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.
Manitoba wildlife conservation experts say the province’s efforts to date—including a recently published recovery strategy for woodland caribou—fall far short of the mark.
Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (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 by listing it as a threatened species.
Yesterday Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said plenty of work and money have gone into the province’s analysis of the caribou’s situation and it is close to committing to protecting the animal.
“We are planning on having the caribou listed in the very near future,” Struthers said.
But Thiessen said the minister said the same thing a year ago.
A new national report released this week by 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”.
Although the federal Species at Risk Act lists the caribou as threatened, the province has refused to follow suit although it has made several commitments in the past to do so.
Listing caribou as a threatened species would mean the province would have to commit to protecting its habitat.
There are an estimated 1,800 to 3,100 caribou left in the province, less than half the population of 50 years ago.
According to William Pruitt, a senior scholar in the department of zoology at the University of Manitoba who has studied caribou for more than 30 years, the province’s most recent recovery strategy uses faulty assumptions and does not acknowledge the scientific work that has already been done.
“The province’s strategy seems to be just generalized statements and motherhood thoughts,” Pruitt said.
He said a more serious approach would require that conservation strategy be required before any development is approved on caribou habitat.
Caribou are 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.
Because their habitat of old-growth boreal forest is often in remote locations, the specific size of herds is not known to any exact degree. The animal, called the grey ghost of the North because it is so shy and elusive, can sometimes grow to 600 pounds.
Thiessen and Pruitt said the province needs to have a mandated habitat protection policy so that protection of caribou and its habitat has to be in place before any other land use is contemplated in the boreal forest.
Thiessen said he believes the province wants to be able to keep its options open when it comes to resource development potential and that’s why it continues to leave caribou off the threatened species list.