CPAWS files lawsuit against Government of Canada for allegedly not following caribou protection rules

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has filed a lawsuit against federal environment minister Catherine McKenna, asserting that the Government of Canada is not following its own rules about protecting caribou.

Under the Species at Risk Act, once critical habitat for a species has been identified, the minister has 180 days to take action.

“Boreal woodland caribou’s critical habitat was identified and publicly posted in October of 2012. Much of the habitat is on non-federal lands. Though we know that much of the boreal caribou critical habitat remains unprotected more than four years later, there have been no reports describing what is being done to address any protection gaps,” CPAWS Quebec executive director Alain Branchaud said in a statement.

Much of that habitat is in oil and gas development regions across Canada.

CPAWS says it has been tracking the steps being taken at the provincial and territorial level to protect boreal caribou habitat since 2013, and "remains unimpressed with the speed at which most jurisdictions have advanced."

“There have been glimmers of action, such as in Saskatchewan where the government appears to be taking their job to protect critical habitat seriously, but we believe that most of the critical habitat in Canada is still largely available for industrial development,” CPAWS national executive director Éric Hébert-Daly added.

“Meanwhile, boreal caribou’s habitat, the boreal forest, is getting more fragmented, which has been shown to directly lead to their population decline across the country.”

In Alberta, last year the province ceased selling oil and gas rights in caribou ranges while range planning is completed, and announced it would receive $1.5 million in funding assistance from the industry to restore over 10,000 kilometres of legacy seismic lines to caribou habitat.

The work is part of the province’s plan to increase permanently protected caribou areas in Alberta to 4.9 million hectares, which it says is the most extensive caribou range action across the country.

CPAWS says its lawsuit is about implementing the federal Species at Risk Act in a more transparent and accountable manner and avoid overreliance on critical habitat safety net orders to achieve protection.

“We need to get on with implementation. That is what this lawsuit is about,” Branchaud said.