NRDC Calls on Canada’s Government to Protect Boreal Caribou

Yesterday, NRDC urged Canada’s federal government to take immediate action to protect the boreal woodland caribou (boreal caribou). Our message to the federal government is clear: the Canadian government must be prepared to step in to protect boreal caribou should the provinces fail to act.
Le caribou des bois
Credit: Howard Sandler

Co-authored by Jennifer Skene

Yesterday, NRDC urged Canada’s federal government to take immediate action to protect the boreal woodland caribou (boreal caribou) through our submitted comments on Canada’s 2017 Action Plan for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal Population, in Canada (Action Plan). In those comments, we ask the federal government to ensure that this iconic species is protected from unsustainable logging degrading their boreal forest habitat.

Our message to the federal government is clear: NRDC supports the Action Plan’s emphasis on scientific studies and status reports to inform caribou protections, but this research cannot come at the expense of immediate action and a strong protection scheme. We know enough about the decline of boreal caribou to act now, and with the October 5 deadline for provinces to submit their boreal caribou range plans looming, the Canadian government must be prepared to step in to protect boreal caribou should the provinces fail to act.

Boreal caribou populations across Canada have declined due in large part to habitat loss from rampant industrial activity—particularly logging. Each day forestry companies log an average of 3,858 acres of boreal forest—the equivalent of 2,923 American football fields—much of it occurring in boreal caribou habitat. The boreal caribou, which is an icon of Canada’s wilderness and vital to many Indigenous communities, been listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) since 2003 but has received little meaningful protection. The Canadian government’s own reports show that only 14 of Canada’s 51 boreal caribou herds are self-sustaining in the long-term. If trends continue, 30% of boreal caribou could disappear in the next 15 years.

The Action Plan released by Canada’s federal government provides a broad outline for research, protection, and reporting on boreal caribou populations. However, given the severe threats boreal caribou face, the federal government’s planning documents must set the stage for concrete, immediate protective action as well. Sufficient science already exists, as does evidence showing that the boreal caribou is gravely under-protected. Additional research must occur against a backdrop of a strong protection scheme.

We noted when the Action Plan was first released in July that it signaled an openness to further delay in caribou habitat protection by the Canadian government. Further delay means further decline for boreal caribou populations, and so we hope the federal government takes seriously the protection requirements for threatened species under SARA.

Next Thursday, October 5th, the federal government has the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to swift protective action by holding provinces accountable to their conservation obligations under SARA. The federal government’s recovery strategy for boreal caribou, released in 2012 under SARA, gave the provinces five years to develop range plans to protect their caribou populations. Those range plans are due on October 5th. We call on the federal government to enforce this deadline by taking interim measures to protect critical habitat if the provinces fail to submit their range plans.

In addition to scientific study and status reports, however, the Canadian government must work closely with and learn from Indigenous Peoples, many of whom lead the way in boreal caribou protection. Many Indigenous communities have caribou management regimes in place. For example, in May, the seven nations of the Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table (UPCART) agreed to a management regime that integrates Indigenous and Western science and takes a collaborative approach to protecting the migratory George River caribou, a relative of boreal caribou. It is a powerful example of how Indigenous Peoples’ long-term knowledge of species behavior can lead to innovative tools for protection. 

The Action Plan is an important framework for Canada’s next steps toward comprehensive protections for boreal caribou, but it must lead to imminent, meaningful action and not further delay. We urge the Canadian government to act swiftly and comprehensively to ensure that future generations live in a world with this treasured species.