The Federal Court heard an application from First Nation and environmental groups (“Applicants”) on June 22 and 23, 2011 seeking to compel the federal Minister of Environment (“Minister”) to recommend the Governor in Council to issue an emergency order protecting herds of Woodland caribou in northeastern Alberta under Subsection 80(2) of the Species at Risk Act ("SARA").

Boreal Woodland caribou were listed on SARA’s Threatened Species list in 2003, and under Section 42 of SARA, the Minister had until 2007 to include a proposed recovery strategy for the species in the public registry. As the Minister has yet to perform that duty, the Applicants argued that the Minister must now recommend an emergency order that will commence measures to protect the Woodland caribou’s habitat. However, the Minister is taking the position that the species do not face an imminent threat to their recovery and that an emergency order is not warranted.

This application is of particular interest to oil and gas operators, as an emergency order under SARA may include provisions prohibiting activities that may adversely affect a species and their habitat on both federal and non-federal lands.