Alberta’s woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) herds have historically occupied two-thirds of the province ranging from the west-central foothills to the boreal forests of the north. Once abundant in the mid-1900s, populations have suffered two major population declines, one in the late 1940s and again in the early 1970s.The population has not recovered from this last decline.
The conservation community, including provincial biologists, has recognized the need to protect this species since the 1940s. Over the past 30 years several management plans and committees have been created to address the population decline; however, changes to industrial practices that would protect caribou have been limited to a few years of deferred logging.
Even then the government has recently directed forest companies to ignore commitments to caribou habitat protection while oil, gas and tar sands development in caribou habitat continues. These actions contravene both industry-and government-established guidelines.
Alberta’s woodland caribou are in a state of precarious decline throughout their respective ranges. The Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) is of the opinion that:
- Exploration and development of new industrial operations must be deferred in woodland caribou ranges where populations fall within AWA Areas of Concern and/or are considered to be at “immediate risk of extirpation” under Alberta’s Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan or are listed as Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and the federal Species at Risk Act.
- Research must be undertaken prior to industrial exploration to assess specific herd population viability, including short-term and long-term population trends, habitat quality and supply constraints, the location of key habitat areas, and the parameters of present and historic caribou ranges in the area.
- On lands adjacent to these caribou ranges, AWA expects that special management considerations will be researched, developed and implemented to ensure no net loss of habitat and population numbers.
- National - Southern Mountain population: Threatened. Boreal population: Threatened (Species at Risk Act Public Registry).
- Provincial - Threatened (Fish and Wildlife Act, 1985).
- Local - Of the 18 herds identified in the Alberta Caribou Recovery plan, one has died out, another two are at "immediate risk of extirpation," six are declining, six are unknown, and just three are reported stable. "Of the 13 populations with sufficient monitoring data, 10 are demonstrating population decline" (Status of the Woodland Caribou in Alberta, 2010)