Alberta considers fencing off calving pens to help caribou in forests

Scientists are putting Alberta at the head of the herd among provinces with a strategy to preserve threatened caribou that includes sectioning off forest to protect calving cows.

EDMONTON — Scientists are putting Alberta at the head of the herd among provinces with a strategy to preserve threatened caribou that includes sectioning off forest to protect calving cows.

While the plan for a $40-million restoration of industry-damaged habitat and huge new protected areas has drawn applause, questions remain about whether calving pens will do any good.

“It could be an OK idea, but there’s no evidence for it,” said Mark Hebblewhite, a University of Montana biologist familiar with Alberta’s caribou conflicts.

The federal government has given provinces until 2017 to come up with range plans and recovery strategies for caribou herds, which are in danger across the country.

In Alberta, where the situation is arguably the worst, decades of development has herds clinging to a few scraps of old-growth forest. Numbers have declined by about 60 per cent and some ranges are more than 80 per cent disturbed.

The provincial government released a draft Wednesday that includes a recovery strategy and a range plan for one particularly threatened herd, which has declined to a few dozen.

The draft calls for the protection of another 18,000 square kilometres of habitat in northern Alberta for a total of 49,000 square kilometres. It also includes restoration of more than 10,000 kilometres of seismic lines that chop up habitat and provide a highway for predators to be paid for by industry through green bonds.

Energy development would be “rescheduled” and logging old-growth forest on caribou range would be blocked. Wolves would continue to be shot to try to manage predation, although bears also eat caribou calves.

The draft also suggests fencing off a 100-square-kilometre habitat for female caribou during the calving season.

“You need protection only for a few weeks,” said Stan Boutin, a University of Alberta biologist, who has long supported the idea. “Once those calves get over a certain age, the bears are no longer taking them.”

Calving pens are also likely to be more palatable for the public than killing wolves and bears, he said.

Hebblewhite is concerned caribou coming out of a predator-free enclosure would not know how to handle themselves in the wild. He pointed out a similar experiment with elk only saw one-quarter of the penned animals survive.

Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association called the plan an artificial prop. She asked if caribou within the pen would have to be fed as well.

“It’s choosing to domesticate wild animals because we fail to take some necessary steps.”

Still, the NDP government was widely praised for moving on an issue that stymied the previous Conservatives for a decade.

“They’re big steps in the right direction and a huge benefit to caribou,” said Hebblewhite.

“I don’t think there’s any question it’s a really historic, far-sighted decision,” Campbell said.

The province is now showing the way, Boutin said.

“Alberta is the lead in the country in terms of trying to do something for caribou management.”

Paul Whittaker, president of the Alberta Forest Products Association, acknowledged the plan would cost the industry access to trees.

“This plan is not without impact on the forestry sector,” said Whittaker.

But the draft does a good job of considering all players on a busy landscape, he said.

Brad Herald of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said his industry is determined to do its part.

“The innovative funding approach will enable significant restoration activity in the near term while recognizing the challenges industry is facing in the current economic downturn,” he said in a statement.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the government has accepted all the draft’s recommendations and will seek public comment. Meetings with industry and First Nations are being scheduled.

The province will also hit up Ottawa for money to finance some of the initiatives, she said.

“This has gone from a being a file that makes me want to put my head in my hands to a file that I’m reasonably optimistic and positive about.”

Just Posted

Red Deer realtors share precautions in aftermath of Calgary sex assault

“Safety is a huge issue,” says local realtor

Man charged after string of break and enters

Break-ins occurred at rural properties

Updated: Red Deer Mountie’s sexual assault trial begins

RCMP officer facing sexual assault with a weapon and breach of trust charges

Central Albertans invited to bring concerns to air quality meeting

Parkland Airshed Managment Zone holds public meeting June 25

WATCH: Hundreds run in the 5K Foam Fest in Red Deer

The annual event took place at Heritage Ranch on Saturday

Italy’s Milan-Cortina wins vote to host 2026 Winter Olympics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Riding a wave of widespread Italian enthusiasm to be… Continue reading

Productivity gains outpace steep rise in agricultural energy use since 1990

CALGARY — Third-generation farmer Ron Lamb remembers his father pulling six-metre-wide crop-seeding… Continue reading

Health: Believing myths is bad for your heart

George Orwell, the English journalist, wrote, “Myths that are believed in tend… Continue reading

Family: We all get by with just a little help from our friends

The celebration of our great country of Canada is waiting in the… Continue reading

Cavallini, David scores 3 goals, Canada defeats Cuba 7-0

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Coach John Herdman couldn’t be happier about the state… Continue reading

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse lands same job with Canada’s men’s team

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is the new coach of Canada’s… Continue reading

Steamy romance novelist Judith Krantz dies at 91

LOS ANGELES — Writer Judith Krantz, whose million-selling novels such as “Scruples”… Continue reading

Flying Wallendas safely cross Times Square on high wire

NEW YORK — Two siblings from the famed Flying Wallendas safely crossed… Continue reading

Most Read