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One year after federal legal action launched, woodland caribou’s fate worsens

Edmonton - A year after CPAWS and seven other environmental organizations represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund filed a legal petition asking the federal government to issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to protect the Boreal forest habitat of Alberta's remaining woodland caribou, the fate of the animals has worsened.

One of the most emblematic species of Canada's Boreal wilderness, Alberta's woodland caribou population has dropped by about 60% since the 1960s. Woodland caribou are threatened across Canada's Boreal Forest largely due to industrial activities such as logging and oil and gas developments.

"Since we filed the federal petition on December 20th, 2005, we have had no response from Federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, other than a cursory letter to thank us and indicate she would follow up," says Rick Schneider, CPAWS Edmonton's Conservation Director. "There's still no follow-up."

"In the place of action to address the root problem - the loss of caribou habitat, we've seen unsustainable stop-gap measures such as shooting wolves," adds Schneider.

"A year ago I posed the question - what is the point of the Species at Risk Act if it isn't actually used to protect any species at risk?" said Sierra Legal lawyer Devon Page. "I'm still waiting for the answer," he added.

"The greatest hope for woodland caribou's long-term survival is to protect the remaining undisturbed boreal forest from industrial development. An average caribou herd needs a 9,000 km2 range of undisturbed wilderness to survive," says Liv Vors, a caribou biologist at the University of Alberta.

"In new research we've found that caribou need at least a 12 kilometre buffer between their habitat and forestry operations. While they may still be present while logging is occurring, they're really "the walking dead". Our latest research shows that generally caribou within logging ranges disappear about 20 years after the industry has moved on," adds Vors.

"The most southern herd of woodland caribou in Alberta live in the Foothills. Only 1% of the Alberta Foothills are protected from development and the sixty caribou of the non-migratory, Little Smoky herd that live there face an "immediate risk of extirpation" according to the Alberta government's own committee. Despite their dire circumstances, development of the last remnants of caribou habitat in the Foothills is proceeding at a rapid pace and Alberta is doing nothing to prevent this," says Schneider.

Alberta is a clear case of government failure to protect the caribou's Boreal forest habitat but other provinces have also failed to take necessary action that would save their herds, according to a report released by CPAWS and the Sierra Club of Canada in May.

According to CPAWS, the only way to ensure the permanent health of our country's Boreal forest and the survival of the woodland caribou is to create large connected protected areas and better manage industrial practices in surrounding landscape. Progressive logging companies, whose forest management practices are certified as environmentally and socially sound by the Forest Stewardship Council, are already being rewarded in the market for their efforts to accommodate species such as Canada's woodland caribou.

The groups represented by Sierra Legal's 2005 petition were the Alberta Wilderness Association, Athabasca Bioregional Society, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Federation of Alberta Naturalists, ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Nature Canada and the Sierra Club of Canada.


Contact: Ellen Adelberg
CPAWS Director of Communications
Office: (613) 569-7226 ext 234
Cell: (613) 292-2875

CPAWS is Canada's voice for wilderness protection. With 13 chapters across Canada and nearly 20,000 members, it has helped to conserve over 40 million hectares of Canada's most treasured wild places since 1963. It is a signatory to the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, along with other leading conservation organizations, resource companies and First Nations.