Federal caribou deadline passes without provincial action

Federal deadline passes, Manitoba ignoring public and federal calls for Boreal Woodland Caribou recovery plans, opens habitats to mineral exploration applications

For immediate release: Oct. 6, 2017

As of this month, the province of Manitoba has received over 21,000 petitions and letters collected in the province that call for stronger efforts to protect and recover threatened boreal woodland caribou. The correspondences, facilitated by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), were delivered in advance of yesterday’s federal deadline for provinces and territories to outline recovery actions for woodland caribou ranges.

"As a species listed as threatened both provincially and federally, the province holds a legal obligation to create plans for the protection or recovery of caribou populations in each range in Manitoba’’ says Ron Thiessen, Executive Director of CPAWS Manitoba. "The federal government asked on Oct. 5, 2012 that these be completed within five years. The Manitoba government has missed the federal timeline and its own initial timelines for recovery plans despite overwhelming displays of support for caribou protection from thousands of Manitobans..”

In 2006, the province declared they would have action plans by 2010 for three caribou ranges at greatest risk. Now, the Manitoba government's current projection is to have plans for caribou ranges at greatest risk by 2018 and the remainder by 2020.

"That the province has dragged their heels for over a decade on this is unacceptable” Thiessen says, noting that expert provincial staff are simply under resourced to complete the job on a reasonable timeline.    

Equally troubling is that as Manitobans wait for the caribou plans, the province recently opened a number of areas to mineral exploration permit applications despite their overlap with caribou ranges. This includes nearly 48,000 ha of lands near Red Deer Lake, at the heart of The Bog caribou range.

“The animals in the Bog range were federally assessed 'as likely as not to be self-sustaining' meaning there is currently inadequate data to determine if this herd is stable or in decline, and the region is already subject to a high level of planned development. Ten year old estimates put that population at only 50-75 animals. It’s critical to have an effective caribou plan in place before authorizing any further industrial development in this range.”

The Bog caribou range overlaps with the traditional territory of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation. Chief Nelson Genaille is concerned about the well-being of the caribou and the impacts to the health of the environment in the areas that are now open for mineral exploration permit applications, as both exploration and extraction can damage valuable habitats.

“The province slipped this through without consulting us,” said Chief Genaille. “The caribou and all the other wildlife in these parts of our territory have lost a level of protection and Indigenous rights to the land are not being upheld by the province.”

CPAWS sees The Bog caribou range example as indicative of the lack of priority the province is putting on woodland caribou recovery and their legal obligations to the species. CPAWS is calling on the province to complete recovery plans for the The Bog range and all medium to high risk ranges before issuing new resource exploration and development permits within those ranges.

The health of woodland caribou populations is an indicator of the overall health of the boreal ecosystem. In addition to supporting communities of people and wildlife and providing valuable services such as flood mitigation and water filtration, the boreal stores more carbon than any terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, which helps to slow the impacts of global climate change. The benefits of protecting caribou are multi-faceted and broad reaching.

There are currently 15 identified caribou ranges in Manitoba. Estimates put the provincial population near 2500 though population data is widely considered to be insufficient. Boreal woodland caribou in Manitoba were listed as threatened under the Federal Species at Risk Act in 2003, then under the Manitoba Endangered Species Act in 2006.

For further questions and interviews contact;

Ron Thiessen at 204-794-4971 ron@cpawsmb.org

Chief Nelson Genaille, Sapotaweyak Cree Nation at 204-734-8584

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