VANCOUVER – Last week, Environment Canada released the long-awaited Recovery Strategy for boreal woodland caribou, an iconic species threatened with extinction from the Yukon to Labrador. Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), Recovery Strategies must identify, using the best available science and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge, the habitat that the species needs to survive and recover (‘critical habitat’), key threats and mitigation measures and population objectives.
“The Caribou Recovery Strategy contains leading edge science that identifies the quantity and quality of boreal forest habitat that caribou need to survive,” said Rachel Plotkin, David Suzuki Foundation policy analyst. “However, it appears that political agendas have influenced the Strategy and resulted in some components that stray from this science and could jeopardize caribou recovery.”
The Recovery Strategy documents that the primary threat facing woodland caribou is habitat loss and fragmentation due to human land-use activities, which result in increased predation of caribou by wolves. While the Strategy identifies a recovery target of achieving self-sustaining local populations throughout their distribution in Canada, it then breaks Canada’s caribou populations into three subgroups, each with different critical habitat protection regimes.
Seventeen populations are identified as already having sufficient habitat and are thus deemed viable (‘self-sustaining’). For these populations, managers are required maintain 65% of their ranges in undisturbed condition, although some of these ranges, including northern Ontario, have disturbance levels far below 35% at present. A seemingly arbitrary division is made between the remaining, non self-sustaining herds; 12 are deemed important for connectivity, and are to be managed to achieve self-sustaining status through the protection of remaining intact habitat and restoration, while 28, often found in ranges with intense development pressures, are labeled ‘remaining populations,’ and are to be ‘stabilized’ instead of recovered over the next 50 years. Provinces are allowed to decrease critical habitat in these 28 ranges if they ‘provide a plan that will support stabilized local populations through the use of mortality and habitat management tools’ and the federal government accepts this plan and amends the Strategy.
Approximately two-thirds of the ranges for the 17 self-sustaining and 12 connectivity boreal woodland caribou herds are identified as critical habitat. The Strategy identifies that caribou need approximately this quantity of their range in undisturbed condition to achieve survival and recovery.
“The science in the Recovery Strategy clearly identifies that the maintenance and restoration of undisturbed habitat is key to caribou survival and recovery,” continued Plotkin. “It is clear from the science that if the Strategy enables the continued destruction of undisturbed habitat in the ranges of the herds deemed not self-sustaining, it will jeopardize caribou recovery and thus contravene the purpose of the SARA.”
Provincially-led Action Plans that are compliant with the SARA are required to implement the Recovery Strategy across Canada; however, a timeline for Action Plan completion was not included in the Strategy. It will be up to the provinces and the federal government to show leadership by working together to complete Action Plans quickly, to enable recovery.
The Recovery Strategy is posted on the Environment Canada website for a 60 day comment period http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/document/default_e.cfm?documentID=2253.
The David Suzuki Foundation is one of Canada’s leading environmental organizations and is a member of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. As such, we believe that the boreal forest can support both healthy forestry-based communities and healthy boreal woodland caribou populations.
– 30 –
For more information, please contact: Rachel Plotkin, Biodiversity Policy Analyst, (613) 594-9026