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News Release: Alberta Releases Overdue Report on Caribou Recovery, Lacks Real Action

January 30, 2024

Photo © John E. Marriott

Threatened mountain caribou from the A La Peche herd near Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada © John E. Marriott


On Friday, January 19, 2024, the Government of Alberta finally released the long awaited First report on the implementation of the Section 11 Agreement for the conservation and recovery of the woodland caribou in Alberta.


In October 2020, the provincial and federal governments signed the Agreement for the Conservation and Recovery of the Woodland Caribou in Alberta under Section 11 of Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), which is more commonly referred to as the Section 11 Agreement. This Section 11 Agreement was signed to help facilitate the recovery of threatened woodland caribou populations in Alberta.


As part of this agreement, Alberta committed to the release of publicly available annual reports, and after more than three years, the Government of Alberta has finally released its first annual report outlining progress made under the agreement during the 2021 calendar year.


The report states that the Government of Alberta has identified 250,000 kilometres of legacy seismic lines within caribou ranges. Seismic lines break up caribou habitat and allow easier access to caribou for predators such as wolves. Seismic lines need to be reclaimed to help restore habitat within caribou ranges, some of which is more than 99% disturbed—such as the Little Smoky and Slave Lake ranges.


Of the 5000 kilometres of seismic lines that were planned for restoration in 2021, only 138 kilometres were considered treated — only 0.06% — while restoration was initiated for another 763 kilometres. But, even if Alberta could restore seismic lines at a rate of 1000 kilometres per year, it would take another 250 years to reclaim what’s been identified, and that’s excluding any new footprint.


“Caribou are on a slippery slope, and urgent action is needed if we are to keep them on the landscape” says Devon Earl, conservation specialist at Alberta Wilderness Association. “Instead, restoration is advancing at a snail’s pace while habitat destruction from forestry and oil and gas continues.”


While AWA appreciates the publication of this report, its important to note that the data presented is already three years out of date. The annual report is intended to provide up-to-date information on caribou populations and their habitat, but since 2021 only represents data collected within the first year of the Section 11 Agreement, it’s difficult to make an informed assessment on the status of caribou recovery since the agreement was signed.


“We can’t comment yet on whether the Section 11 Agreement is making improvements for caribou because the data is three years old, and we need current numbers to compare against.” Says Phillip Meintzer, Conservation Specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association. “This report essentially serves as a baseline for assessing the effectiveness of the agreement, and we need the data from 2022 and 2023 to know if it’s working as intended.”


Another commitment made by the Government of Alberta as part of the agreement was to finalize and implement caribou range plans (also known as sub-regional plans) by the end of 2025. To date, only two of 11 sub-regional plans have been finalized, with the Cold Lake and Bistcho plans released in April 2022. However, these plans include many shortcomings, and enabling regulations have not yet been passed in the legislature to implement these plans in any meaningful way.


Delays in finalizing range plans and the absence — until now — of any annual implementation reports have led to an absence of crucial information needed for public understanding and to ensure government accountability. While we are encouraged about the release of this first annual report, AWA is urging Alberta to release the 2022 and 2023 annual reports as soon as possible so that we can adequately assess whether the Section 11 Agreement has been beneficial for caribou.

For more information, please contact:

Phillip Meintzer, AWA Conservation Specialist
(403) 771-1647

Devon Earl, AWA Conservation Specialist
(403) 283-2025

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