August 12, 2019
The Caribou Mountains in northern Alberta form a low, saucer-shaped plateau that rises 600-700 m above the surrounding lowlands.
Adjacent to the western side of Wood Buffalo National Park the Caribou Mountains have the highest elevations in northern Alberta, reaching a maximum of 1,030 m in the western part of the plateau.
The Caribou Mountains in northern Alberta form a low, saucer-shaped plateau that rises 600-700 m above the surrounding lowlands. Adjacent to the western side of Wood Buffalo National Park the Caribou Mountains have the highest elevations in northern Alberta, reaching a maximum of 1,030 m in the western part of the plateau. The area contains sensitive wetlands, unique permafrost features, rich breeding bird habitat, and core refugia for woodland caribou.
In 2001 as part of the Special Places program, Caribou Mountains Wildland Park (5,910 km2) was created. The largest provincial Wildland Park in the province, its fragile ecosystem contains sensitive wetlands and permafrost habitat.
The Park contains relatively undisturbed and lichen-rich forests, favoured habitat for woodland caribou. About 80 percent of the range of an important population of woodland caribou is contained within the Park, and about a third of Alberta’s population of this threatened species is dependent on the Park. A population of up to 120 wood bison, an endangered species, lives in the Wentzel Lake area in small groups of up to 15 animals.
Due to its isolation, a paucity of good biological information, and a lack of solidarity toward preservation, the Caribou Mountains have been and continue to be vulnerable to exploitation. The Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan states that the park’s herd, which ranges over almost all of the Wildland Park, is declining, with a population drop of greater than 40 percent since 1995.
The draft management plan remains unproduced.
Aboriginals discover two kill sites in Caribou Mountain Wildland Provincial Park. It appears the animals were killed as trophies, as the heads and hides had been removed, but the meat was left to rot.
Tourism, Parks and Recreation informs AWA that the Caribou Mountains Draft Management Plan is now undergoing review by Government of Alberta staff. Once their comments have been incorporated, the draft plan will be posted for public review. Following the public review period, an Advisory Committee meeting will be called, possibly in fall 2008, to review the final draft.
Community Development informs AWA via telephone that the Management Plan is still being revised following the February Public Advisory Committee meeting. The Committee members may receive the revised plan by the end of the summer and public consultation may begin in the fall of 2007.
AWA joins the Caribou Mountains Wildland Park Management Plan Advisory Committee meeting by teleconference and offers numerous suggestions for changes. AWA’s primary concerns, expressed both at the meeting and in a follow-up letter to Community Development, fall into the following categories:
Alberta Community Development invites AWA to join the Caribou Mountains Wildland Park Management Plan Advisory Committee. AWA agrees and requests funding to attend the meetings in Fort Vermilion but is denied. AWA requests accommodations to join the meetings by teleconferencing.
AWA writes to Alberta Community Development Minister, Denis Ducharme thanking him for stating clearly his position that reclassification of the park’s wildland park status is not an option. AWA comments as follows on the items listed in Mr. Ducharme’s letter of April 28, 2006 to Caribou Mountains Wildland Park Management Plan Advisory Committee (PAC):
AWA stresses that ecosystem-based planning fundamentals need to be in place in the management plan and provincial-scale perspectives be retained in the process, including the need for ENGO representation.
May 10: The Community Development Minister Denis Ducharme responds, with the following points, to AWA’s letter of April 7, 2006:
AWA obtains a copy of a letter dated April 28, 2006 from Alberta Community Development Minister, Denis Ducharme, addressed to Messrs. William Neufeld (Reeve, M.D. of Mackenzie No.23) and Jerry Chomiak (Caribou Mountains Wildland Management Plan Advisory Committee) responding to Mr. Chomiak’s letter of March 29, 2006. The letter addresses the key points as follows.
