Canada’s Boreal Woodland Caribou Still At Risk

CPAWS annual review finds limited progress nationally in 2015

EDMONTON – In its third annual review of government action to conserve Canada's boreal woodland caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds there has been spotted progress – with too few jurisdictions showing significant leadership in protecting the species that long graced our 25-cent piece.  

Under the federal Species-at-Risk Act, all provinces and territories are required to have plans in place to recover their boreal caribou populations by 2017, based on the 2012 Final Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou.

“In Alberta, we give credit to the government for deferring the sale of oil and gas leases in caribou habitat over the last six months, however, we are deeply concerned that the situation for boreal caribou has not improved over the last year,” says Alison Ronson, Executive Director of CPAWS Northern Alberta.

“We are actively encouraging Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips to take more action next year on boreal caribou habitat protection. This includes engaging environmental organizations and Aboriginal communities in range planning exercises, and implementing interim protection measures in caribou habitat while range planning is ongoing,” adds Ronson.

Across Canada, CPAWS observed the most positive government policy actions in 2015 on boreal caribou conservation in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  The organization also noted early positive signs of change in Alberta’s new government’s approach to boreal caribou habitat conservation, but gave all other provinces and territories much more mixed reviews, with the biggest concerns reserved for British Columbia and Ontario.

In terms of acres on the ground, new protected areas were established in 2015 in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba that will conserve approximately 16,900 km2 of boreal caribou habitat – 16 times more than was protected last year. However, this represents only about 1% of the total area of boreal caribou habitat identified as “critical” in the federal recovery strategy.

Boreal Caribou occupy about 2.4 million km2 of Canada’s boreal forest – less than half of their North American range in the 19th century.  The biggest threat to their survival is habitat fragmentation, which increases access by predators. Scientists consider boreal caribou as bellwethers of the health of the boreal forest, which also cleanses our air and water and stores vast amounts of carbon within its soils, moderating climate change. 

In Alberta, boreal woodland caribou herds have declined 50% over the last eight years. The species is considered “Threatened” in Alberta under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and the federal Species-at-Risk Act.

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