Tar Sands threaten caribou extinction
Woodland caribou face extinction in Alberta
The possible extinction of the woodland caribou in Alberta, Canada is the latest environmental disaster threatening to disrupt the oil industry, according to a new report just published by The Co-operative.
Woodland caribou, once common in the boreal forest of Alberta, are now threatened with extinction in the region by rapidly expanding developments extracting oil from the tar sands.
Under Canadian law the government has a duty to protect the habitat of woodland caribou; however, to date, next to no action has been taken. In response Cree indigenous communities living in the area are now calling for an immediate moratorium on all new industrial developments within caribou habitat.
This would have major consequences for oil industry expansion plans for the tar sands, including BP’s recently announced Kirby tar sands project which would lie within critical habitat.
As part of its Toxic Fuels Campaign, The Co-operative is working with the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, a small indigenous community in northeast Alberta whose traditional territories cover 30 per cent of all existing tar sands operations.
An expert study by Dr Stan Boutin of the University of Alberta and funded by The Co-operative, looked at the two caribou herds within the Beaver Lake Cree’s traditional territories, an area the size of Switzerland. It found that only 175 – 275 caribou remain, down 10 fold on historic numbers, and that these herds are facing extinction by 2025 without immediate habitat protection.
Current tar sands production within Beaver Lake Cree traditional territories stands at 546,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), with plans to increase production to 1.75 million bpd over coming years. The Co-operative’s report finds that 99 per cent of these expansion plans are within or near caribou critical habitat and are at risk from protection measures.
Using evidence from the expert study, the Beaver Lake Cree and other First Nations in the area are calling upon the Canadian Government to make an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). This order would need to instruct the protection of remaining caribou habitat and introduce a moratorium, with immediate effect, on all new developments within those areas. Under SARA the government was required to implement a recovery plan that protected critical habitat for this threatened species by 2007, but to date next to no action has been taken.
Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability at The Co-operative, said: “Should the Canadian Government carry out its legal obligations then the oil industry’s massive expansion plans for the tar sands would be severely curtailed. This timely report shows how perilous the Caribou‘s continued existence is in Alberta, and is a real slap in the face to those that say the tar sands can be extracted in an environmentally friendly way.
“These creatures are tough, at times surviving on small patches of lichen which they can smell through inches and inches of snow. However, the dissection of the boreal forest by tar sands developments completely undermines their ancient strategy of spatial separation, whereby they steer well away from predators such as wolves. This report provides the hard data to back up what First Nations people have been saying for years: the caribou are dying.“
Chief Al Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, said: “It is difficult for me to express the anger I feel at the loss of this noble animal in our territory. And the situation is getting worse and worse all the time. Our traditional land is dwindling. We need habitat for our animals like our caribou to ensure there is a healthy surplus. These animals sustain us and as they die, our future becomes uncertain. We must act now to take care of Mother Earth.”
“We are calling on government to immediately call a halt to the destruction of our lands, the land that sustains our caribou and our people. We want a moratorium on all development within and adjacent to woodland caribou ranges that overlap with Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s traditional territory.”
Access the full report ‘Save the caribou – stop the tar sands’ and the ‘Save the caribou’ viral game.