AWA New Release: New Road in Little Smoky Caribou Range Mocks Alberta Policy
December 18, 2012
A new road built in the last several weeks by Tourmaline Oil Corp. within critical habitat of the threatened Little Smoky caribou herd in west central Alberta shows the Alberta government is not following its own 2011 caribou policy. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) calls on the Alberta government to protect threatened caribou in this and other ranges in Alberta.
“Tis the season to improve survival chances of ‘Alberta’s reindeer’, the threatened woodland caribou,” says Carolyn Campbell, AWA conservation specialist. “Instead, Alberta is allowing more roads and forest clearings to threaten the Little Smoky herd, which is at immediate risk of dying out. This is counter to Alberta’s pledged policy and counter to the federal government’s recent recovery strategy.”
Alberta’s 2011 woodland caribou policy states, “Immediate action is required to ensure the long-term presence of naturally thriving woodland caribou populations in Alberta… Actions will be undertaken to address caribou habitat needs, including achievement of these requirements in land-use planning and approvals.” The federal caribou recovery strategy states that a minimum of 65% undisturbed area of each caribou range is the critical habitat necessary to achieve recovery objectives.
Scientists estimate that the Little Smoky caribou herd’s range is already 95% disturbed (applying a 500 m buffer), meaning that every relatively intact site is important to retain. A new road was recently built into a peat wetland area that floods in spring, close to a creek just south of the Little Smoky River, displacing a sub-herd of about 15 animals. Another road and well site is slated for a nearby caribou breeding area north of the Little Smoky River.
A wolf kill program has killed over 650 wolves in the Little Smoky caribou range since 2005. The root cause of higher wolf predation on caribou remains unchecked, namely intensive forestry and energy industry fragmentation of the intact boreal forest which the caribou need to separate themselves from wolves. Scientists have warned that without urgent actions to protect and restore caribou habitat, this sentinel species will only last a few more decades in Alberta in the Little Smoky and in the Athabasca oilsands region. By ensuring a future for the woodland caribou in Alberta, other wildlife such as migratory birds that depend on intact boreal forest will also benefit.