Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on November 27, 2017 (updated: November 27, 2017)

Spelling out SARA protection for Alberta’s boreal caribou

Barry RobinsonLawyer
Ecojustice scientist Liat PodolskyLiat PodolskyScientist
Sean NixonLawyer
Boreal caribou
Shutterstock © Ghost Bear

We are asking the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to take steps to protect boreal caribou in Alberta.

Antlered. Big-eyed. Canadian.

Found in old growth forests and on the flip side of quarters across the country, boreal caribou are an iconic Canadian species.

In northeastern Alberta, however, habitat loss due to industrial development is threatening their survival.

The federal government has identified habitat deterioration as the number one threat to boreal caribou. When humans destroy or fragment caribou habitat, we leave these animals vulnerable to predators like wolves.

Unfortunately, a recent government report found that the provinces have not done enough to protect boreal caribou from these threats, despite the fact that more than 95 per cent of caribou habitat falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. In Alberta, the report said, seven out of 12 herds were in decline in 2017, only three were stable, and data was unavailable for the other two.

Without immediate action, we risk losing these herds forever.

That is why, along with Alberta Wilderness Association, Cold Lake First Nations, and the David Suzuki Foundation, we sent Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna a petition asking her to recommend a Species at Risk Act (SARA) safety net order to protect five herds of boreal caribou in northeastern Alberta.

This measure would allow the federal government to step in and protect caribou where the Alberta government has failed to do so.

For a closer look at this iconic species — and why it is important we protect it — here are some “ABC’s” of Alberta boreal caribou:

At-risk

Boreal caribou are listed as a threatened species.

This means that unless we take action to protect them, they are likely to become endangered, at which point they would face “imminent” extinction or disappearance from the Canadian wild.

In fact, a Toronto Star editorial warned, “If the government does nothing to protect the caribou, the outcome is all but certain: some alive today will live to see a country without caribou.”

For more information on how SARA is designed to protect at-risk species in Canada, and how a safety net order could protect boreal caribou, check out our recent blog on how the law works.

Biodiversity

Healthy caribou mean healthy forests.

Caribou are a key species in Canada, and, as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said in a 2016 report, ensuring their survival is “one of the most important ways” of protecting the rich biodiversity in our boreal forest.

According to Natural Resources Canada, the boreal forest is home to 150 bird species, or half of the bird species in Canada. It is also home to a myriad of other plants and animals, including other species at risk, such as the Canada lynx and American marten.

Together, these plants, animals, and their non-living environment, form an important ecosystem that stretches 2.7 million square kilometres, and is responsible for storing carbon, purifying air and water, and regulating the climate.

When we look at how caribou are faring, it tells us important information about the health of this entire ecosystem. Because of this, boreal caribou are known as bellwethers of the boreal forest’s wellbeing.

Cultural significance

For many Indigenous peoples, caribou have great cultural and spiritual importance, and are an important resource.

For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have hunted caribou for their meat, a source of protein and fat; for their hides, which can be used to make clothing, tents and drums; and for their antlers and sinew, which can be used as knives, cutlery, needles, kayak and canoe frames and more.

In 2010, lawyers for four First Nations sent a letter to the former minister of environment, asking him to stop issuing development permits in boreal caribou habitat in northeast Alberta.

“The caribou is our sacred animal; it is a measure of our way of life,” Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation Chief Vern Janvier said at the time. “When the caribou are dying, the land is dying.”

Seven years later, Indigenous peoples continue to be at the forefront of efforts to protect caribou. From Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, to the Yukon and Northwest Territories, First Nations, Inuit and Métis are demanding governments and industry take action to protect caribou – and are crafting and implementing their own strategies to protect the species.

Defending boreal caribou in Alberta

Boreal caribou are an important part of Canada’s natural and cultural landscapes, and a sacred and valuable resource for Indigenous peoples.

Given Alberta’s failure to adequately protect critical caribou habitat in the province, the federal government has a clear opportunity and the responsibility to extend Species at Risk Act protection to this threatened species. We made this clear when we sent our petition to Minister McKenna.

If we want to prevent boreal caribou from disappearing – a loss that would be deeply felt throughout the province, the country, the boreal ecosystem and Indigenous communities – we need to act now.

In short, you might even say we are asking the Minister to follow another set of ABC’s:

(Minister Mckenna, please take)
Action to protect
Boreal caribou’s
Critical habitat.

Build the case for a better earth

Thanks to the support of people like you, Ecojustice goes to court to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Make your gift today and support bold litigation for a brighter environmental future.

Join our newsletter

Get updates on the most pressing environmental issues delivered straight to your inbox.

Join our online community

Follow us on social media

58K

Likes


32.1K

Followers


3.5K

Followers