OTTAWA – A report on the progress of recovery efforts for boreal caribou shows that some progress has been made by governments and industry in the past five years, but that caribou populations continue to decline and habitat disturbance continues to increase. The report emphasizes the need for all stakeholders to do more.

The Report on the Progress of the Recovery-Strategy Implementation for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal Population in Canada, for the Period 2012 to 2017, was released Oct. 31 by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

The report highlights federal, provincial, and territorial progress in implementing the 2012 recovery strategy for boreal caribou. It includes assessments of population and habitat conditions and identifies where further protection and recovery efforts are required.

Speaking to the media about the report, Kirsten Querbach of Environment and Climate Change Canada, said, “Of course, we recognize the importance of balancing economic activity with the recovery of boreal caribou.”

ECCC is following a risk-based model that associates habitat disturbance with probability of recovery for caribou populations. Under this model, the aim is to keep 65 per cent of caribou habitat undisturbed. Data released to the media by ECCC show that some caribou ranges in Ontario and Quebec, and many ranges in Alberta, do not currently meet that threshold.

Habitat disturbance has increased since 2012. Based on an analysis of disturbance between 2010 and 2015, habitat disturbance (human activity and fire) increased in approximately 67 per cent of caribou ranges, decreased in 17 per cent of ranges, and saw no change in 16 per cent of ranges. When looking only at anthropogenic disturbance (caused by human activity) for the same period, it increased in 57 per cent of ranges, decreased in 18 per cent of ranges, and remained stable in 25 per cent of ranges.

While the federal ministry has an obligation to protect the boreal caribou under the Species at Risk Act, the primary responsibility for protecting caribou habitat falls provincial and territorial governments. Provinces and territories have the responsibility for management of lands, natural resources, and habitat where boreal caribou live.

Range plans from the provinces were due in October, but no province or territory has submitted a completed range plan. The report notes that “all are presently working to address the issue of caribou protection and recovery.”

Next spring, the federal government will assess current and future plans to protect critical habitat in caribou ranges. If it is determined that critical habitat is not sufficiently protected, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change may recommend to cabinet that the federal government step in and impose its own rules regarding caribou protection.

Photo courtesy of Forest Products Association of Canada.


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