit its woodland caribou range plan by spring 2018.
If Alberta does not meet the mandate, the federal government can file an environmental protection order under the Species at Risk Act.
"A court order can come regardless of if the federal government accepts the plans or not, so that's why the cost of doing nothing is so high," Phillips said.
"That's why industry — the oil and gas industry, in particular — have understood those risks and have therefore taken a problem-solving approach to these matters."
In 2013, Canada invoked an environmental protection order to protect the greater sage-grouse in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"The previous government tried inaction with respect to the sage-grouse and it ended very poorly for the oil and gas companies and the ranchers who were subject to that emergency order," Phillips said.
"Sitting on our hands is not an option. Filing something that is not credible is not an option."
'Forestry industry must remain strong'
With the mounting risk of an emergency protection order, Phillips said the province is torn between its economy and the environment.
Key conservation strategies named in the newly released draft plan include replanting seismic lines, reclaiming inactive oil and gas sites and restricting resource development.
"All of these things take funds, take resources," Phillips said.
"Cutting them, we don't believe, is an option. And it would certainly put communities like Whitecourt and elsewhere at risk of an emergency order, which would put a number of jobs into question.
"Our government has taken the view that the forestry industry must remain strong in those areas," she added.
"There are ways to engage in the recovery of this species in a way that is practical, credible and thoughtful and that really listens to the concerns of the communities that are affected by this."
The province is accepting feedback online. There will also be five public information sessions throughout northern Alberta in February and March.