Alberta is home to abundant wild species, rich biodiversity and immense ecological heritage. This is something we sometimes take for granted.
In the past few decades a few things have become apparent when it comes to the environment. We need to make sure we are balancing activities on our landscapes, we need to have plans in place to lay the foundations of work to conserve and protect, and we need to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for our wild species.
An example of this is the work being done to protect Canada’s woodland caribou. In Alberta, caribou ranges cover about 23 per cent of the landscape, with 15 ranges falling under provincial jurisdiction. All woodland caribou in the province are designated as Threatened under both the federal Species at Risk Act and provincial Wildlife Act.
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Our ecosystem is built with many moving pieces and there is never just one factor affecting a species or putting a population at risk, and this is true of the Little Smoky caribou range. Maintaining caribou population and habitat is a priority. There are several things being done to address this including restoring and managing lands and managing the populations of predator species in the area, this includes wolves. Let’s talk numbers When it comes to wolves (one of Alberta’s better known predators) the population has cycled between scarcity and abundance. The current estimated wolf population in Alberta is 7,000 wolves, an increase from 4,000 wolves in the early 1990s. How do wolves pose a threat to caribou? Continue reading
Alberta has amazing biodiversity – and each species has different habitat needs. Our woodland caribou – which are designated as a species at risk by both the federal and Alberta governments – need a large range in order to thrive, and much of their prime habitat overlaps with areas of prime oil and gas exploration and development. Which raises an important question: how do we responsibly develop these areas while protecting the species that call them home?
Lease rules: minimizing our footprint
Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about the sale of energy leases in areas of Alberta where caribou live. But it’s important to understand that these leases don’t necessarily mean there will be development by industry – and they don’t grant industry unrestricted access to the land.
When a company develops a resource in a sensitive caribou range, they must follow rules to minimize their impact to the land.
- This includes rules about what kinds of developments can happen – like requiring the use of horizontal drilling to minimize the number of wells drilled in an area.
- It also includes rules about how that development can happen. For example, in caribou ranges, construction is only allowed at certain times of year in order to minimize disruption to caribou herds.
The goal of all these rules is to minimize the ‘footprint’ that these developments leave on the land.
Horizontal drilling minimizes the disturbance of wildlife habitat.
The range planning process
The province is in the process of developing 15 range plans to protect our woodland caribou herds. These plans will outline how each range will be managed, in order to ensure that critical caribou habitat is protected.
Range planning for the Little Smoky and A La Peche herds is already underway. To give us time to complete these plans, we’ve put a temporary hold on new oil and gas leases in these ranges. This will help ensure that any further development that does happen will be in accordance with our range planning. Forestry companies in the Little Smoky area have also volunteered to hold off on harvesting until the plans are complete.
Once range plans for these two critical herds are complete, we’ll draft the remaining plans. If you want to know more about the work that will guide these plans, you can check out our Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan and Woodland Caribou Policy for Alberta.