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Alberta releases draft caribou protection plan

More than two months after the federal deadline, the Alberta government has released its draft plan to help threatened woodland caribou populations across the province. It proposes spending more than $85 million over the next five years for habitat restoration, rearing facilities, and other measures.

“This is an important step in building a made-in-Alberta plan that will protect caribou and jobs,” says Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips. “We know that the environment and the economy go hand in hand and that doing nothing is not an option. That’s why we are taking a collaborative, balanced approach that will be good for the caribou and good for Albertans.”

The province has already spent $9.2 million of that funding, and restoration work is underway in the Little Smoky and A La Peche ranges in the northwest part of the province. Draft plans for those priority ranges were released in 2016, and include a fenced caribou rearing facility, restoring more than 10,000 kilometres of seismic lines, and continuing to shoot wolves to reduce predators.

In 2012, Ottawa tasked nine provinces and territories where boreal caribou are found to come up with their own strategy to protect their habitat by 2017. It has set a goal of having 65 per cent of habitat in caribou ranges undisturbed, and Alberta now has its own goal of restoring all areas of human disturbance over the next 40 years.

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Recent counts of the Cold Lake range peg animal numbers at at least 117 on the Alberta side and 73 on the Saskatchewan side. Only 15 per cent of their habitat is considered undisturbed, but when you factor in what’s affected by wildfire, that drops to nine per cent. Wolf population reduction started in 2016, and another rearing facility could be considered for the area.

A second round of public engagement on the draft is now underway, and will wrap up in March 2018. Public information sessions are being held in five communities, including Cold Lake on February 27, 2018.

People outside of those areas can also submit feedback online. The final plan is expected to be done by spring 2018, along with detailed range-specific plans, with a third phase of engagement to follow.

Environment Canada is also doing its own assessment of the protection of caribou and their habitat based on the provinces’ plans. It’s expected to be done in early 2018.

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