New Plan to Recover Threatened Caribou

Today, the Manitoba government released its draft strategy to recover its woodland caribou populations. Here is what CPAWS Manitoba had to say about the announcement:

Boreal woodland caribou are listed as “threatened” across Canada, requiring provincial governments to develop action plans for recovery of local populations. Upon initial analysis, CPAWS believes Manitoba’s strategy is the strongest in the nation.

“Manitoba’s unprecedented commitment to establish large areas of caribou habitat that are exempt from forestry is good news for this threatened species.” said Ron Thiessen, Executive Director of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “We all need the boreal ecosystems where caribou live to be healthy as we plan for vibrant economies with First Nations and others.”

Manitoba’s strategy exceeds all of Canada’s other recovery plans with a commitment to protect and manage for 65 to 80 per cent intact suitable boreal caribou habitat in each caribou management unit.

Scientists consider caribou, the Canadian icon on our 25 cent piece, as indicators of the health of the boreal forest. If caribou no longer inhabit an area, it is an indication that the boreal forest there may no longer be fully-functioning as a significant part of earth’s life support system. The biggest threat to caribou’s survival is habitat loss and fragmentation, which increases access by predators.

Implementation is the key to success with any strategy or plan. There are other Canadian jurisdictions, such as Ontario and Quebec, that have developed conservation strategies for caribou but they are failing to live up to them.

An outstanding concern is a lack of timelines for achieving the indicated benchmarks. The good news is that we have time to make this important change.

The draft Manitoba’s Boreal Woodland Caribou Recovery Strategy is available for public comment on Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship’s website until August 1st, 2014. All comments will be considered during preparation of the final strategy for future release.

We believe that conserving boreal woodland caribou habitat across the country is possible while also ensuring prosperous forest-dependant communities. CPAWS is working to achieve both goals through the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA). Through the CBFA, environmental groups and the forestry sector, with involvement of affected First Nations, are working together on producing effective caribou conservation recommendations that we hope governments will consider when implementing the caribou strategy.

The boreal forest is bountiful with wildlife and resources. As the ancestral home of First Nations, it is key that planning for caribou and the boreal’s future is done in partnership with First Nations, recognizes treaties and rights outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and with free, prior, and informed consent.

Boreal woodland caribou still inhabit the majority of their historical range in Manitoba but a significant band that used to be the southern part of their range is no longer inhabited by them due to human encroachment. The most notable area where they no longer occur is Whiteshell Provincial Park.

The caribou boreal forest home is the world’s largest source of fresh water, the northern lungs of the planet, and its massive carbon stores help to curb climate change.

Boreal caribou were listed as threatened in Manitoba in 2006 under the Endangered Species Act. Boreal caribou can be affected by a variety of factors including:

– habitat destruction or alteration from forest fires;
– habitat fragmentation if roads, trails, transmission lines, logging operations or mineral exploration are not properly planned;
– increased access for predators;
– over-hunting; and
– disease.

The recovery strategy includes an impressive commitment to protect 65% to 80% of intact suitable boreal caribou habitat in each management area. The strategy is a 10-year plan and will be reviewed every ten years henceforth. Members of the public now have 60 days to comment on the plan.

This is a great step in the right direction, and congratulations to Manitoba, and Manitobans in that regard. Here’s hoping that Manitoba lives up to expectations created by this strategy.

By James Early