Biodiversity offsets and caribou conservation in Alberta: opportunities and challenges
The federal recovery strategy for boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) sets a goal of self-sustaining populations for all caribou ranges across Canada. All caribou herds in Alberta are currently designated as not self-sustaining and the recovery strategy requires an action plan to achieve self-sustaining status. At the same time, continued natural resource extraction in caribou ranges may be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Some regulatory bodies have recognized an opportunity for biodiversity offsets to help meet the caribou recovery strategy’s goals while still permitting economic benefits of development. In this review, we evaluate offset opportunities for caribou in Alberta and practical impediments for implementation. We conclude that a number of actions to offset impacts of development and achieve no net loss or net positive impact for caribou are theoretically feasible (i.e., if implemented they should work), including habitat restoration and manipulations of the large mammal predator-prey system. However, implementation challenges are substantial and include a lack of mechanisms for setting aside some resources for long periods of time, public opposition to predator control, and uncertainty associated with loss-gain calculations. A framework and related policy for offsets are currently lacking in Alberta and their development is urgently needed to guide successful design and implementation of offsets for caribou.
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