Conservation groups in Alberta are hoping that US environmental groups will help raise awareness about the plight of woodland caribou in the tarsands region of the province. In Alberta, the main threat to caribou - a threatened species - is oil and gas development, as well as industrial logging. Environment Canada has suggested that caribou herds need at least 65% of their range to be undisturbed in order to survive, yet many of the herds in Alberta have less than 20% undisturbed habitat.

“Things are increasingly desperate for caribou,” says Helene Walsh, who works with the Alberta-based Athabasca Water Keepers.

Instead of curbing industrial development in sensitive caribou herds, the Alberta government’s approach to protecting the species has been to kills wolves, a natural predator of woodland caribou. This approach has failed to stop the decline of caribou and also may have unintended consequences in the ecosystem.

Alberta conservationists hope that the debate about the Keystone XL pipeline will help bring attention to risks the project poses to caribou, in addition to the risks it poses to the climate. US groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation have both taken up the cause of Canada’s woodland caribou.