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Northern Alberta communities worried plan could cost jobs without doing much to protect caribou

August 29, 2016

By: Edmonton Journal

A group of northern Alberta municipalities wants more discussion of a provincial plan to protect an extra 1.8 million hectares of wilderness in hopes of saving the woodland caribou.

Caribou Communities of Alberta says a report by mediator Eric Denhoff that the government accepted in June could cost jobs and hurt the petroleum and forestry industries without doing much to protect the threatened animals.

“There wasn’t any consultation with our communities that are affected,” High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer said Sunday.

“We would be looking for a study that is more in-depth and done in consultation with the people directly affected, (looking at) how we can work side-by-side to protect the caribou and people can still continue their economic work in the area.”

Her town 740 kilometres north of Edmonton is among the half-dozen members of the recently formed Caribou Communities organization, which argues not enough groups were engaged in creating the caribou action plan.

In addition to protecting more land in northwest Alberta, for a provincial total of 4.9 million hectares, the scheme calls for restoration of more than 10,000 kilometres of seismic lines over five years, funded by the energy industry.

It says this will create hundreds of jobs a year.

There will also be a fenced 100-square-kilometre caribou rearing facility to raise calves safe from predators, while plans are being developed for the A La Peche and Little Smoky ranges northwest of Hinton.

There are 15 caribou ranges under Alberta jurisdiction. The federal Species At Risk Act requires the province to manage 65 per cent of critical caribou habitat by October 2017.

Byron Peters, planning and development in northwestern Alberta’s Mackenzie County, said the issue of how to best protect the caribou is a concern for virtually every community in the region.

The dispute centres on about 350,000 to 400,0000 hectares of the proposed newly protected land, which environmental and provincial information indicates isn’t critical for the caribou, he said.

“We really feel this is a strong political statement, to say ‘Look what good environmental stewards we are,’ even though there may be no purpose to protect it, even though it’s not bio-diverse and it’s not great for caribou, either.”

He doesn’t know how much more land will be covered by the future range plans.

Communities also don’t know how much, if any, logging, oil and gas extraction will be permitted once land is put under protection, Peters said.

He said Premier Rachel Notley has agreed to meet with them and discuss their concerns, but no date for the meeting has been set.

The province estimates there are 3,500 caribou left in Alberta.

By: Edmonton Journal

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