The Manitoba government’s continued refusal to include the woodland caribou on its endangered species list is contributing to the species’ declining numbers according to wilderness experts.
A new national report released by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Sierra Club of Canada called “Uncertain Future: Woodland Caribou and Canada’s Boreal Forest,” calls efforts to protect the caribou’s old-growth boreal forest habitat “a disappointing picture.”
Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of CPAWS said Manitoba Premier Gary Doer has received 10,000 letters over the past year asking the province to commit to protecting the caribou habitat.
Although Manitoba once listed caribou as endangered, the animals are now classified as threatened. Listing them as endangered would mean the province would have to commit to protecting habitat.
There are an estimated 1,800-to-3,100 caribou left in the province, less than half the population of 50 years ago.
Caribou is considered an indicator species of the health of the boreal forest – the spruce and pine forests of much of northern Canada. As the caribou population declines it means the boreal forest ecosystem which is important to freshwater supplies in North America is becoming vulnerable.
Meanwhile, conservation groups are warning that Canada’s declining herds of woodland caribou will only survive if governments move to protect large tracts of northern forest from industrial development.
Only about 184,000 of the shy, elusive animals remain in small groups scattered in remote areas of mature and old-growth forest.
Without government action now, the species could disappear from Alberta within decades and in Ontario by the end of the century, says a the report.
“The species remains extremely vulnerable to industrial landscape pressures such as logging, mining and oil and gas explorations,” says the report obtained by the Canadian Press.
“If development continues to push into intact forest areas used by woodland caribou, these boreal icons could become extinct.”
Woodland caribou are also in decline in other provinces and territories from Yukon to Newfoundland.
The report calls on governments to create networks of interconnected permanently protected areas within current caribou ranges.
—With files from John Cotter, Canadian Press