Parks group calls for action to protect Manitoba caribou

August 30, 2007

THE Manitoba government has made the right noises about protecting the woodland caribou but so far it hasn’t followed up with any action says the local arm of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The society and the Sierra Club of Canada reviewed Manitoba’s recovery strategy for the Woodland Caribou and issued a report Tuesday.

CPAWS Manitoba executive director Ron Thiessen said he would be much happier if the government had taken steps to protect large areas of the Boreal Forest where the caribou live, including the east side of Lake Winnipeg, parts of the Interlake and west of Lake Winnipegosis.

“What we’ve seen is a commitment to protect,” said Ron Thiessen, Manitoba executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “What we’d like to see is them follow through and sooner rather than later.”

The Woodland Caribou was listed as threatened under Manitoba’s Endangered Species Act in 2006. There are entire sections of the province where the caribou no longer roam, including the Whiteshell Provincial Park.

The species population has been cut in half since 1950 and an estimated 1,800 to 3,200 animals remain in 10 different ranges across the province.

The report, penned mostly by Trent University professor Jim Schaefer, says protecting the caribou is the “greatest conservation challenge in the boreal forest” but also concludes Manitoba is in a unique position to actually do something about it.

The caribou populations have declined to a point in many other jurisdictions—including the Maritimes and many U.S. states—where restoring them is no longer possible.

Loss of their habitat, due to mining, logging, or other human activities, is the single biggest factor in the caribou’s destruction, the report says.

“Protecting large areas of boreal forest is the only thing proven to work to protect caribou,” said Thiessen.

Manitoba Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said his government has hired two biologists to identify and map caribou habitat in Manitoba and he said the province is currently working with first nations to set aside land for protection.

The first area likely to be given protected status will be the boreal forest around Poplar River First Nation on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, said Struthers.

He wouldn’t give a timeline for when that may happen.

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