Athabasca plan misses ecological mark

 

Athabasca plan misses ecological mark

 

Posted 03 July 2011, by Petr E. Komers, Edmonton Journal, edmontonjournal.com

 

Re: “Much scientific work done on Athabasca plan,” by Mel Knight, Letters, June 12.

In his letter Alberta Energy Minister Mel Knight argues that “extensive scientific work has been done” on the draft Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP).

The minister states that we could have a debate if I only had “reviewed the work and disagreed with the evidence.”

I have reviewed this work and other planning documents relating to the oilsands for over 10 years.

The evidence is that “ecologically significant areas” such as caribou ranges, fens and bogs, bison ranges, river corridors and old growth forests are not targeted by the conservation areas proposed under the LARP.

While some triggers and limits are listed under the Athabasca plan, it is unclear how information about reaching them would be used in regulation and management of projects.

Woodland caribou, a threatened species, is one of many examples.

Where are the definitions of “addressing caribou habitat needs” as the biodiversity management framework requires?

How will success of “addressing caribou habitat needs” be measured? Even if it were measured, how would proponents be asked to change or reschedule an already approved disturbance, if results show that caribou needs are not met?

Is the minister aware that under the current rate of development in the lands leased to industry, caribou habitat, and with it the caribou itself, will vanish within two decades or less?

The LARP even appears to disregard the Terrestrial Ecosystem Management Framework, which was co-authored by the Government of Alberta just three years ago.

Using computer modelling that the minister mentions, the framework correctly suggests that large tracts of land should include caribou ranges and that wildlife corridors should be part of a network of an interconnected landscape.

The LARP omits such critical landscape features.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s protected areas guidelines, alluded to by the Knight, call for well-designed ecological gap analyses to assist with the protection of sensitive species.

The guidelines also recommend that conservation areas be designed “to enable indigenous communities to maintain their traditional wilderness-based lifestyle and customs, living at low density and using the available resources in ways compatible with the conservation objectives.”

First Nations submitted recommendations for the design of conservation areas, but they did not appear to have influenced the plan.

I found no evidence that the plan was based on the analyses the international union recommends.

The only evidence clearly presented in the LARP is that the conservation areas largely avoid industry leases.

I continue to support the requests by independent provincial and federal review panels for a rigorous scientific approach to the environmental planning processes in the oilsands.

Petr E. Komers PhD, P.Biol., Calgary

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
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