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3 reasons why Americans should care about Alberta’s treatment of caribou habitat

In April, I returned to Washington DC to visit friends and family. When I stepped off the metro in Union Station, I was bombarded by signs proclaiming that Canada is “America’s Best Energy Partner”, and “a secure and environmentally responsible neighbor committed to energy independence.”

Photo Source: National Post

I have to admit I had some mixed feelings about the messaging, especially the part about being an environmentally responsible neighbour.

However, I didn’t give it much more thought until last week when I discovered that the Alberta government is planning to auction off 1700 hectares of public land as leases for energy development by the end of June. 1200 of these hectares are in Narraway, the second most disrupted caribou range in Alberta. The remaining are in the Redrock-Prarie Creek range which also has been impacted by extensive industrial development.

And that’s not the half of it! Alberta’s Energy Ministry is already planning to auction additional hectares in these two areas in July.

This is a real problem for caribou

Global Forest Watch Canada estimates that 81% of the habitat in Narraway herd's range is already disrupted by industrial development. This number is significantly higher than the 35% disturbance threshold that Environment Canada scientists have indicated gives caribou about a 60% chance of survival.

The impact on caribou is clear. Caribou that were once too numerous to count have dwindled to an estimated 78 animals in the Narraway range. The Redrock Prairie range fares only slightly better with an estimated 100 animals.

This year, scientists estimated that the central mountain caribou population has fallen by more than 60% since 2002. As a result, these central caribou herds have shifted to the highest endangered level under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Photo Source: Bruce Petersen

So why should Americans care about how well Canadians are protecting their caribou?

Canadians in Alberta have been speaking out against their government’s actions, asking that these leases not go forward until a plan is in place to protect these distressed caribou. But, what about those who are being promised energy from an environmentally responsible neighbour? Why would Americans in Washington DC, or elsewhere in the States, care?

First, these caribou belong to the same group as the final 18 caribou residing in the US¬¬ -- a group that has declined from 50 animals to 18 in five years. At this rate, American children will need to come to Canada if they want to see this majestic animal.

Second, the disappearance of caribou is an indicator of the loss of Canada’s Boreal Forest, whose values include providing: habitat for animals that once could be found in the US; breeding grounds for almost half of the 700 species of birds that live in the US and Canada; a store of carbon greater than Brazil’s Amazon forest; and a source of clean air and water that in many cases flows past Canadian borders into the US.

Third, what about accountability? If Canada is selling their oil to the US with a promise to be environmentally responsible, shouldn’t their actions reflect their claims?


Write a letter to those in Alberta who most need to hear that their actions have impacts outside of Alberta and even Canada.

For more information about the goings on in Alberta, see:

For more information about caribou, see:

Caribou and You