February 27, 2018
The Little Smoky area represents a critical portion of Alberta’s Upper and Lower Foothills Natural subregion.
In Alberta, the Foothills are only 2% protected. The Little Smoky has long been recognized as provincially significant as it supports many ESAs, including the Donald Creek drainage, Middle Berland River, and the Little Smoky Caribou range.
Located between Hinton and Jasper National Park along the front ranges of the Rockies, the Little Smoky area represents a critical portion of Alberta’s Upper and Lower Foothills Natural subregion. In Alberta, the Foothills are only 2% protected. The Little Smoky has long been recognized as provincially significant as it supports many ESAs, including the Donald Creek drainage, Middle Berland River, and the Little Smoky Caribou range.
Unique wildlife potential exists for natural heritage appreciation in the region. The area supports the Little Smoky caribou herd that has been given the provincial status of “at immediate risk of extirpation” as well as “threatened” under the both the provincial Alberta Wildlife Act and the Federal Species at Risk Act. These species as well as the Foothills region are at risk from the lack of designated protection and cumulative impacts of industrial activity and recreational disturbance.
Existing protected areas include :
Little Smoky landscapes are subject to some of the most intensive demands by industry and agriculture expansion in Alberta.
There are several environmentally significant areas, at both the provincial and international levels of significance, which support critical moose, elk, bull trout and arctic grayling habitat. The Little Smoky area also encompasses four legislated protected areas:
AWA writes an open letter to Alberta Energy Minister Hughes, urging that planned auctions of new energy dispositions in the Little Smoky caribou population range in February, March and April 2013 not proceed. AWA notes that despite horizontal drilling technology that could consolidate new exploration and production on a reduced footprint, the Alberta government continues to issue leases and approve new surface disturbance including in the 5% of the Little Smoky caribou range that was formerly intact. This violates the Alberta Government’s 2011 woodland caribou policy that states the immediate priority is maintenance of habitat, followed by habitat restoration.
AWA denounces extensive new disturbance in the Little Smoky caribou range as violating the 2011 Alberta woodland caribou policy. AWA visits and documents significant new road, well site and pipeline corridor disturbance within the last 5% intact area of the Little Smoky’s range.
AWA learns that from 2005 to 2012, the Alberta government’s Little Smoky wolf control this program has killed about 650 wolves. About 550 have been killed from shooting by helicopter, and about 100 have been killed by strychnine poisoning. The Little Smoky caribou herd population has been stable for several years at about 80 animals. Full details of this program are published in an April 2012 article in AWA’s Wild Lands Advocate.
AWA submits comments to Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation in regards to the drafting of a management plan for William A. Switzer Provincial Park. In the submission AWA expresses the need for:
Alberta Wilderness Association, along with Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Federation of Alberta Naturalists, and the Athabasca Bioregional Society write to Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet, co-chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada’s (COSEWIC) Species Specialist Subcommittee – Terrestrial Mammals requesting COSEWIC assess the status of the Little Smoky local population of woodland caribou. In the letter, the groups submit that the Little Smoky herd is both particularly imperiled relative to the wider boreal population of woodland caribou and is both geographically and genetically distinct from the boreal population.
Dave Ealey, spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD), reports that 90 new oil and gas well sites have been approved within the Little Smoky caribou range.
The SRD institutes the Caribou Calf Project in another attempt to bolster the dwindling numbers of the Little Smoky herd. Ten pregnant females are captured and will be monitored in fenced pen until the calves are born and determined to be doing well.
AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Federation of Alberta Naturalists issue a news release stating that the Alberta Government is breaking its own policy by allowing industrial use in the Little Smoky caribou range. The Operating Guidelines for Industrial Activity in Caribou Ranges in West Central Alberta states that “Industrial activity can occur on caribou range provided the integrity and supply of habitat is maintained to permit its use by caribou.” Nonetheless, industrial use continues despite a 2004 assessment of the caribou habitat in Little Smoky published by logging companies and the Alberta government concluded that Little Smoky “…does not currently provide habitat conditions sufficient to maintain stable caribou population growth…”
Under authorization from ASRD, an estimated 34 wolves are shot and killed. In what AWA considers a senseless and useless strategy when used in isolation, SRD is culling the pack to reduce the predation that is causing caribou mortality in Little Smoky. AWA recommends an immediate deferral of industrial activity in the caribou habitat instead.
AWA and seven other ENGOs file a petition under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) with the Minister of the Environment asking the federal government to take action for the sake of the Woodland Caribou.
AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Athabasca Bioregional Society and Federation of Alberta Naturalists send a letter to Brad Pickering, Deputy Minister of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development requesting the deferral of logging rights in the Little Smoky and À La Peche caribou ranges until a range plan is developed.
Canfor defers plans to log and build roads in Little Smoky in light of the threatened Woodland caribou. Canfor will not abandon the area permanently. Logging will continue when the Province implements its Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan. This deferral is partly the result of pressure from companies that buy pulp from the Hinton mill.
The Suncor and ConocoPhilips pipeline through the range of the endangered Woodland caribou habitat will not be rerouted despite ongoing discussion with ENGOs.
Also this month, conservation groups meet with SRD staff to discuss the caribou issue. Although SRD acknowledges the concerns about habitat fragmentation due to industry, industry is clearly given precedence.
A representative from Sustainable Resource Development confirms that Suncor/ConocoPhillips pipeline route has been approved and construction has started.
AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Athabasca Bioregional Society and Federation of Alberta Naturalists issue a news release announcing the plan by Suncor and ConocoPhillips to build a pipeline through Little Smoky.
Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan draft completed and submitted to Minister of Environment for review and recommendations. Recovery Team recommends a moratorium be placed on new development in caribou range until full assessment is made of the effects on herds.
Also in October, Devon Canada Corporation announces to AWA their proposed sour gas pipeline and processing site in the Little Smoky area. AWA responds by expressing their opposition to the plan. AWA notes that “The Little Smoky range contains the highest level of industrial development including oil and gas and forestry, than any other caribou range in Alberta. As a result, the herd cannot afford to be disturbed any further, as it clearly cannot tolerate what disturbance already exists.”
Finally, AWA expresses opposition to the Devon pipeline to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB). For the Board to consider the AWA’s opposing point of view, the pipeline must directly and adversely affect the legally recognized rights of AWA. The EUB refuses to recognize AWA’s opposition because in the opinion of the EUB, AWA did not demonstrate a legally recognized interest in the land on or near the proposed pipeline, nor were any individual members directly negatively affected.
AWA and other ENGOs meet with Suncor and ConocoPhillips to discuss the development of the 101 km-long gas pipeline through Little Smoky. Although the company plans to restore existing linear disturbance in the area as compensation, ENGOS work to reroute the pipeline and encourage industry to take the lead and set a higher standard of practice than the law provides
Enviroline reports that Weldwood of Canada is defending its woodland caribou protection strategy despite criticism from environmental groups who want the company to cease logging operations in caribou habitat. The Little Smoky caribou herd is in immediate risk of extirpation. AWA and other conservation organizations call for oil and gas and forestry activity to be stopped wherever caribou are at risk.
Suncor/ConocoPhillips propose the construct a 101 km long sour gas pipeline through the home range of the Little Smoky caribou and A La Peche herds. Development to begin in December 2004.
The Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan comes into effect.
Alberta Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development form the Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Team to write a recovery plan for woodland caribou in the province.
AWA begins letter writing and market action campaign against Weldwood of Canada’s plan to log 15 km2 in the Solomon valley.
Special Places 2000 leads to the designation of Pinto Creek Canyon Natural Area and Wildhay Glacial Cascades Natural Area in Alberta.
Environmental groups (including AWA) launch “The Rescue Mission” campaign. It was a campaign to protect a total of 23,277 km2 extending from the far north to south of Alberta’s foothills.
Meetings held between AWA, Black Cat Ranch, and concerned citizens with Weldwood Canada Ltd. to discuss logging plans within the Solomon Creek Valley in the Foothills.
Valleyview District Fish and Game Association (VDFGA) formalise a proposal for the creation of the Little Smoky Boreal Forest Primitive Area (500 km). This area would support sustainable industry practices, develop restrictions for corridor use along the Little Smoky River. The Little Smoky Boreal Forest Primitive Area would encompass areas within and outside boundaries of the Little Smoky caribou herd range.
Berland Subregional Integrated Resource Draft Plan released for review.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife division released Provincial Caribou Recovery Plan- this study showed woodland caribou were at “immediate risk of extirpation” as a result of habitat change related to logging and other industrial activities.
Development of the Fox Creek –Knight Subregional Integrated Resource Plan.
Berland Sub-regional Integrated Resource Plan was initiated. Purpose of the IRP is to promote the coordinated management of pubic land and resources within the area.
October: Solomon Creek proposed as an ecological reserve – first identified in 1969 by members of the International Biological Programme as an excellent example of upper foothills vegetation.
April: Resource Integration Committee (RIC) approves development of plan for Berland River-Fox creek Proposed Forest Management Agreement Area (FMA). Intent of regional plan is to provide direction for the management and the use of resources and public land in the area.
Denison Mine Ltd. Undertakes coal exploration in the Rock Lake area
August: Foothills Resource Allocation Study for Berland and Simmonette Planning Districts released- planning program to determine beneficial allocation of resource in Alberta’s Foothills Region on the basis of productivity and economic considerations.
Solomon Creek identified by members of the International Biological Programme as an excellent example of upper foothills vegetation.
William A. Switzer area designated as a Provincial Park. Initially named Entrance Provincial Park.
The Little Smoky area falls under the management of the Berland Sub-regional Integrated Resource Plan and the Fox Creek –Knight Subregional Integrated Resource Plan.
February 27, 2018
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Dear Wilderness Defender, Alberta’s caribou are in real trouble. Please let the Premier know you…