Canada’s caribou under growing threat: CPAWS’ annual report

  • Published on Dec 16 2014 |
  • This article is tagged as: caribou, forests

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Prince Albert -- In its second annual review of governments' efforts to conserve Canada's boreal caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds that threats from industrial development to boreal woodland caribou have continued to increase while conservation and restoration efforts have shown little progress across the country.

Across the country, CPAWS found examples of threats growing within vital caribou habitat including: 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; and Alberta has approved about 5,000 km2 of additional oil and gas leases in the past two years. 

Woodland caribou occupy most of Saskatchewan’s boreal forest at naturally low densities. They have long disappeared from portions of the southern boreal forest and the southernmost portion of their current range is where they are now at greatest risk. The biggest threat to their survival is habitat fragmentation, which increases access by predators. Scientists consider 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.  

The 2012 release of the Federal Recovery Strategy for boreal caribou under the Species-at-Risk Act outlined the critical need for conservation and restoration measures in vital caribou habitat across Canada, and called for provinces and territories to complete conservation plans by 2017.  

As of this fall, CPAWS found six of the 51 required plans to be in various stages of development, with none completed so far that meet the federal government’s requirements.

“In Saskatchewan so far 1 caribou range conservation plan has been started. Overall, Saskatchewan is beginning to make good progress towards caribou conservation, but we still have a lot of work to do with regards to research, planning and integrating the various users of the forest, stakeholders, and First Nations and Metis communities into the process,” says CPAWS-Saskatchewan Executive Director, Gord Vaadeland.

CPAWS found that only one province and one territory implemented concrete measures that will protect boreal woodland caribou in the past 12 months. Manitoba created a new park protecting about 1,000 km2 of habitat, and Northwest Territories listed boreal caribou as threatened under its new species-at-risk legislation.  Quebec and Newfoundland cut back staff allocated to caribou planning.

In the meantime, on December 1st the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)  issued notice that Canada’s entire boreal woodland caribou population is declining because “much of its habitat has been degraded … especially in the southern part of its range.” It cited cumulative impacts of industrial activity as the chief reason, and also for the first time listed the Newfoundland island caribou population as of “special concern” due to its dramatic drop in numbers.

“In light of these findings, we encourage continued urgent action by Saskatchewan to implement caribou habitat conservation and restoration measures while the longer-term range plans required under the Species-at-risk Act are being put in place,” adds Vaadeland.  “This includes refusing approval to new development projects that pose an immediate threat to Woodland caribou and their habitat in places where they are most at risk.”


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For interviews, contact:

Gord Vaadeland, Executive Director – CPAWS-Saskatchewan