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Alberta guide claims Shell project threatens grizzly bear den on his land

Mike Judd, an outfitter in Beaver Mines, near Waterton Lakes National Park, is fighting the approval of a Shell Canada sour gas project. Judd, who guides hunt and dogsled tours, says there’s a den of grizzlies on his land that will be killed if the project goes ahead.

Photograph by: Dean Bicknell, Calgary Herald

A dogsledding tour guide is challenging a Shell Canada sour gas project near his Eastern Slopes home, arguing Alberta’s energy regulator failed to properly take into account the province’s dwindling number of grizzly bears before approving the project.

Mike Judd, 61, has lived near the tiny hamlet of Beaver Mines, just north of Waterton Lakes National Park, his entire life. The outfitter has been guiding backcountry and dogsledding tours for more than four decades.

On Tuesday, Judd was in Calgary to ask Alberta’s Court of Appeal for leave to appeal an Energy Resources Conservation Board ruling giving Shell permission to drill a sour gas well less than two kilometres from his home.

Judd said a grizzly bear den located on his property will be affected by the development.

“Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve been watching the continual erosion of the backcountry with roads and development,” Judd said.

“Living there and loving the country, I’m very concerned about what’s happening with those animals, especially the grizzly bears.”

Judd’s lawyer, Shaun Fluker, argued the board’s March approval of Shell’s sour gas well and fuel-gas compressor did not properly take into account the Alberta government’s decision last year to classify grizzly bears as threatened. The designation, which means the province’s grizzly population is at risk, affords legal protections for the powerful omnivore.

Fluker said during hearings on the project, the board should not have denied Judd the chance to speak about the grizzly den he says is on his land.

“Every den of a grizzly bear is specifically protected by the Wildlife Act,” Fluker said.

However, ERCB spokesman Bob Curran said evidence about the grizzly bear den was not filed on time and following that, Shell was refused access to Judd’s land “where the den was purported to exist.”

Curran said all ERCB hearing participants should have equal access to the evidence.

During Tuesday’s Court of Appeal hearing, the relationship between Judd and the oil and gas giant was described as “adversarial.”

Curran added the board considered significant testimony and evidence on grizzly bears in the area before coming to its decision in March.

“Although there may be some incremental loss of grizzly bear habitat,” said the written ERCB decision, “the board expects that loss of habitat due to this project will not be significant.”

Shell Canada spokesman Stephen Doolan said the sour gas project is scheduled to go ahead this month.

On Tuesday, Court of Appeal Justice Carole Conrad reserved judgment on Judd’s request.

In March, the ERCB rejected Shell’s application for two new pipelines at the site, but allowed a new sour gas well and fuel-gas compressor.

A provincial DNA analysis found just under 700 grizzly bears live in Alberta, and between 350 and 400 of those animals are of breeding age. Scientists believe the fragmentation of grizzly bear habitat is one of the greatest threats to the survival of the Alberta population.

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