We’ve all touched caribou...and they’ve touched us. After all, this iconic ungulate appears on every single one of the millions of quarters that trade across the country daily. In fact, the caribou has adorned the Canadian 25-cent piece for three quarters of a century.
Woodland caribou, the largest and darkest of the caribou subspecies, can either migrate from forested mountainsides to the alpine tundra or live in boreal forests. Some will move only a few kilometres over a year while others will continue to travel much further.
It’s no coincidence that caribou habitats are typically far away from the average Canadian. Industrial activity, including roads and heavy equipment, are particularly disruptive to this sensitive species. Roads interfere with migration patterns and impair their ability to avoid predators, such as wolves. In northeastern Alberta, home to oil sands development, woodland caribou numbers are unfortunately declining. In the East Side Athabasca River caribou range, for example, the population has declined by 10 to 20 per cent a year.
Not surprisingly, environmental groups have taken action to protect caribou habitats. In June, a group of petitioners including the Pembina Institute, Alberta Wilderness Association, Ecojustice and three First Nations went to Federal Court to prompt the federal government to act on the condition of the caribou herds. They argued that the federal government has a legal responsibility to protect caribou under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). As a result, Environment Minister Peter Kent was ordered to prepare a recently released draft recovery strategy for woodland caribou under SARA.
Suncor and other oil sands developers take the well-being of the caribou seriously. That’s why we’re actively participating in a variety of initiatives designed to mitigate the impacts of development.
Through the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative, a collaborative network that includes ConocoPhillips Canada, Nexen Inc., Statoil Canada, and Total E&P Canada, work has been done to improve conditions in the Algar Region, a 57,000-hectare woodland caribou habitat.
We also participate in the Boreal Leadership Council as a means of conserving Canada’s precious and globally unique boreal forest. And, by contributing to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' Species Management Committee, Suncor is able to draw on the expertise of wildlife management professionals to address wider concerns and find productive new approaches to policy, regulations and industry activity.
The question for us all is how do we protect the caribou while producing a vital world energy resource. Any industrial activity, including oil sands development, will impact native species. But with improved stewardship and a commitment to Canada’s wildlife, we hope to preserve Canada’s boreal forest and woodland caribou. No matter how fond we might be of the caribou likeness on our money, there’s simply no substitute for the real thing.