Last Chance to Act for Threatened Manitoba East Side Caribou

March 20, 2012

CPAWS says province’s plans need to be stronger

For Immediate Release

March 20, 2012

Today is the final opportunity for citizens to comment on the Manitoba government’s proposed plans for recovering threatened woodland caribou populations on the southern east side of Lake Winnipeg. CPAWS believes there are strengths to the plans but also serious deficiencies so we have made several recommendations in the hope of making the final plans effective.

“CPAWS is strongly recommending that a combination of permanent and long-term large-scale protected areas be a major focus of these plans,” said executive director of CPAWS’ Manitoba chapter. “Caribou need big intact spaces to avoid predators, find enough food, and relocate in case of a forest fire.”

CPAWS believes the plans place too much emphasis on the unproven and expensive approach of restoring caribou habitat rather than protecting it in its natural state.

“Woodland caribou are in trouble right across Canada,” says Chris Miller, National Conservation Biologist for CPAWS. “Many of the populations are in free-fall and unless efforts are taken to properly protect woodland caribou habitat, the future for this species will be quite bleak”.

“To protect the species, we must permanently protect large intact forests, create caribou conservation zones and new protected areas, and limit the expansion of the industrial footprint in caribou areas,” adds Miller.

Canada’s boreal woodland caribou are threatened by habitat destruction and industrial development. The province’s draft caribou action plans, the first in the country as mandated under federal species legislation, are meant to ensure the survival of the threatened populations.

CPAWS key recommendations:

◦   A combination of permanent and long-term protections of large intact forests needs to be a key objective. Woodland caribou need large, intact boreal forest areas as essential habitat.

◦   The designation of the entire caribou ranges as critical habitat.  Without this designation, the woodland caribou will remain threatened by industrial activities.

◦   No more than 20% of current caribou ranges should be disturbed by industrial activity.

◦   Work fully with First Nations and local stakeholders to protect critical caribou habitat

“The Manitoba government is to be commended for taking this important step in developing caribou action plans,” says Thiessen. “The province is clearly taking a leadership role in this regard, and with some changes to the plans to put greater emphasis on habitat protection, they will have a nationally-significant model for woodland caribou conservation.”

Citizens’ comments to the province’s draft action plans are to be directed to [email protected]

CPAWS believes that conserving boreal woodland caribou habitat across the country is possible while also ensuring a prosperous forest sector.  We are working to achieve both goals through the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.  Through the CBFA, environmental groups are working with the forest sector to propose effective caribou conservation plans that address socio-economic impacts.

For more information:

Ron Thiessen – [email protected], 204 794 4971 OR 204 453 6346

Chris Miller – [email protected], 902 446-4155

CPAWS’ full set of recommendations – see below

Manitoba government draft caribou action plans

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CPAWS’ full recommendations on the caribou action plans

As part of the public review process, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

(CPAWS) is pleased to provide comments and recommendations on the proposed Action Plans for Boreal Woodland Caribou Ranges in Manitoba.

CPAWS has invested considerable effort and expertise over the past five years to engage in boreal woodland caribou conservation planning across the country, with the goal of creating the conditions needed for effective recovery of boreal woodland caribou throughout Canada. We have actively engaged in planning for caribou with the federal government and provinces in order to develop policies that are science-based, embrace Aboriginal knowledge, and which address the need for habitat protection.

We have over 20,000 supporters across the country actively engaged in caribou conservation; this includes more than 1,800 supporters in Manitoba. CPAWS believes that conserving boreal woodland caribou habitat across the country is possible while also ensuring a prosperous forestry sector. We are working to achieve both goals through the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

CPAWS commends Manitoba Conservation for taking a leadership role within Canada by being the first province to develop action plans for boreal woodland caribou populations.

Manitoba Conservation’s action plans have many merits and appropriately set the objective of self-sustaining boreal woodland caribou populations on all existing ranges in Manitoba. The action plans also correctly identify anthropogenic disturbance as the primary stressor of boreal woodland caribou and recognize that management must occur at the landscape scale. CPAWS has long advocated for a landscape level approach to the protection of caribou habitat as the only way to achieve self-sustaining populations across the boreal over the long-term.

We would also like to commend Manitoba Conservation for recognizing that caribou ranges may shift in the future due to both natural disturbances (e.g. wildfires) and anthropogenic disturbances. The recommendation to plan with the possibility of range shifts in mind is appropriate, given the probability of wildfires within the caribou ranges discussed. In this regard, the emphasis throughout the action plans on utilizing an adaptive management approach is appropriate.

However, after reviewing the details of the proposed action plans we have prepared a series of recommendations that we believe must be incorporated to ensure the objective of self-sustaining populations is met.


Permanent protection of large intact forests

A great deal of scientific work has been undertaken to determine how disturbances are affecting boreal woodland caribou.  The science is very clear that anthropogenic disturbances are the primary cause of boreal woodland caribou declines across the country, particularly disturbances that fragment large intact forests.  Indeed, there is a very high degree of scientific confidence (nearly 70%) in explaining the relationship between caribou recruitment and range condition across the boreal. Environment Canada is developing a Federal Recovery Strategy that recommends large intact forests be maintained within caribou ranges and that disturbances be capped to a specific disturbance threshold.

