Northeast Alberta Wilderness Sacrificed

Breaking its promise to develop oilsands in an environmentally responsible way, the Government of Alberta in its newly released Lower Athabasca Regional Plan has fallen far short of its own and international targets for protecting northeast Alberta’s ecosystems for future generations.

“Where we most need representative areas protected, we see a sacrifice zone for industry,” states Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist. “The protected areas do not exclude industry and are not representative in the central and southern boreal, where the most pressures are coming from tar sands, forestry and climate change.”

Breaking the promise in Responsible Actions, the 2009 provincial oilsands strategy, to “secure high-value conservation lands in the oil sands regions” and “establish protected areas in the oil sands regions to achieve biodiversity objectives”, protected areas are almost all outside the oil sands regions and of dubious conservation value. The site choices do not appear to be driven by conservation biology. Environmentally Significant Areas (ESA’s) confirmed by the government’s own 2009 update study are largely missed in the central and southern portions. Sites like McClelland Lake Fen and the Athabasca River Valley receive no protection in the plan released today.

Instead of the science-based 50% protection recommended by the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, (which Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the NWT are making great progress on) the Government of Alberta will only add 10% to the current 6% of “protected” land base in the region.  And while conservation science recommends areas free from industrial development, the proposed new Alberta “protected areas” allow development of existing oil and gas dispositions. Some allow industrial forestry.

Also contrary to the 2009 provincial oilsands strategy promise to “develop further measures to protect species at risk and maintain viable populations in Alberta,” the vast majority of caribou habitat is not protected, and no complete range is protected. This decision will guarantee the extinction of woodland caribou in the Athabasca region by totally ignoring Alberta’s caribou committee recommendation to immediately protect and restore their habitat.

“Breaking other promises, and falling dismally short of Albertans’ expectations, the Government has put no provincial wetlands policy and no biodiversity action plan in place to inform the regional plan,” said Campbell.

For more information:

Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist (403) 283-2025