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The Globe and Mail

Canada has done little to protect endangered caribou population: report

According to a new report, none of the 51 plans proposed in 2012 to preserve Caribou has been completed.

Gary Gulash/Canadian Parks and Wilderness Societ

Two years after the federal government released a strategy for preventing the extinction of Canada's dwindling herds of boreal woodland caribou, little has been done by provinces and territories to put that plan into action.

A report to be released Tuesday by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) says the animals, which roam the northern forests that stretch from British Columbia to Labrador, continue to die off as their ranges are eroded by human activity.

"At this point, all of the populations are very much in trouble and industrial development just continues unabated right now without any kind of attention to the fact that these [woodland caribou habitats] are rather sensitive areas," said Éric Hébert-Daly, CPAWS national executive director.

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In 2012, the federal Conservative government released a strategy for preserving the animal that has graced the back of the Canadian quarter since 1937. The woodland caribou is listed under the Species At Risk Act and some herds declined by 50 per cent between 2005 and 2013.

Provinces and territories were given until 2017 to create plans for protecting or restoring to an undisturbed condition at least 65 per cent of the range of each caribou herd within their jurisdiction. That, according to federal scientists, would give the herds a 60-per-cent chance of being able to sustain their numbers.

But according to the CPAWS report, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, just six of the required 51 plans are in various stages of development and none has been completed.

CPAWS says only Manitoba and the Northwest Territories took concrete steps to protect the caribou over the past 12 months. But Quebec and Newfoundland actually cut back on staff allocated to caribou planning.

"At this pace it will take another 40 years just to get the plans done," said Mr. Hébert-Daly.

The report says the places where the animals are most at risk include northeastern British Columbia, where habitats are threatened by seismic lines, pipelines, roads and fracking, and Alberta, where the the rapid expansion of energy sector plus forest fires and forestry have created the worst situation for the caribou anywhere in the country.

Duncan MacDonnell, a spokesman for Alberta's Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said his province expects to complete the first of its 14 range plans by the early spring of 2015 and will have another three or four finished by the end of next year.

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Mr. Hébert-Daly said preservation of the caribou is essential because it's an "umbrella species," which means protection of its habitat will ensure the survival of large numbers of other animals. And because the boreal forest is both a huge carbon sink and a water-filtration network, he said, salvaging the roaming grounds of the caribou will lead to cleaner air and water for everyone.

"If that species is doing well, then the health of the forest is doing well," said Mr. Hébert-Daly. "And, therefore, the health of human beings is doing well as well."

Scientists monitoring Canada's process for identifying and protecting endangered wildlife recently criticized the federal government for taking too long to list species that are deemed at risk while not doing enough to improve the status of those that are already listed.

But Mr. Hébert-Daly said he was pleased to hear Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq tell a news outlet last week that she wanted to convene a meeting of federal and provincial governments in the new year to address the issues around endangered animals. That was "a very encouraging sign," he said, "and a pro-active federal government might help get the provinces and territories to move forward faster."

"Animals migrate between our provincial and territorial borders so it is important that we work together, collaborate, and share best practices," Ms. Aglukkaq said in an e-mail on Monday. "By bringing all the players together we will ultimately see better results."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that boreal woodland caribou roam the northern forests from British Columbia to Alberta. In fact, the animals are found in Canada's boreal forests stretching from British Columbia to Labrador.

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