Caribou are in trouble, but the Alberta government has a plan

Caribou shaking off water Photo by Dawn Wilson Photo/Shutterstock

There aren’t enough caribou left in Canada.

Herds of the iconic species are rapidly dwindling, which is why the federal government has tasked each province with providing caribou recovery plans—requiring 65 per cent of critical territory to be restored. However, many are struggling with developing comprehensive and practical plans of action, sighting concerns of how habitat recovery will effect provincial economies.

Alberta recently appealed to Ottawa for support, asking for $50 million over three years to study the economic impact of restoring the natural caribou habitat.

“Fully understanding social and economic impacts is a crucial part of developing a made-in-Alberta plan for achieving caribou recovery,” Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said in a statement during the trip.

According to the CBC, she also asked for an ongoing commitment to fund the restoration, claiming it could cost up to $1 billion to complete the project.

However, some experts don’t think such research is necessary. Stan Boutin, a University of Alberta caribou expert who spoke with the CBC, said that they already know what the impact will be:

“There’s no doubt if you move toward protection, (there will be) enormous economic impact. We’ve shown that in spades.”

In fact, Boutin said that simply pulling industry out of caribou habitats won’t be enough, and that further provincial action will need to be taken,

“We have been in that [eco]system so much that even if we walk away today, that would be no good for caribou.”

Boutin argued that aggressive management will be needed to bring the herds back from the brink, although this opinion is not universally held.

Regardless, the caribou herds are shrinking, and immediate action is necessary. Shortly after Minister Philips returned from Ottawa, Environment Canada released findings that caribou populations in Alberta and British Columbia are under immediate threat. If the provinces don’t act fast, the environment minister may be obliged to ask the cabinet to issue an emergency protection order under the Species At Risk Act.

According to the Toronto Star, the federal government has used this measure twice before, sometimes interrupting the plans of energy companies.

Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary to Environmental Minister Catherine McKenna, said the government is also facing pressure from conservation groups.

“If we don’t act, somebody will go to court and the courts will certainly find the minister has a requirement to go to cabinet,” he said.

Alberta’s Minister Phillips told the Toronto Star that the province is committed to the species recovery—and that she is still optimistic about the species recovery.

“It is not true that all is lost.”

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