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Task forces launched to find 'uniquely Alberta solution' for preserving caribou

The Alberta government is moving forward in its effort to preserve the province’s dwindling caribou herds while maintaining industry and jobs.

Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon announces 3 task forces

Undisturbed caribou habitats in Alberta are well below the federal recommendation of 65 per cent. (Mike Bedell/CPAWS/Canadian Press)

The Alberta government is moving forward in its effort to preserve the province's dwindling caribou herds while maintaining industry and jobs.

At the legislature Monday, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon announced he has created three sub-regional task force teams to help the threatened caribou population recover. 

The task forces are focused in the northwest region (Bistcho Lake), west central (Upper Smoky) and northeast (Cold Lake) but will come up with plans for the 15 ranges. 

Nixon said he hopes the task forces will complete recommendations for three of the 15 ranges by next year in a long-term process involving "tough conversations."

Nixon didn't commit to a deadline on reaching final plans but stressed the product will be a "uniquely Alberta solution," one "not imposed by those who may not understand our landscapes and the needs of our job creators." 

Nixon stressed that the mandate would seek a practical and sustainable approach.

Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon is flanked by task force chairs and MLAs Dan Williams, left, and David Hanson, right, at the Alberta legislature on Monday. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

"It's going to take industry and the environment cooperating together," Nixon said. "We'll have to figure out where the most appropriate areas for those sacrifices and where those partnerships can take place."

Part of the task forces' mandates will be to review and consider a draft report in 2017 from the then-NDP government

The report references the federal boreal caribou recovery strategy of reaching 65 per cent undisturbed habitat for the caribou ranges for the population to become self-sustaining. 

None of the regions in Alberta has more than 35 per cent undisturbed habitat year-round. 

Members

Task force members represent a range of groups and interests. 

The Alberta Wilderness Association and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society represent conservation groups. 

Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta and Mé​​​​​​tis Nation of Alberta and the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations speak for Indigenous interests. 

The Alberta Forest Products Association, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represent industry. 

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta are included. 

The three task forces are chaired by UCP MLAs: David Hanson representing Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, Martin Long, MLA for West Yellowhead and Dan Williams, MLA for Peace River. 

Williams echoed Nixon's sentiment on the balance between preserving the environment and the economy.

"It's very important for us to make sure we find a solution that integrates both a healthy population of caribou and we consider the impacts it will have on our economy, on our recreation and all the opportunities for all the different land users."   

The task forces are focused in the northwest region (Bistcho Lake), west central (Upper Smoky) and northeast (Cold Lake) but will come up with plans for the 15 ranges.  (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

Nixon said no recommendations will be made until socioeconomic impacts are "clearly understood."

There are no changes to rules for forestry and energy yet. 

Nixon said there's a conversation with the federal government on funding but the province is setting aside $3.75 million so far on the task forces. 

Plans for a predator-free caribou-rearing facility near Grande Cache are up in the air. 

The envisioned 48-square kilometre facility, plans for which were revealed in a document obtained by CBC News earlier this year, was aimed at recovering caribou numbers. 

Nixon called it a temporary stop-gap that could help stabilize populations but that it would be decided during budget talks and be outside the work of the task force.

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