Canada Has Done Little to Save the Endangered Caribou, Report Finds

Boreal Caribou are estimated to occupy 2.4 million square kilometers of Canada's boreal forest--less than half of their North American range in the 19th century. (Photo: Bruce McKay/flickr/cc)

Canada Has Done Little to Save the Endangered Caribou, Report Finds

Despite existence of federal species-management plan, only one province and one territory implemented concrete measures in the past 12 months that will protect the caribou

In its second annual review of government efforts to conserve Canada's boreal caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds that threats to this species from industrial development--and especially from the fossil fuels sector--have continued to increase while conservation and restoration efforts have shown little progress across the country.

"Looking for Action: Caribou Losing Ground" (pdf), a report released Tuesday, notes that the caribou "is often an indicator of a healthy boreal forest ecosystem," and that "[i]f we successfully conserve our remaining boreal caribou populations, we will not only save one of our country's most iconic wildlife species, but will also be conserving significant areas of the world's remaining intact forests and wetlands."

While the Canadian government in 2012 released a federal recovery strategy for boreal caribou under the country's Species-at-Risk Act, provinces and territories have been slow to implement concrete conservation and restoration measures. In fact, CPAWS found that only one province (Manitoba) and one territory (Northwest Territories) implemented concrete measures in the past 12 months that will protect the species.

On the other hand, Manitoba has approved a mine in one of its provincial parks; natural gas extraction and exploration activities continue to increase in BC; a peat harvesting project is advancing in Saskatchewan; Alberta has approved about 5,000 square kilometers of additional oil and gas leases in the past two years--all actions that continue to put the caribou population at risk. Quebec and Newfoundland actually cut back on staff assigned to caribou protection.

"It's been another year of too slow progress while the health of Canada's boreal caribou continues to decline," said CPAWS national executive director Eric Hebert-Daly. "Despite scientific information about the negative impact of industrial activity on caribou and the importance of planning for conservation before approving new developments, on the ground it appears to be largely business as usual."

To reverse these trends, the CPAWS report calls for both accelerated implementation of conservation plans, increased transparency from governments on steps taken, and solicitation of input from the Canadian public at-large and indigenous communities in particular.

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