Caribou Losing Ground Across the Country

December 16, 2014

Manitoba caribou under threat: CPAWS’ annual report
Progress: 2 steps forward, 1 step back                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             In its second annual review of governments’ efforts to conserve Canada’s boreal caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds that threats from industrial development to boreal woodland caribou have continued to increase while conservation and restoration efforts have shown little progress across the country.

“In Manitoba, two positive steps to protect caribou were made this year but we also took a step back,” said Ron Thiessen, Executive Director of CPAWS’ Manitoba chapter.

The good news is that over 1000 square kilometers of caribou habitat was protected from industrial developments with the establishment of Chitek Lake Provincial Park and the province’s revised draft caribou conservation strategy contains a commitment to create large core areas where logging will not take place. On a sour note, a mine was approved in Grass River Provincial Park, which is home to a caribou range where the animals are already designated as highly at risk. Unlike Chitek Lake Park, Grass River and many other provincial parks allow mining.

In other parts of the country, CPAWS found examples of threats growing within vital caribou habitat including natural gas extraction and exploration activities continue to increase in BC; a peat harvesting project is advancing in Saskatchewan; and Alberta has approved about 5,000 km2 of additional oil and gas leases in the past two years.

Woodland caribou live throughout Manitoba’s boreal forest but no longer occur in some areas, such as Whiteshell Provincial Park, largely due to human developments such as logging, which is now banned in provincial parks with the exception of Duck Mountain Provincial Park. The biggest threat to their survival is habitat fragmentation, which increases access by predators. Scientists consider 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.  In 2007, over 1500 scientists from across the globe urged Canadian governments to protect at least half of the boreal forest from industrial developments to ensure it remains a fully functioning component of earth’s life support system.

The 2012 release of the Federal Recovery Strategy for boreal caribou under the Species-at-Risk Act outlined the critical need for conservation and restoration measures in vital caribou habitat across Canada, and called for provinces and territories to complete conservation plans by 2017.   As of this fall, CPAWS found six of the 51 required plans to be in various stages of development, with none completed so far that meet the federal government’s requirements.

“In Manitoba, draft action plans for caribou ranges on Manitoba’s east side are being reworked to ensure they are consistent with the federal strategy,” add Thiessen.

CPAWS found that Manitoba is the only province that legally protected caribou habitat.  Quebec and Newfoundland cut back staff allocated to caribou planning.In the meantime, on December 1st the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)  issued notice that Canada’s entire boreal woodland caribou population is declining because “much of its habitat has been degraded … especially in the southern part of its range.” It cited cumulative impacts of industrial activity as the chief reason, and also for the first time listed the Newfoundland island caribou population as of “special concern” due to its dramatic drop in numbers since the 1990s.

“In light of these findings, we urge immediate action by the Manitoba government to accelerate caribou habitat conservation and restoration measures while the longer-term range plans required under the Species-at-risk Act are being put in place,” asserted Thiessen. “This includes banning new mining in our provincial parks and designing a plan that balances conservation and sustainable developments in the boreal region.”

Take Action: Tell the Manitoba government that recovery of woodland caribou populations requires swift implementation of a provincial strategy and must include large scale protection of their boreal habitat. 

For interviews, contact: Ron Thiessen, 204 794 4971, [email protected]

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