Death in the Woods: Canadian Federal Government Delays Release of Caribou Recovery Strategy - Again

This post is a part of DeSmog's investigative series: Cry Wolf.

Yesterday, the Canadian government told the nation's federal court that it will not release its long-awaited Woodland Caribou Recovery Strategy. The Recovery Strategy, already 5 years overdue, represents conservationists' strongest measure of defense for dwindling caribou populations in Alberta that suffer increasing habitat loss from industrial development and intensive tar sands expansion.
The outlook for caribou in Alberta is grim, especially as they find themselves in a stand off against industrial giants backed by a federal government in favor of increasing tar sands and other industrial activity. Habitat disruption is a crucial issue for caribou who need large buffered areas of old growth forest to survive. The majority of Alberta's 12 caribou herds currently struggle with low calf survival - an issue directly related to disturbed habitat.
The Canadian and Albertan governments have historically hesitated to take meaningful measures to protect Alberta's caribou herds because such measures would not only advertise the deleterious effects of tar sands development on local wildlife and their habitat, but would require setting aside protected areas made unavailable for oil and gas development.
Cliff Wallis, the Vice-President of the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) and member of the Alberta Caribou Committee said in an AWA press release, "governments failing to act means more caribou death in the woods. Everyone knows what must be done to save the vanishing caribou - it's time to get on with the job of protecting Alberta's boreal and foothills forests".
Without government guidelines in place to manage tar sands development, new projects will continue to overlay critical caribou habitat. The resulting sprawl of tar sands activity over caribou habitat puts local herds at an ever-increasing risk.
Image Source: Global Forest Watch
The push for habitat protection has a long history in Alberta. Conservation groups like the AWA and the Pembina Institute working with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and the Enoch Cree Nation were forced to take legal action against the federal government in 2010 after then environment Minister Jim Prentice refused to enforce emergency measures to protect "threatened" caribou populations as legislated by the federal Species at Risk Act.
The government's delayed draft recovery strategy, released 4 years overdue in August 2011, shirked away from habitat protection and restoration, instead pushing forward an aggressive predator control program that entailed a provincial wolf cull. Wolf control, according to the AWA, was put forward "as a band-aid approach to distract from oilsands, oil and gas and forestry-driven habitat loss."
Groups awaiting the federal government's action on urgent caribou issues were disappointed with the draft strategy, calling it a "war on wolves." Now they face another delay while some of the tar sands' largest projects - such as Imperial Oil's Kearl Open Pit Mining Project - have been granted approval.
"Alberta caribou recovery is both biologically and technically feasible," said Carolyn Campbell of AWA. "But it is urgent for governments to show responsibility and begin meaningful habitat protection for this iconic species."
To learn more about the plight of caribou and wolves in Alberta, watch DeSmog's investigative report Cry Wolf: An Unethical Oil Story. 

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons blimers2.

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