Canada’s boreal caribou are under threat, and provinces lag behind in promises to help

caribou [Credit: Claire Elliott]

A recent report from Environment Canada has revealed that all of the provinces have failed in their commitments to protect boreal caribou.

Five years ago, the provinces were charged with developing plans to protect the caribou’s habitat, the boreal forest, which is vital to the caribou’s survival. The provinces and territories were given until October 5, 2017 to develop plans that would “demonstrate how they will protect the species’ critical habitat under their jurisdiction.” None of the provinces met the deadline, though some have now submitted drafts or portions of drafts of their plans.

“I think the provinces and the territories recognize that this is a very complicated subject and involves trying to find a path that will meet the recovery needs of the caribou, but do so in a way that is sensitive to the needs of economic actors in the boreal forest,” Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, told the CBC.

caribou in brush
In Ontario, logging companies are exempt from laws requiring the protection of caribou habitats. [Credit: Jonathan Anstey]

Boreal caribou have been classified as a species at risk since 2003, and their numbers have been steadily shrinking. Some caribou populations have less than 100 animals. Caribou require large swathes of the boreal forest in order to survive, but these forests have been declining due to human industry and development. According to Environment Canada’s report, “habitat condition in the majority of [caribou] ranges has worsened since 2012.”

In Ontario, industrial logging is one of the major causes of the caribou’s loss of habitat. Nevertheless, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has granted the logging industry a five-year exemption from Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, meaning that forestry operations are allowed to destroy boreal habitats. “It means that the Endangered Species Act doesn’t do what it professes to do,” Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature, told the Toronto Star.

Ontario Nature has drafted a letter to Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change urging them to protect caribou habitats in the province, and is asking citizens to sign.

Meanwhile, Environment Canada is doing an assessment of caribou populations and habitat across Canada that will be released in 2018. If the provinces have not taken action to protect habitats by then, the federal government may force them to comply.

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