April 26: AWA receives a letter from the Hon. Denis Ducharme, the newly appointed Minister, Alberta Community Development, in response to AWA’s letter of March 21, 2006. The Minister responds with the following points:
Community Development Minister Denis Ducharme responds to the Caribou Mountains Wildland Management Plan Advisory Committee’s requests (March 29) with the following points and concessions:
Public Advisory Committee member Jerry Chomiak is quoted by CBC as saying that the committee would like a management plan that allows for more activities in the park, especially ATV access in both summer and winter. Chomiak reports that the PAC wants the level of protection of the area downgraded. AWA spokeperson David Samson says increased ATV use would hurt the declining woodland caribou herd in the area. The Park was given its current status under the Special Places legislation and changing or revoking it would be going against what the public asked for.
April 10: In the legislature, Liberal MLA Harry Chase asks Minister Denis Ducharme to assure the House that he will not allow the Caribou Mountains Wildland Park to lose its protected status as a Wildland Park. He also calls for the Minister of Community Development to table all recommendations made by all parks advisory and planning committees. “In this way,” says Cliff Wallis, “Albertans will have a transparent view of what is being recommended for their Special Places and be able to guard against special interests damaging their heritage.”
In two press releases, AWA expresses concern about the Caribou Mountains Wildland Park Planning Advisory Committee (CMWPPAC). The committee was commissioned to make management recommendations but has turned that privilege into a lobby effort to allow motorized access and to have the Wildland Park status revoked. “The committee’s letter … was signed on behalf of all members even though at least four members, including Parks Canada, do not support revoking Wildland Park status.”
April 7: In a letter to Community Development Minister Denis Ducharme, AWA’s David Samson requests that the Minister (1) rebuke the Caribou Mountains Wildland Park Management Plan Advisory Committee and its request to revoke the Wildland Park status and (2) allow representation on the committee from provincial ENGOs.
March 31: In an email from Advisory Committee member Eric Grinnell to Committee Chair Ken Zurfluh, it is noted that Committee member Jim Webb does not agree with the decision made at the Committee’s March meeting to ask the Minister to reconsider designation of the Wildland.
March 29: In a letter to Community Development Minister Gary Mar , Jerry Chomiak of the Caribou Mountains Wildland Management Plan Advisory Committee says that the Committee was unaware that the Caribou Mountain Wildlands had been designated a Wildlands Park (on July 24, 2001), a designation that Chomiak calls a “unilateral decision” (see October 2002). He goes on: “The current designation as a Park under the Provincial Parks Act does not have the support of the Committee, and was never recommended, discussed, or agreed upon by this Committee or to the best of our knowledge by its predecessor, the Special Places Committee which was made up of the same members.… The Committee requests that the Minister revoke the Wildland Park designation, and that specific legislation to manage the area be passed.” The letter is signed by Chomiak on behalf of all Committee members, despite a lack of consensus within the Committee on revoking Park status.
Advisory Committee member Greg Newman makes a presentation on behalf of the MD of Mackenzie and the Caribou Mountains Management Plan Advisory Committee to Minister Gary Mar. According to Newman, the following reflects the position of the municipality and the Committee:
AWA learns of the content of a recent meeting held in Ft. Vermillion by the Caribou Mountains Wildland Park Planning Advisory Committee. AWA is concerned that there is no representation on the committee by provincial conservation organizations. AWA becomes aware that some
members of the committee intend to lobby intensely, on behalf of local interests, to demand major changes to the wildland park including increased OHV access, potentially more recreational and industrial development in the park, and even the possibility of revoking the Wildland Park status.
March 21: AWA writes to the Hon. Gary Mar, Minister, Alberta Community Development, expressing concerns over the lack of provincial representation, questioning the committee’s mandate, identifying the importance of involving the First Nations Community, calling for public hearings on any new developments, and identifying the need for stronger protection in this and other protected areas.
March 11: At an Advisory Committee workshop, the Committee agrees to challenge the definition of Wildland Park of the Caribou Mountain region. They identify the main issue and concern regarding Wildland Park designation as access.
May 11: At a meeting of guide-outfitters in the Caribou Mountains area, the following points were made by various provincial government representatives:
October: In a letter to Energy Minister Murray Smith (October 3), conservation specialist Lara Smandych reiterates AWA’s opposition to the pending sale of license #B0806 (20030416), requesting that this licence not be sold as it falls within AWA’s Caribou Mountains area of concern.
July: A team of scientists studies invertebrates, birds, plants, lichens, fisheries, mosses, soils, etc. in the Wentzel Lake area.
April 24: The following recommendations are presented at a meeting of the Caribou Mountains Management Plan Committee on behalf of the Alberta Environment Network (Federation of Alberta Naturalists, CPAWS Edmonton Chapter, AWA, and Albertans for a Wild Chinchaga):
March 14: In a letter to Energy Minister Murray Smith, conservation specialist Tamaini Snaith expresses opposition on behalf of AWA to the pending sale of license #B0806 (20030416), requesting that this licence not be sold as it falls within AWA’s Caribou Mountains area of concern.
October 30: The first meeting of the Caribou Mountains Wildland Management Plan Advisory Committee is held:
July 24 – Caribou Mountains Wildland Park is established by Order-in-Council 308/2001.
October 7: The Caribou Mountains Special Places Local Committee gives their report to the Minister of Environment. The report contains a Permitted Activities Schedule that includes the following:
July: The Alberta Woodland Caribou Conservation Strategy Development Committee delivers a report to the provincial Director of Wildlife Management. This is the third strategy for woodland caribou conservation that has been written and shelved. The report recommends a decision-making process, identifies information needs and management tools, and proposes specific implementation milestones. The goal is to develop a strategy that will result in “healthy caribou populations in perpetuity throughout Alberta’s caribou range.” Although the proposed strategy is not approved by Alberta Environment, staff and a number of stakeholders have used the strategy for guidance in the planning and implementation of resource management activities on woodland caribou range. The lack of endorsement of senior government officials is viewed by some as a lack of commitment to caribou conservation efforts.
February: Environment Network News (Jan/Feb) reports that Home Oil has voluntarily agreed to curtail development in the Caribou Mountains for one year. This emerged from an analysis conducted by Gray Jones of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in which Jones worked with lichenologist and botanist Dr. Bernard DeVries.
April 24: Caribou Mountains Resource Management Plan (Draft) is released by Alberta Environmental Protection.
March: The ERCB responds to AWA’s letter requesting the rescinding of Home Oil’s well licenses: “The Board has decided not to initiate a review of the subject well licences at this time. Home has therefore been advised it may proceed with the remainder of its drilling program for this winter season.”
February: In letters to the ERCB, AWA and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee request that the ERCB rescind the approved well licenses for Home Oil in the Caribou Mountains until a full public hearing is conducted and a comprehensive environmental assessment has been done.
“The Strategy for Conservation of Woodland Caribou in Alberta” is drafted by the provincial wildlife management agency. Few recommendations from this report are adopted, and the plan receives considerable criticism from government agencies, public groups, and industry.
November: A multi-stakeholder committee known as the Woodland Caribou Conservation Strategy Development Committee (WCCSDC) is formed to scope issues and develop yet another provincial woodland caribou conservation strategy.
Environmental Protection staff meet to discuss the future management of the Caribou Mountains.
A drilling operation by Home Oil in the Caribou Mountains raises concern about damage to permafrost and protection of woodland caribou populations.
The “Woodland Caribou Provincial Restoration Plan” (Edmonds) is proposed.
The second of two ecological surveys of the area (the first in 1976) is completed (Natural Areas of Energy and Natural Resources with the Alberta Ecological Survey).
Recognition of the need for a provincial management plan for caribou conservation begins.
Caribou Mountains Draft Resource Management Plan (1994)
The Caribou Mountains Draft Management Plan is divided into the following categories, each of which contains objectives and guidelines relevant to that category: access and structures, ecological resources, fish and wildlife resources, forest resources, historical resources, mineral resources, permafrost, recreation and tourism resources, water and watershed.
The Plan Purpose is articulated as follows: “The intent of the Caribou Mountains Resource Management Plan is to protect permafrost, slow-growing fish, as well as caribou and caribou habitat. The plan also recognizes other natural values such as landforms, vegetation, other wildlife and climatic features. Activities in the area must meet this intent.”
The Plan is to be updated every five years with a full public review. While any change to the intent of the plan requires public review, minor changes can be requested and are handled by the Peace River Regional Resource Management Committee.
August 12, 2019
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