Woodland caribou © Paul Tessier
October 6, 2017 – Yesterday, Canadian provinces failed to meet a key deadline for protecting threatened boreal caribou habitat. Provinces had five years to develop habitat protection plans under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, and no plan has been published at the time of this release.
In response, a broad array of stakeholders including an Indigenous voice, a conservation biologist, a former northern Ontario MP and caribou biologist, and national and international environmental groups called today for immediate interim steps to ensure the boreal caribou’s long-term survival.
“In 2012, the federal government gave provinces and territories five years to develop range plans for each boreal caribou herd. Yesterday that 5-year deadline passed without plans in place,” said Dr. Julee Boan, Boreal Program Manager for Ontario Nature. “The recovery strategy is clear: Less than half of Canada’s caribou populations are likely to survive unless cumulative disturbance is limited. Caribou need their critical habitat protected now more than ever.”
“Enough of the continued failures by governments,” said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador. “We demand that they abide by the principles of UNDRIP calling for the participation of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples always had a close and sacred relationship with the caribou. Any strategy related to conservation of the species will definitely have to include our Peoples and their traditional knowledge, and governments will have to respond appropriately.”
“More than 80 per cent of boreal caribou habitat in British Columbia is in Fort Nelson First Nation’s territory. Fort Nelson First Nation has a strong interest in helping to restore caribou populations,” said Katherine Capot-Blanc, Acting Lands Director of the Fort Nelson First Nation Lands Department. “Since 2011 we have repeatedly attempted to engage with government about our concerns with the boreal caribou population but have not received any substantive response. Our approach is to be proactive and work with government, but government has not been receptive. That’s why we have taken the step to create our own action plan.”
“As a former MP in northern Ontario and caribou biologist, I have observed the false dichotomy about ‘caribou vs. jobs’,” said Bruce Hyer, former MP for Thunder Bay, business-person and caribou biologist. “I am disappointed that the federal and provincial governments are not showing sufficient leadership on caribou conservation. I know that we can have both prosperity and caribou conservation in the province through science-based policies achieved through honest collaboration and compromise.”
“The decline of woodland caribou is a long and disturbing diminuendo, largely unheard,” said Dr. Jim Schaefer, Professor of Biology at Trent University. “But the science is loud and clear: If we conserve boreal forest habitat, we can conserve this animal.”
Anthony Swift, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project, remarked on the international impacts of Canada’s inaction: “Canada is tarnishing its reputation for sustainable forest products by failing to protect caribou habitat. Now that the provinces have failed to act, Prime Minister Trudeau must now step up to protect one of the world’s last great forests, and with it, some of North America’s most iconic animals and the way of life of hundreds of Indigenous Peoples’ communities.”
Canada’s federal Recovery Strategy for boreal caribou, released in 2012, identified that only 14 out of Canada’s 51 boreal caribou herds were considered self-sustaining at that time. Without intervention, wildlife scientists predict the population will decline even further in the next 15 years, losing up to 30 per cent more of the population.
The wide array of voices calling for action today further underscores the immediate need for Canada’s federal and provincial leaders to take swift steps to protect this iconic species.
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Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and 150 member groups across Ontario. For more information, visit ontarionature.org.