Study to determine impact of development

Left-right are Diane Peredery, Randall Noskiye, and Danika Cunningham putting up wildlife cameras northeast of Red Earth Creek for a Métis Nation of Alberta caribou study. Photo courtesy of Walter Andreeff.

Pearl Lorentzen
For South Peace News

Caribou, moose, and grizzlies are species of interest for local Indigenous governments and they are using camera traps to study them.

Swan River First Nation (SRFN) is between Slave Lake and High Prairie south of Lesser Slave Lake. It has camera traps in its traditional range looking for the effects disturbance may have on wildlife. Photos include one of a female moose and calf north of Kinuso in June 2022.

“This is an important picture to SRFN, due to the dropping population of moose in the area,” says John Willier, SRFN consultation oil and gas director.

“Moose is one of the main animals SRFN members harvest for traditional foods. We also use the hide of the moose. The hide is utilized to make drums, moccasins, gloves, and bags, etc.”

In Grizzly Ridge Wildland, the study has captured photos of grizzlies. In 2010, grizzlies were listed by the Government of Alberta as threatened.

“SRFN is glad to see grizzlies in our traditional territory,” says Willier.

“Every animal plays a very important role in the ecosystem.”

In March 2022, SRFN started putting cameras in its traditional territory as part of the SRFN Monitoring Wildlife Habitat Use and Distribution Relative to Varying Levels of Land Use project.

“This project was designed to monitor the difference in the abundance of animals between a heavily disturbed area (House Mountain oilfield) to a less disturbed area (Grizzly Ridge Wildland),” says Willier.

“We have noticed a decrease in animals the closer we got to a disturbed (House Mountain) area,” he adds.

The results are still preliminary, as SRFN is collecting the last images before writing a final report.

Just under a year ago, the Métis Nation of Alberta started a caribou study with camera traps on two traplines – one northeast of Red Earth and the other northeast of Wabasca.

Walter Andreeff, consultation coordinator for the Otipemisiwak Métis Government, runs the project out of the District 21 office in Slave Lake.

“These endangered animals are of intrinsic value to Albertans,” says Andreeff.

The camera traps are in the Red Earth and West Side Athabasca River caribou ranges. There are two of four in the Slave Lake and Wabasca area including: east of Slave Lake; east of Highway 88 near the Highway 754 turnoff to Wabasca; Red Earth from Highway 88 and Highway 986 to Chipewyan Lake; ad the west side of the Athabasca River bordering the Red Earth camera and including the area north and east of Wabasca to the Athabasca River.

The most recent Alberta caribou population estimates were released in January 2024, based on 2021 data, in First Report on the Implementation of the Section 11 Agreement for the Conservation and Recovery of the Woodland Caribou in Alberta. The report includes estimates based on a visual surveys taken during the spring of 2021.

The plan is to collect the camera traps by early March. The hope is they have captured images of caribou.

“There should be some because there were lots of tracks when we set the cameras,” says Andreeff.

In April 2023, the Government of Alberta announced it will extend Highway 686 past Peerless Lake to Fort McMurray. This is in the Red Earth Caribou range. Andreeff is worried this could have a negative effect on the caribou.

“Roads splinter off into other roads,” he says. “More companies find other opportunities for oil and gas and minerals.”

The announcement said that engineering was set to start in 2023. The exact timeline for the highway is unknown.

The Métis study has survived some boundary changes. When it started, the two traplines were in MNA Region 5. However, in November 2023, MNA changed from a society to the Otipemisiwak Métis Government and included changing from large regions to smaller districts. Region 5 was divided into District 21 – Lesser Slave Lake and District 22 – Wabasca-Desmarais. The two districts are working together on the project.

A grizzly is caught on camera by Swan River First Nation in Grizzly Ridge Wildland in the Swan Hills in April 2023. Photo courtesy of the Swan River First Nation.

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