Says provincial government 'doing everything that we can to ensure its survival'
The provincial government is taking all measures to ensure the threatened Red Wine Mountains caribou herd continues to survive, according to Minister of Environment and Conservation Tom Hedderson.
In an interview with The Telegram Friday, Hedderson was asked about the threat posed to the herd by continued development and industrial activity in Labrador, as identified in a report published Wednesday by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).
The report looks at the environmental review work conducted in relation to the Labrador-Island Transmission Link project to date. The link is part of the $7.7-billion Lower Churchill hydro development.
The CEAA said the transmission line build, when looked at on its own, is not likely to cause serious harm to the Red Wine caribou herd. However, it warned, when work in the region is looked at collectively, there are potentially "significant adverse environmental effects," with the herd being placed "under significant pressure."
The threatened Red Wine herd is expected to continue to decline in number, with or without the transmission line project. Since 1989, the herd's population dropped by about 85 per cent, leaving its total number today at an estimated 75 to 100 animals.
Hedderson said the herd remains under the "watchful eye" of the provincial government.
"If anything, we would like to make sure that any proponent going in is well aware of that and doing absolutely what's necessary (for herd protection)," he said.
Specific to the Muskrat Falls project, he said Nalcor Energy is required to submit a "Species at Risk Project Impacts Mitigation and Monitoring Plan."
The Crown corporation will have to monitor the herd and any activities that may affect the herd.
"And we're monitoring the herd and doing everything that we can to ensure its survival. So we insist that the proponent, in this case Nalcor, does do what we ask them to do and that's the conditions on which we allow them to move forward with this project," he said.
He said every company with a project in an area frequented by the herd will be "taken to task" if they breach the conditions of their project's release from environmental assessment.
Pressed on what the provincial government is doing to directly protect the herd, he pointed to activities of provincial enforcement officers watching for illegal hunting, particularly around new access routes to the interior of Labrador.
"We feel we have in place an enforcement regime and personnel that can carry out what we believe is necessary to protect our herds," he said.
Meanwhile, the provincial government has released the dam at Muskrat Falls, the Labrador-Island Link and the Maritime Link from further environmental review.
"I was more than impressed by the mitigation measures to address the effects on the caribou, the viewscapes, the marine environment, the provincial parks and so on. The documentation was there ... and it was an easy one for me to do, given the tremendous work that had been done," Hedderson said.
He noted much of the documentation remains available and easily accessible online.
The review of the 1,100 kilometres of Labrador-Island Link took provincial Department of Environment and Conservation staff four years to complete.
Hedderson said there was "push and pull" along the way, leading to the move of the transmission line route, so the line did not run through Gros Morne National Park. Similarly, the route was moved to track closer to the Trans-Labrador Highway, rather than cut into untouched areas of southeastern Labrador.
The Labrador-Island Link is estimated to take about five years to build and the construction work will require creation of temporary construction camps, marshalling yards, laydown areas and new access roads.