Environmentalists want the Manitoba government to order an immediate year-long pause on logging and mining in a sweeping area northwest of Grass River Provincial Park to help woodland caribou recover from a massive forest fire earlier summer.
The fire burned about 55,000 hectares north of Cranberry Portage and destroyed a large part of the Kississing-Naosap caribou herd’s range, Wilderness Committee spokesman Eric Reder said Friday.
The herd is one of three in Manitoba that the province has categorized as high risk due to ongoing or imminent development activities.
Reder and Manitoba Wildlands spokeswoman Gaile Whelan-Enns said the province has to limit development in the area to allow the caribou time to find a new area to feed and calve.
“The caribou aren’t going to be able to live in a forest fire area,” Reder said. “They have to go somewhere. The question is where do they go?”
Reder said the pause in development, including hydroelectric development, must be long enough to cover the year-long cycle of caribou activities—fall breeding, winter forage, spring migration and summer calving.
“At the end of the summer, we should get an idea of recruitment, meaning how many calves have survived,” Reder said.
Many animals in the herd have been collared by biologists to track their movement.
Reder and Whelan-Enns said by the end of next summer, officials should know where the animals have re-located.
Whelan-Enns said the province also needs to update its management plan for Grass River Provincial Park to include protecting natural habitat from logging, mining and hydro development. It was designated as a park in the mid-1960s.
“Grass River Provincial Park is not protected,” Whelan-Enns said. “The bottom line is there is no protected habitat and now there’s 55,000 hectares of significant habitat burned.”
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie should put in place an action plan to protect not only the Kississing-Naosap herd, but all caribou in the province.
Blaikie is on holidays and a spokesperson from Manitoba Conservation was unavailable Friday.
Reder said it’s possible environmentalists may ask Ottawa to step in to protect Manitoba’s caribou under federal law.
“If we find that the province isn’t looking after caribou as well as they should be, then there are legal obligations under the federal Species At Risk Act which should be triggered,” he said.
>Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2010 A8