Manitoba Failing to Save Woodland Caribou: New Report

May 30, 2006

As Canada’s woodland caribou continue to dwindle, governments are failing to safeguard their survival, according to a national report being released today by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Sierra Club of Canada.

Manitoba’s woodland caribou were declared “threatened” under the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA) in 2002, and by the Committee on Species on Endangered Species several years ago. This iconic species depends on large intact boreal forest ecosystems to avoid predators and to find an adequate supply of Lichen, an essential food source. The provincial government estimates that Manitoba’s woodland caribou population has decreased by 50%.

As woodland caribou are extremely sensitive to changes in their habitat, they are an indicator species of boreal forest health. In other words, if woodland caribou disappear from a region, it’s clear that ecosystem is compromised for all life that depends on it – songbirds, eagles, fox, lynx, and humans. Woodland caribou have already lost at least one-half of their historic Canadian range largely due to industrial expansion.

In Manitoba, woodland caribou still thrive in areas such as the vast, unspoiled boreal forests east of Lake Winnipeg – but they are threatened by existing and proposed industrial developments such as logging and mining. Creation of an interconnected network of large protected areas would secure a healthy future for woodland caribou in the region. The Manitoba government recently put communities and conservation first on the east side by prohibiting Manitoba Hydro from running almost 900 kilometers of transmission lines through the area’s intact boreal forests.

“Manitoba’s woodland caribou are walking the road to extinction unless the Manitoba government lists and protects them under the Manitoba Endangered Species Act. The province’s own species advisory committee has recommended this action repeatedly since 1994, and the NDP made a policy commitment to adopt this recommendation in 2000. On top of that, within the last year, over 10,000 Manitobans have sent letters to Gary Doer requesting this legal protection,” says Ron Thiessen, Executive Director of CPAWS Manitoba.

National Report

The report, “Uncertain Future: Woodland Caribou and Canada’s Boreal Forest” reviews specific actions by governments that, if taken, would optimize survival for Canada’s boreal woodland caribou. It assesses governments’ records for establishing legally protected caribou habitat, adopting land use plans that incorporate caribou habitat needs, policies, and regulations within the managed forest, and provincial recovery plans mandated under SARA.

“By and large it’s a disappointing picture. So far none of our governments has made a commitment to protect woodland caribou’s remaining intact boreal habitat, and in most provinces, land use decisions are being made before plans for large-scale ecosystem conservation have been created,” said Gillian McEachern and Rachel Plotkin, authors of the report.

Manitoba Caribou Strategy Released

“There are so many holes in the Strategy that it reminds me of Swiss cheese.”

  – Ron Thiessen, CPAWS

The Manitoba government released its Conservation and Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou last month. The Strategy fails to embrace the need to protect large caribou habitats and cites unproven methods for caribou survival that cater to the forest industry such as creating “future habitat” through prescribed logging.

Renowned Manitoba caribou expert Dr. William O. Pruitt Jr. believes the Strategy could be a much better product.

“This document is primarily very generalized statements that appear to be “feel good” types, sort of “motherhood” thoughts. It also appears to have been assembled rather hastily and superficially. It also needs simple editing, proofreading, and checking of references,” said Pruitt.

The Caribou Strategy would likely have been a more complete and useful tool for caribou conservation if it had been open to external review by the public and wildlife experts. The document states an objective to consult with First Nations, interest groups, and the general public – yet provides no mechanisms for input or improvement. Carolyne Bruyere of Sageeng First Nation is displeased as the province assured her that widespread input would be a part of the Strategy’s development process.

“We were promised at the 2005 National Caribou Sessions that First Nations and the public would be consulted in producing the Manitoba Caribou Strategy. The province must provide a means to open up the Strategy for improvements based on citizen and expert participation,” said Bruyere.

“At a minimum, the Strategy needs to include mandated habitat protection, action plans that have firm timelines for implementation, and assurance that protection of caribou and their habitats will be a key objective of land use planning in our boreal forest. Protected land decisions must be made with input from all interested Manitobans and consent from First Nations whose traditional lands and resource areas are affected,” stated Thiessen.

“It’s not too late for governments to reverse the boreal forest-dwelling woodland caribou’s fate-in fact, there is a tremendous opportunity to show the world that we can be leaders in big-scale wilderness and caribou conservation—if we act now. But current management approaches clearly aren’t working,” said McEachern and Plotkin.

Full report and public Action Center found at

Caribou photos for media use available upon request.

Manitoba’s Conservation and Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou found at:


Ron Thiessen – Executive Director – CPAWS Manitoba

Phone: (204) 794-4971 or (204) 453-6346

E-mail: [email protected]

Mission Statements

CPAWS is Canada’s community-based, non-profit wilderness protection organization. With 13 chapters across Canada and 20,000 members, it has helped to conserve over 40 million hectares of Canada’s most treasured wild places since 1963. It is a signatory to the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, along with other leading conservation organizations, resource companies and First Nations.

Sierra Club of Canada has been active in Canada since 1963. The national office was established in Ottawa in 1989 and has four major campaign areas: Health & Environment, Protecting Biodiversity, Atmosphere & Energy, and Transition to a Sustainable Economy.

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