Ontario: Stop Greenlighting Caribou Habitat Degradation

NRDC has called on Ontario to reconsider a troubling proposal that continues to prioritize unsustainable logging over protecting threatened species like the boreal caribou.
Boreal forest clearcut south of Waswanipi, Quebec, November 2015

Guest blog by Jennifer Skene

NRDC has called on Ontario to reconsider a troubling proposal that continues to prioritize unsustainable logging over protecting threatened species like the boreal caribou. In January, Ontario doubled down on a policy that jeopardizes the future of boreal caribou and other at-risk species in the province, gifting the logging industry two more years of exemptions under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA). These exemptions, as we reported in January, have severe implications for threatened boreal caribou in the province, giving industry a near-carte blanche to degrade and destroy critical habitat.

NRDC’s comments to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) highlight the fact that boreal caribou cannot afford two more years of widespread habitat loss in Ontario. Today, only two of Ontario’s fourteen boreal caribou ranges are sufficiently undisturbed to allow the caribou to persist without corrective action. Habitat loss is the largest threat to boreal caribou, and scientists estimate that boreal caribou will be locally extinct in Ontario within 76 years if current trends continue.

While some trade group representatives claim that the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA), which regulates logging operations, serves as an adequate substitute for the ESA, the CFSA contains no provisions promoting habitat and species recovery. Instead it focuses on the far less stringent goal of “minimizing impact”—a grossly insufficient standard of protection for species at risk. By definition, for species at risk, survival is precarious, and any new adverse impacts to these species increase the risk of harm. Without recovery measures like those originally in the ESA, there is little chance to reverse the decline of boreal caribou populations across the province.

Ontario is risking its reputation in the international marketplace by extending these exemptions. The U.S. marketplace, as the destination for over 80% of the forest product exports from Ontario, has a responsibility to ensure that its demand does not threaten boreal caribou. Last fall, companies with a market cap value of almost $600 billion expressed their desire to purchase forest products that do not come at the expense of boreal caribou. Ontario’s proposed exemption extension, if implemented, will send a very troubling signal about Ontario’s commitment to being a sustainable supplier, especially in light of its failure to implement caribou habitat protection plans.

Rather than renewing the industry exemptions, the province should implement mandatory and enforceable protections for critical habitat, developed in partnership with Indigenous Peoples. These protections should ensure that no more than 35 percent of each caribou range is degraded, as outlined in the federal government’s 2012 Boreal Caribou Recovery Strategy. We urge Ontario to embrace this opportunity to protect some of its most treasured species and landscapes. Protecting caribou habitat by rejecting measures like proposed exemptions is vital to ensuring that the boreal forest remains a healthy ecosystem, and would help preserve Ontario’s reputation in the international marketplace.

For more information, you can read NRDC’s comments to Ontario’s MNRF here