Athabasca County fined $300K for damaging nature preserve

Athabasca County in northern Alberta has been ordered to pay $300,000 after pleading guilty to a national wildlife area nearly two years ago.

Following a tip, federal environment officials inspected the Meanook National Wildlife Area, 140 kilometres north of Edmonton, in September 2017, said a news release Tuesday from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The investigation found Athabasca County had “conducted industrial activity” affecting 2.5 hectares of land in the preserve between Aug. 24 and Sept. 27, 2017.

Trees were cut down and burned, vegetation and soil removed and fencing, signage and scientific equipment destroyed.

During the investigation, the county said the complaint related to a road construction project along a township road adjacent to the national wildlife area.

“The road construction was part of ongoing improvements to municipal roads to upgrade the road base, improve drainage to mitigate historical road flooding and contouring to improve sight lines and overall safety for the travelling public,” the county said in a statement in February 2018.

The $300,000 fine will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund.

The Meanook National Wildlife Area is a protected pocket of land that straddles boreal forest and aspen parkland. The 530-acre preserve is 17 kilometres southwest of Athabasca.

The preserve, home to a variety of boreal songbird species and large mammals such as moose, coyote, deer and black bear, is protected under federal law and activities which could interfere with the conservation of wildlife are prohibited.

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