VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – Four Native American bands and two environmental groups say Canada is neglecting its duty to protect threatened boreal caribou herds in Alberta.
The Athabasca Chepewyan First Nation, the Swan River First Nation, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, the Cold Lake First Nations, the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development sued Canada’s minister of environment and its attorney general, in Federal Court.
The plaintiffs say the minister of environment dragged his feet coming up with a recovery strategy for the species.
Scientific reviews of boreal caribou populations in Alberta concluded that some herds are dwindling and further disturbance of habitat will compound the threat of local extinction, or “extirpation,” within 40 years.
The root cause of the caribou’s declining population, according to the complaint, is “landscape disturbance, for example from seismic lines, roads and well-sites.”
“[T]he effects of habitat destruction that will eventually lead to a herd’s extirpation (local extinction) may take 20 years or more to manifest,” the complaint states. “This means that activities that affect habitat now or in the near future can create conditions that will result in the extirpation of a herd, even though the herd’s actual disappearance may not occur for 20 years or more. Further, disturbed habitat in northeastern Alberta does not generally become suitable for Boreal Caribou for at least 80 years following its disturbance.”
The plaintiffs claim the government is well aware of the dire assessment of the species and has failed to take appropriate “aggressive” actions to protect the boreal caribou’s critical habitat in the face of an “imminent threat” to its survival.
The environmental groups are represented by Sean Nixon and Melissa Gorrie, of Vancouver. The first nations are represented by Jenny Biem and Jay Nelson of Woodward & Co., of Victoria, B.C.