Canada’s boreal woodland caribou at continued risk: CPAWS annual review finds limited progress in 2015
Ottawa – In its third annual review of government action to conserve Canada’s boreal woodland caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds there has been spotted progress – with too few of jurisdictions showing leadership in protecting the species that has long graced our 25-cent piece.
Under the federal Species-at-Risk Act, all provinces and territories are required to have plans in place to recover their boreal caribou populations by 2017, based on the 2012 Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal population, in Canada.
“We observed the most positive government policy actions in 2015 on boreal caribou conservation in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We also noted early positive signs of change in Alberta’s new government’s approach to boreal caribou habitat conservation. All other provinces and territories got much more mixed reviews, with our biggest concerns reserved for British Columbia and Ontario,” says CPAWS National Executive Director Eric Hebert-Daly.
“We’re hoping for stronger leadership in 2016 on this file from the new federal government, once they’re able to turn their attention to it. We are also actively encouraging the three recently-elected provincial and territorial governments to take more action next year on boreal caribou habitat protection, along with other jurisdictions,” adds Hebert-Daly.
In terms of acres on the ground, new protected areas were established in 2015 in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba that will conserve approximately 16,900 km2 of boreal caribou habitat – 16 times more than was protected last year. However, this represents only about 1% of the total area of boreal caribou habitat identified as “critical” in the federal recovery strategy.
Boreal Caribou occupy about 2.4 million km2 of Canada’s boreal forest – less than half of their North American range in the 19th century. The biggest threat to their survival is habitat fragmentation. Scientists consider boreal caribou as bellwethers of the health of the boreal forest, which also cleanses our air and water and stores vast amounts of carbon within its soils, moderating climate change.
“Unless all levels of government immediately set much larger areas of critical caribou habitat off limits to industrial activity, boreal woodland caribou populations will continue the path of decline they’ve been on for many decades Conserving more of Canada’s intact boreal forests will also help to mitigate climate change and provide room for all species to adapt to a warming climate,” adds Hebert-Daly.
Here is our summary of progress across Canada in protecting caribou in the past 12 months:
• Northwest Territories released a draft boreal caribou recovery strategy in 2015. While an important milestone, CPAWS submitted comments on how the draft can be strengthened. Meanwhile new pressures on boreal caribou continue to arise – two new forest management agreements will increase future disturbance and two intense fire seasons have further reduced available habitat. Hunting regulations and the NWT harvest tracking system also need to be updated to ensure that boreal caribou are not over hunted.
• British Columbia conducted research, and consulted with First Nations and others to revise the provincial caribou management plan. However, it also approved new LNG projects that could adversely impact caribou habitat. Overall, any measures by the province seem focused on limiting boreal caribou’s decline, rather than meeting the federal requirements to recover the species.
• Alberta’s new government announced a deferral of sales of energy leases within all caribou habitat in July, and there have been no new sales since July. However, Alberta’s other long-awaited caribou habitat measures that we reported on last year continue to appear stalled.
• Saskatchewan is now requiring that new forest management plans include a plan to demonstrate how a company will keep at least 65% percent of boreal caribou habitat on a tenure undisturbed in future. This is a significant shift that will soon be reflected in legislation. In addition the province appears to be on track to complete range plans by 2017.
• Manitoba issued a strong boreal caribou recovery strategy in October and announced a new 900 km2 protected area in November which overlaps with boreal caribou habitat. However, the province also pushed back deadlines for developing plans for how to protect boreal caribou habitat by one to three years from the initial 2017 date.
• In Ontario, no meaningful action was taken to recover boreal caribou in 2015. CPAWS and others continued a court case against the province for exempting industries from core protection provisions under its Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, data released this year show only two of Ontario’s 13 ranges have sufficient remaining habitat to sustain caribou.
• Quebec established a new 5,000 km2 protected area where boreal caribou are found, and reconvened its caribou recovery team after a one-year hiatus. However, the pace of conservation effort is too slow to ensure protection and recovery of caribou populations in Quebec, given continuing industrial pressures.
• Newfoundland and Labrador’s Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve will protect important habitat for one boreal caribou herd in Labrador, though threats to others continue. On the island, a new sustainable forest management strategy could open the door to protection measures which might help stem the precipitous decline of this population.