Michael Merriam Photo
Hinton and surrounding communities have expressed their opposition to a draft agreement between the Alberta and Canadian governments on stabilizing and recovering the woodland caribou population in Alberta.
The agreement outlined in Section 11 of the Species at Risk Act is still in its draft stages, but would impact several industries in Alberta.
During the regular council meeting on Oct. 1, Hinton Mayor Marcel Michaels read a letter seeking ministry support of amendments recommended by the Whitecourt Chamber of Commerce and other regional partners.
The amendments demonstrate commitment to the sustainability of overall forest health in collaboration with the communities and industries that will be affected by the legislation.
“Section 11 of the Species At Risk Act is problematic for a number of reasons that will impact Hinton and area,” stated Michaels in an email to the Voice.
He explained that the legislation was prepared without proper consultation of local communities and the industry who could both experience environmental, community safety, and socio-economic impacts.
“Community safety in a post-pine beetle region relies on caribou legislation that is nimble enough to allow for forestry decisions in support of the protection of people,” Michaels added.
According to Michaels, it’s crucial to incorporate language that better reflects the government’s rights and responsibilities to preserve forest health, and also to safeguard people from forest fires.
Currently, the draft states one of its objectives as phasing out the pine surge and implementing reduced conifer harvest levels in caribou ranges.
“The way Section 11 is worded limits the government’s ability to effectively address current or future factors and may impede appropriate action,” he said.
The only industry identified in Section 11 is forestry, although it is not the only industry that operates on the landscape.
Michaels felt that what was prepared does not consider all elements of a healthy forest ecosystem.
“Sustainable forest management considers forest health holistically. Key considerations for climate change impacts are absent as well. I think there is a way to for revisions to Section 11 to allow for the needs of caribou conservation, industry, and community safety to be considered together,” he stated.
Michaels is concerned that the current agreement would pose significant impact on Hinton’s economy, especially the forest industry, and says it’s important to know the impacts of the recovery plans before they are implemented.
“A single species plan is ill-advised and will create consequences that the Provincial government is not intending,” read his letter.
MLA Martin Long, who comes with a background in the forestry and oil and gas sectors, stated that he is bringing forward his own concerns based on personal knowledge as well as concerns from various stakeholders heard over the past several months.
“My plan of action has been traveling around the constituency and to continue to reach out to encourage people to be engaged and offer feedback. I am bringing forward those concerns to government so we can try to mitigate negative impacts on our communities while ensuring we uphold our federally implemented requirements for species at risk,” said Long in an email.
Under Alberta’s jurisdiction there are 15 herds of caribou, and one Jasper herd under federal jurisdiction.
Numbers of caribou are dwindling and the last recorded numbers from 2013 show that each herd has roughly 100 animals left.
The Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC), a group that assesses animals and gives recommendations to the Canadian government for the Species at Risk Act, re-assessed the mountain caribou herd and recommended their designation be changed from threatened to endangered in 2014.
Status of Alberta’s woodland caribou is currently still threatened, according to the Canadian species at risk public registry.
The Aseniwuche Winewak Nation (AWN) in Grande Cache is the First Nation that runs the Caribou Patrol program between their community and Hinton. They did not respond to The Hinton Voice attempts to contact them, beyond confirming that they also wrote a response to the agreement.