by Melissa Gorrie, staff lawyer

Earlier this week, Environment Canada lawyers told Ecojustice and our clients that we wouldn’t see the long overdue final recovery strategy for Canada’s woodland caribou until the end of September — if that. Why is that a problem? The production of a recovery strategy for caribou is in important step in protecting their critical habitat, areas that are crucial to the survival and recovery of the species.

This delay, the latest in a long line of foot-dragging by Environment Canada on caribou protections, is particularly bleak news for herds in Alberta, which are on the brink of total collapse thanks to relentless oilsands development within their ranges.

Today, we issued a response, calling out the federal government for its failure to produce the recovery strategy — which is required by law, under the Species at Risk Act — and its unwillingness to recommend much-needed emergency protections for herds facing imminent extinction in Alberta.

And that’s not all. Last year, we told you about how we teamed up with Earthjustice, to tell the U.S. government that Canada’s continued oilsands development is essentially a death sentence for caribou and other endangered species, and as such, violates international treaties intended to protect threatened wildlife.

Today we followed up with another letter to U.S. government, which details how the new Canadian Environment Assessment Act, courtesy of the spring omnibus budget bill, further undermines international efforts to conserve wildlife:

“The changes to Canadian environmental assessment law provide further evidence of Canada’s failure to prevent or mitigate the impacts of tar sands extraction on woodland caribou. The Canadian government has in effect decided to ignore the impacts of tar sands development on woodland caribou (and other terrestrial species-at-risk), which clearly undermines the effectiveness of international treaties intended to protect such threatened wildlife species.”

If the federal government does its job and begins to meaningfully protect the caribou’s critical habitat, including limiting oilsands development that fractures and degrades the boreal forest where caribou live, then they can offer this sentinel species of the Canada’s north a chance to recover.

The time to act is now. The longer the feds wait, the worse the situation gets for caribou. When a species like the caribou is in trouble, it tells us that we have a bigger problem on our hands — one as big as an entire boreal forest ecosystem in distress. And that is definitely not something we can turn our backs on.