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A Woodland caribou bull is seen in this undated handout photo.Canadian Press/Handout

A judge is telling the federal government to rethink its decision not to issue an emergency order protecting habitat for endangered caribou in Alberta's oilsands region.

However, Federal Court Justice Paul Crampton isn't telling Ottawa it has to issue such an order.

Mr. Crampton is giving Environment Minister Peter Kent until September to come up with an emergency plan to protect the caribou, which have been in steep decline for more than a decade.

Environmental and aboriginal groups had argued that the federal Species At Risk Act obliges Ottawa to issue an immediate order for habitat protection.

They point out that the federal government has missed the legal deadline for a caribou recovery plan by four years.

Recent studies suggest that 75 per cent of caribou range in the oilsands region has been disturbed by fire, industry or both.