Alberta’s Caribou under Growing Threat: CPAWS’ Annual Caribou Report

EDMONTON — In its second annual review of governments' efforts to conserve Canada's boreal caribou, CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) finds that threats from industrial development to boreal woodland caribou have continued to increase while conservation and restoration efforts have shown little progress across the country.

In Alberta, we are particularly concerned that industrial interests continue to win out over caribou conservation. Since 2005 the province has auctioned off over 25,000km2 of land in caribou ranges to oil and gas development while the overall caribou population has declined by almost 50% in the past eight years.

In other parts of the country, CPAWS found examples of threats growing within vital caribou habitat, including:

  • Manitoba has approved a mine in one of its provincial parks;
  • natural gas extraction and exploration activities continue to increase in BC; and
  • a peat harvesting project is advancing in Saskatchewan.

Boreal Caribou are estimated to occupy 2.4 million km2 of Canada’s boreal forest – less than half of their North American range in the 19th century. The biggest threat to their survival is habitat fragmentation, which increases access by predators. Scientists consider caribou as bellwethers of the health of the boreal forest, which also cleanses our air and water, and stores vast amounts of carbon within its soils, moderating climate change.

The 2012 release of the Federal Recovery Strategy for boreal caribou under the Species-at-Risk Act outlined the critical need for conservation and restoration measures in vital caribou habitat across Canada, and called for provinces and territories to complete conservation plans by 2017. As of this fall, CPAWS found six of the 51 required plans to be in various stages of development, with none completed so far that meet the federal government’s requirements.

“Of the 13 boreal woodland caribou herds in Alberta, only one range plan has been started – for the Little Smoky herd in the West Central region of the province,” says Alison Ronson, Executive Director of CPAWS Northern Alberta. “It is unknown whether range plans for the other herds will be completed by the 2017 deadline.”

CPAWS found that only one province and one territory implemented concrete measures that will protect boreal woodland caribou in the past 12 months. Manitoba created a new park protecting about 1,000 km2 of habitat, and Northwest Territories listed boreal woodland caribou as threatened under its new species-at-risk legislation. Quebec and Newfoundland cut back staff allocated to caribou planning.

In the meantime, on December 1st the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) issued notice that Canada’s entire boreal woodland caribou population is declining because “much of its habitat has been degraded … especially in the southern part of its range.” It cited cumulative impacts of industrial activity as the chief reason, and also for the first time listed the Newfoundland island caribou population as of “special concern” due to its dramatic drop in numbers since the 1990s.

“We cannot ignore these findings. Immediate action must be taken by the province of Alberta to implement caribou habitat conservation and restoration measures while the longer-term range plans required under the Species-at-risk Act are being put in place,” adds Ronson. “This includes working with industry to restore fragmented caribou habitat – in some places, what is left of our caribou habitat is 95% fragmented by industrial activities. This is simply unacceptable.”


View full report at:

For interviews, contact:

Alison Ronson
Executive Director, CPAWS Northern Alberta
780-424-5128 ext. 309
[email protected]