Manitoba woodland caribou declining, need habitat protection

March 2, 2009

CPAWS is surprised by the article “Woodland herds holding their own” as it is widely understood that woodland caribou populations are declining across North America and Manitoba is no exception. The Manitoba government’s Conservation Strategy makes it clear this species is threatened in our province and has already disappeared from southern parts of its historical range. For example, the woodland caribou that once made their home in Whiteshell provincial park have vanished due to human disturbances.

The article also states “timber harvesting in caribou country is limited to old-growth boreal forests, which is not prime caribou habitat.” This information is in stark contrast to Manitoba’s Conservation Strategy that states “woodland caribou are uniquely adapted to old-growth forest habitats.” In addition, both federal and provincial species committees, as well as caribou biologists across the country, agree that old-growth forests are a key habitat for woodland caribou and commercial forestry operations do significantly impact caribou habitat. Since the article was published, we have spoken with the provincial biologist that was interviewed and learned that his words were misunderstood on this point.

CPAWS commends and condemns Manitoba’s Caribou Conservation Strategy. It has the right goals but the current strategy will not achieve the recovery of the species. Large-scale protection of their boreal forests habitats is the only method proven to ensure a sustainable future for this species at risk. Other approaches are merely experiments that may prove to be another failed attempt by people to control or manage nature.

The good news is the Manitoba government acknowledges woodland caribou as a threatened species under its Endangered Species Act, which mandates protection of its boreal forest habitat. This leads to the necessary action to protect a minimum of 50% of Manitoba’s boreal forest, commitments that the Ontario and Quebec governments have already made. This outcome will help ensure the survival of this threatened species but also assist greatly in protecting the boreal’s essential role as the world’s largest source of fresh water, the northern lungs of the planet, and the largest terrestrial storehouse of carbon, which is crucial to slowing the accelerator pedal on climate change. This is Premier Doer’s moment to show Manitoba as a Canadian leader in creating a healthy future for caribou, Manitobans, and the Earth.

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