profits trump science again

Rampant industrial development is destroying woodland caribou habitat at an unprecedented rate, and that's threatening to kill off about half Canada's herds. By law, Ottawa is obligated to intervene to save a threatened species before it vanishes.

Rampant industrial development is destroying woodland caribou habitat at an unprecedented rate, and that’s threatening to kill off about half Canada’s herds.

By law, Ottawa is obligated to intervene to save a threatened species before it vanishes.

Instead, the federal government appears to be delaying action to buy time for more unfettered resource extraction, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Environment Canada listed the animals as threatened under the Species at Risk Act. By law, Ottawa must prepare a recovery strategy for the animals.

And it did so.

In 2007, it assembled a distinguished team of scientists to identify critical habitat for the herds and to prepare a schedule of studies designed to produce improved results for caribou survival over time.

The goal was to set a target that would ensure caribou populations are conserved and allowed to recover to self-sustaining levels.

That is, set aside enough land to ensure Canada continues to have free-roaming caribou in 50 years.

It then ranked the 57 woodland caribou herds in Canada, identifying which had enough habitat to be self-sustaining and which did not.

The results were not good.

About half the nation’s herds have died off to the point where they were no longer self-sustaining.

So researchers suggested development should be tightly controlled in about half the boreal forest to preserve Canada’s remaining 36,000 woodland caribou.

The report was completed in August.

But Ottawa balked.

It delayed the study’s release by seven months. (You can get it at

And, in an unprecedented move, it added an anonymous preface to the completed study that, effectively, called the 256-page study inadequate.

By doing so, it prevented any restrictions on miners, loggers and oil and gas companies in the disputed lands until at least December 2010, effectively preventing any action to save the caribou for years.

Scientists associated with the study have not been told why the anonymous preface was added to their work, which some have lauded as groundbreaking.

Science and laws sometimes work against resource companies. But that’s often a good thing.

As planner Herb Hammond recently noted in Whitehorse, healthy ecosystems are more economically valuable than lands destroyed by rampant resource extraction.

They sustain communities over time, avoiding boom-and-bust cycles.

Ottawa would do well to remember this before it ignores its obligation to protect the nation’s threatened caribou herds, putting them at risk of extinction simply to boost resource company profits for the next three years, or so. (Richard Mostyn)

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