However,  the draft caribou action plans being reviewed for Manitoba do not recommend the permanent protection of additional intact forests within the caribou ranges or the establishment of long-term caribou conservation zones.   Instead, the draft action plans suggest that existing policy and land use plans are sufficient for protecting caribou.  This is not scientifically accurate and the Manitoba government needs to be more ambitious in protecting caribou habitat.  CPAWS-MB recommends that the final version of the caribou action plans require the protection of intact boreal forest within the caribou ranges, that long-term caribou conservation zones be established, and that additional protected areas be created to protect caribou habitat.


·      Establish additional caribou conservation zones and protected areas to permanently protect additional intact boreal forest within the caribou ranges.

·      Require the protection of all remaining large intact boreal forest within the caribou ranges to increase the long-term probability of persistence of the local caribou populations.

Critical habitat designation needed

Manitoba’s Conservation and Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou requires caribou action plans to contain critical habitat designations.  It states, “Critical habitat will be identified in action plans”.  Unfortunately, the two caribou action plans do not contain critical habitat designations.   Instead, they only include vague references to identify “recovery habitat” at some point in the future. This is a long way from what’s recommended in the provincial recovery strategy and CPAWS-MB requests that critical habitat designations be included in the final version of the caribou action plans. This designation should apply to the entire spatial extent of the caribou ranges.


·      Designate the entirety of the caribou ranges as critical habitat in the final version of the caribou action plans.

Adopt a threshold approach to managing boreal woodland caribou habitat

The federal recovery strategy that is currently under review by Environment Canada recommends using a disturbance threshold approach to manage local caribou populations, with the specific threshold being set based upon the long-term probabilities of persistence for local caribou populations.  CPAWS recommends giving boreal woodland caribou populations at least an 80% probability of long-term survival. This equates to setting a disturbance threshold of no more than 20% disturbance within a local caribou range (combined natural and anthropogenic disturbances).  We note that the draft caribou action plans under consideration in Manitoba lack a landscape level approach, which would seek to limit the total disturbance footprint within the caribou ranges.  This is a major shortcoming of the draft caribou action plans and something CPAWS-MB recommends be revised in the final versions.


·      Adopt the precautionary principle when deciding how much industrial disturbance can occur inside a local caribou population range.

·      Establish a disturbance threshold that gives the local caribou populations a much better probability of long-term survival by allowing no more than 20% of the caribou ranges to be impacted by disturbance.

Err on the side of caution when allowing industrial disturbances within caribou ranges

The draft caribou action plans rely on a number of untested theories about caribou habitat restoration.  There is very little scientific evidence to show that boreal woodland caribou can successfully reoccupy anthropogenically disturbed lands, even over the long-term.   For this reason, the draft caribou action plans should NOT be relying on the assumption of reoccupation, but instead should err on the side of caution by permanently protecting known caribou habitat and limiting the industrial footprint of anthropogenic disturbances.  The draft caribou action plans allow for a great deal of anthropogenic disturbance within the caribou ranges, and it appears that the action plans would allow for rotational harvests of large areas of caribou habitat. This is based on the unproven assumption that reoccupation will occur in these areas, when there is ample scientific evidence to suggest that it won’t.


·      The final version of the caribou action plans must NOT assume woodland caribou will permanently reoccupy anthropogenically disturbed sites.

·      Every effort should be undertaken to minimize the expansion of the industrial footprint within caribou ranges and to permanently protect the large intact forests. We know these forests are essential for the long-term survival of local caribou populations.

Ensure proper collaboration with First Nations and local stakeholders

The caribou ranges identified in the action plans are within First Nations’ territory. First Nations have Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and practice traditional activities on the landscape. As the First peoples of the area, they also have long historical knowledge and a unique sense of the land to share, which is highly valuable in initiatives to protect caribou. It is imperative that caribou management is undertaken with First Nations in a transparent process, and that any concerns  from First Nations be addressed. Local stakeholders are also an important source of knowledge regarding caribou and their habitats, as they operate in the area and many reside regionally. Working with them and endeavoring to address their concerns is of high importance.


·      Work fully with First Nations and local stakeholders to protect critical caribou habitat.

Trans-boundary considerations

The local caribou populations under review occur on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, adjacent to the provincial border with Ontario.  It’s likely that these populations extend across the provincial border, requiring consideration of trans-boundary management issues.  CPAWS-MB encourages the Manitoba government to work collaboratively with the Ontario government to protect the local caribou populations and to ensure conservation objectives are being achieved on both sides of the border.


·      Coordinate conservation objectives with the Ontario government and ensure trans-boundary considerations are included in the final version of the caribou action plans.

Develop an effective monitoring program

The action plans contain a thorough management program which would acquire necessary data. However, monitoring effectiveness would be greatly augmented by including numerical objectives.  The plans give direction on proposed management approaches, but tend not to clearly define measures to conserve caribou. For example, the plans note that policy and legislation development will be needed, but provide no specifics. The action plans do  correctly identify engagement and participation of local Aboriginal people. A community-based monitoring program incorporating Indigenous Knowledge would be a great help  to  continuously improve our understanding of these caribou populations.


Ensure monitoring programs are robust and include the use of numerical objectives and targets for tracking progress.

·      Local community-based monitoring programs should be included in the caribou action plans.

Ensure successful implementation

Sufficient annual funding and other required resources will be necessary to ensure the action plans are fully implemented. It is key that the province makes this a priority in its budget allocations.


·      Ensure that Manitoba Conservation and other involved parties have the resources to undertake all the activities identified in the action plans.

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