Environment Canada has revealed its long-awaited strategy on restoring populations of boreal (woodland) caribou in Canada. The new document released on October 5 altered a strategy presented in 2011, which admitted Canada’s estimated 32,000 woodland caribou were seriously threatened by habitat loss and predation throughout their range. In that document, Alberta’s caribou population, which is believed to have declined by as much as 75 per cent over the past decade, was labelled “very unlikely” to survive without intervention.
The latest report suggests Alberta’s caribou herds be protected by penning them in a 1,500-square-kilometre enclosure.
Simon Dyer, policy director of the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think-tank based in Edmonton, says the strategy isn’t flawless, but he was surprised at how much better it is than last year’s.
“The previous draft talked about, basically, writing off all the herds in Alberta,” he says.
Dyer says a fenced enclosure may be a useful emergency tool, but long-term habitat restoration is key to the species’ survival.
Environment Canada says the standard 60-day public comment period that followed the release of the 2011 strategy was extended to 120 days to accommodate the 19,046 comments. Dyer says he’s heard this was the biggest reaction the government has ever received in response to the preservation of a single species.
“There are very big ramifications in terms of the need to establish more conservation areas or restore more land that’s been disturbed or, heaven forbid, slow the scale of oilsands development to accommodate the native species of caribou…. Even if industry disappeared tomorrow you’d probably still lose caribou on these landscapes because the impacts are so... the lag times to be restored are so great” he says.
The new version of the strategy calls for all caribou ranges to retain 65 per cent undisturbed habitat for the animals.