Santa’s reindeer’s cousins in growing trouble across Canada, new report finds

Ottawa – In the first annual assessment of how well provinces and territories are enacting the requirements for conservation plans under the federal government’s National Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) find the majority are lagging behind badly.

“We gave low grades to six of the nine provinces and territories that still shelter boreal woodland caribou on their overall performance in conserving caribou over the past year. The only bright news is that three jurisdictions – Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories — received “medium” grades because they have made some welcome progress in conserving Santa’s reindeer’s Canadian cousins,” says Eric Hebert-Daly, CPAWS National Executive Director.

Boreal Woodland Caribou by Tin Can Forest

Boreal Woodland Caribou by Tin Can Forest

Canada’s boreal woodland caribou are of the same family as domesticated “reindeer” found in Nordic countries. However, more than half of Canada’s boreal woodland caribou populations are estimated to be at risk of extinction.

“Overall, the situation is very worrying. While the federal recovery strategy provides scientific information that should enable the provinces and territories to create successful caribou conservation plans, in most jurisdictions the science is not being applied. To compound the situation, many provinces are continuing to approve industrial developments in the remaining intact boreal forest areas that caribou need to survive. This is putting caribou at greater risk,” says Rachel Plotkin, Ontario Science Projects Manager for the David Suzuki Foundation.

The groups gave the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador low grades for their performance in advancing caribou conservation measures over the past year.

“Rudolph’s Canadian cousins are in trouble and we implore all of the provinces and territories to improve their efforts over the next year in conserving them. If they don’t act soon, Canada’s chances of saving this species and some of the world’s most significant remaining intact wilderness areas will be doomed,” says Hebert-Daly.

The biggest threat to caribou’s survival is habitat fragmentation, which increases access by predators. Scientists consider caribou as bellwethers of the health of the Boreal forest, which also cleanses our air and water, and stores vast amounts of carbon within its soils, moderating climate change.

CPAWS and the David Suzuki Foundation conducted an extensive survey of provincial and territorial governments, and also drew on their direct experience participating in caribou conservation processes across the country to develop their report called Population Critical: How are Canada’s Boreal Woodland Caribou Faring?

The groups found that in addition to a lack of concerted effort by governments to create effective caribou conservation plans, recovery of the species is also hampered by a lack of legislative tools to enforce protection in some provinces and territories, and a failure in virtually all jurisdictions to consider the cumulative effects of new development proposals and infrastructure, such as roads and power lines, on the health of the boreal forests and wetlands caribou rely on for survival.

“We’re also recommending that the federal government provide additional guidance to the provinces and territories, building on the comprehensive science and traditional Indigenous knowledge studies it commissioned for the development of the national recovery strategy, to assist in creating effective caribou conservation measures,” adds Plotkin.

Read the full report here: