Emergency order issued | Decree will restrict oil and gas activity in a 1,700 sq. kilometre area
The federal government has issued an emergency order to protect dwindling numbers of sage grouse in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Estimates on remaining bird numbers vary, but there is thought to be fewer than 90 sage grouse left in Canada.
The emergency order, which was issued Dec. 4 and will take effect Feb. 18, applies rules to sage grouse habitat in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.
It will prohibit new oil and gas development in an area of 1,700 sq. kilometres. As well, construction of new roads and fences will be banned, ground cover will have to be maintained and loud noises will be restricted during grouse mating season, which will require a temporary halt to oil production at some existing wells.
Studies have shown sage grouse avoid nesting near tall structures such as power poles, wind turbines, buildings and oil wells. They also avoid noise. However, their usual habitat is in a region with considerable oil and gas exploration and production activity.
The order applies only to public land and will not apply to private holdings.
“Our goal with this emergency order is to achieve the best protection for the sage grouse while minimizing impacts on landowners and agricultural producers,” federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq said when making the announcement.
The government signalled its intentions to take the measure in September after environmental groups launched a court case calling for enforcement of species at risk legislation.
Nature Canada executive director Ian Davidson said in a news release that this is the first time the federal government has issued an emergency order to protect an endangered species. However, he said the area subject to the order might not be enough to protect sage grouse.
Alberta has launched a plan to release birds captured in Montana. It has had limited results in the early stages, but the project continues.