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Environmental groups demand action on caribou protection

By Gilbert Ngabo,
Toronto Metro,
October 10 2017

Last week was the deadline to come up with a strategy, but it didn't happen.

Environmental groups are slamming the federal and provincial governments for failing to protect the boreal caribou, one of the country's endangered species.

Back in 2012, under the federal Species At Risk Act, provincial and territorial governments agreed to come up with concrete plans to ensure the protection of caribou habitat within five years. The federal government pledged to review and pass those plans within that period.

But that deadline passed last week, and "not a single plan has been finalized," said Julee Boan, boreal program manager at non-profit Ontario Nature.

"It's disappointing," she said. "In Canada we have about 37 out of 51 caribou herds that have been identified as declining, and that's a substantial problem. The longer we delay, the less likelihood there is that we'll have recovery of the species."

Widespread industrial activity especially in oil, gas, mining and forestry in Northern Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and the Territories is the main factor driving habitat loss and alteration, said Boan.

Loss of habitat is particularly troubling for the boreal caribou population, a forest-dwelling species that stays mostly in the same area, she added.

A joint statement from groups including Ontario Nature, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Wildlands League calls for provinces and territories to immediately stop the expansion of industries in boreal caribou ranges.

According to the Federal Recovery Strategy, boreal caribou need at least 65 per cent of their habitat to be undisturbed in order to survive. But some of the existing habitats have "exceeded 35 per cent disturbance," putting the caribou population at risk of extinction, according to the environmentalists.

The groups also urge governments to collaborate with Indigenous communities and get their full consent on the necessary steps to protect the habitat. The majority of the remaining boreal caribou population is found in First Nations territories.

"There's definitely space to protect critical caribou habitat and protect jobs, but I think we need a political will," said Boan. "All we are asking is to stop the expansion of industrial footprint where caribou are declining."

Requests for comment on the issue from both the Recovery Planning team at Environment Canada and the Ontario Boreal Woodland Caribou Recovery Team were not answered by deadline.

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