Many people are resolved in 2019 to start getting on a treadmill. Canada’s problem is it won’t resolve to get off. Instead, we're about have yet another year in the books without any real action from Canada to stop the continuous cycle of boreal caribou habitat degradation. In a report released today, the Canadian federal government found that, while provinces have taken small measures, there is very little standing between boreal caribou habitat and the logger’s saw. Provinces and territories have failed to implement the required protections, and instead continue to approve expanded logging at the expense of caribou and other species in the boreal forest. Getting off this treadmill of irresponsible logging is a resolution that Canada has to make—and stick to. Species, Indigenous ways of life, and the global climate depend on it.
Boreal caribou are an “indicator species,” meaning the health of their populations is considered a barometer for the health of the boreal forest more broadly. As the federal government has made clear in recent reports, industrial activities are rapidly degrading large areas of the boreal forest, and are the biggest threat to boreal caribou. Between 1996 and 2015, more than 28 million acres of boreal forest were degraded from logging alone—an area the size of Ohio.
While the report notes that some progress has been made to protect boreal caribou, none of these measures meet the requirements outlined in the 2012 Recovery Strategy. The Recovery Strategy’s scientifically-grounded requirements state that, to have a 60% chance of survival, boreal caribou need at least 65% of their habitat left intact. There are no plans in place to meet this threshold. The only leadership has come from Indigenous Peoples, many of whom depend on caribou for their ways of life. Indigenous communities across Canada are crafting their own caribou recovery plans, monitoring programs, and protected areas, offering the only meaningful solutions for ensuring boreal caribou’s long-term survival.
Canada’s lack of action is not only threatening the ways of life of Indigenous Peoples and an iconic species—it is undermining its international reputation and pushing the planet closer to a climate disaster. The global community just met in Katowice, Poland, to discuss how it can keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid truly apocalyptic climate scenarios. Protecting forests—including boreal caribou habitat—will be essential to meeting that target. The global boreal holds more carbon than all the currently accessible oil, gas, and coal reserves combined, and boreal caribou habitat contains some of the most carbon-rich forest areas. When the boreal is degraded, it not only loses its capacity to continue sequestering carbon, but it also releases carbon that had been locked up. Failing to protect caribou habitat means unleashing this devastating carbon store and possibly closing the door on a livable future for our children.
The U.S. has its own role to play in preventing boreal caribou habitat degradation. Each year Americans consume vast quantities of tissue products—including paper towels, toilet paper, and facial tissue—sourced from the boreal forest. These single-use products, made from trees that are often hundreds of years old, then go straight into the trash bin or toilet. In the face of boreal caribou declines, climate change, and threats to Indigenous ways of life, tissue companies should pass their own New Year’s resolutions to end this “tree-to-toilet pipeline” and create more products made from recycled materials—not virgin wood.
In the not-too-distant future, there will come a time when it’s too late for New Year’s resolutions—the caribou will be gone. Each year, the chance for recovery diminishes. This year, it became too late for some herds—including the last three caribou in the contiguous United States. In 2019, more will disappear unless Canada takes action. In 2020, more still. The cycle of destruction has to end with the passing of 2018. It’s time to get off the treadmill.