MONTREAL – The attempt to save 79 caribou a year could cost 5,675 direct jobs in the province of Quebec and more than $741 million in lost economic activity, according to calculations carried out by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) based on the federal government’s recommendations. Ottawa had given the provinces until October 5 to submit their plans in this matter.

“If Quebec implements all of these recommendations to the letter, the reduction in the harvest would represent a loss of 72 direct jobs for the uncertain preservation of a single caribou,” explains Alexandre Moreau, public policy analyst at the MEI. “This would represent a total cost of $9.4 million per caribou, with no guaranteed results, for the three regions affected by the boreal caribou recovery plan, namely the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, the North Shore, and Northern Quebec.”

The measures proposed for protecting the habitat of the boreal caribou would have the effect of considerably reducing the volumes of wood available for harvest, which would impose substantial economic costs on the regions that depend heavily on forestry activities. Just for the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, the reduction of volumes available for harvest would be around 25 per cent. This would represent a loss of $261 million of economic activity and 1,762 direct jobs, which means a cost of $11.3 million per caribou potentially saved, according to MEI.

“Conservation measures to protect biodiversity are certainly necessary, and many are already in place, but they must have concrete positive effects and costs that are not out of proportion relative to their objectives. However, these two criteria do not seem to be respected when it comes to the boreal caribou,” adds Moreau.

If the recovery plan targeted just forests where the boreal caribou are most likely to survive, it would be possible to limit the economic impact on local communities that depend on the forestry industry. In the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, the cost of the preservation measures would thus drop from $261 million to $86 million.

MEI notes that the Quebec government is showing great transparency by making several impact studies publicly available, allowing it to evaluate the economic costs of the recovery plan, which is not the case in the other provinces.

“Knowing that the government is well aware of the costs, and especially of the uncertainty regarding the evolution of caribou populations, let’s hope that it makes an enlightened decision that takes into account the basic principles of sustainable development, which also includes the economic dimension,” concludes Morneau.

The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization.