Edmonton — Alberta must act fast to protect 50% of the oil sands area from industrial use so that wilderness, biodiversity and traditional use can continue into the future.
That is the key advice contained in an open letter from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. CPAWS wrote the letter to the premier on the occasion of World Wetlands Day, February 2, and the International Year of Biodiversity.
Read the letter (PDF)
The province and energy industry have been criticized by leading thinkers and governments for their rush to extract fuel from the oil sands without regard for the environmental costs. Alberta has a chance to prove the critics wrong, says Helene Walsh, Boreal Conservation Director for CPAWS-Northern Alberta’s chapter.
Smart land use planning key to healthy environment, sustainable energy sector
It’s possible and necessary to reconcile the interests of both habitat conservation and the industry in the oil sands area by moving quickly on protection of wildlife habitat through the land use planning process currently underway according to Walsh.
“Since only 40% of the Lower Athabasca region contains commercial oil sands, this should easily be possible,” claims Walsh.
“Due to lack of planning in the past, the decline of woodland caribou in the region is alarming. Woodland caribou is the species that best indicates the health of the Boreal forest, and the science shows they are headed for extinction without immediate improvements in wilderness protection measures.”
Government committee recommends immediate, aggressive action to protect habitat
In April 2009, the government committee responsible for advising on how to restore healthy caribou populations in the oil sands region issued its report: “Boreal caribou will not persist for more than two to four decades without immediate and aggressive management intervention. Tough choices need to be made between the management imperative to recover boreal caribou and plans for ongoing bitumen development and industrial land-use.” (Athabasca Caribou Landscape Management Options Report 2009, Athabasca Landscape Team)
The committee recommended that the province establish large protected and restored areas for caribou through the new planning process under the Alberta’s Land Use Framework.
“Protection of caribou and wildlife habitat, through our new land use planning process, would send a strong message to the entire world that we in Alberta do intend to meet our commitments to sustainable resource development and maintenance of the biodiversity of our province,” writes CPAWs in the letter to Stelmach.
CPAWS also wants the federal government to be aware of potential opportunities for Alberta to improve its image on environmental protection and to prevent the local extinction of a species at risk in the oil sand area.