Final Cut: September-October 2015
By Christine Leduc
October 20, 2015 - Canada’s woodland caribou, Boreal population (Boreal woodland caribou), was listed as threatened in 2002 under the Species at Risk Act. According to the Federal Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, the criteria used to determine caribou health is range disturbance. The recovery strategy establishes a 35 per cent disturbance threshold to govern land-use planning within caribou ranges across Canada.
By Christine Leduc
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has made a valiant effort to understand the relationship between the boreal caribou and range disturbance in Ontario, with $11 million spent on research and population surveys. It has been a massive and productive research effort, with more than 50 projects being conducted by MNRF scientists and biologists, supported by academics and the forest industry. MNRF’s work is described in the State of the Woodland Caribou Resource Report, released to the public in December 2014.
Interestingly, numerous population surveys by MNRF suggest that areas subject to forest management have healthier caribou populations than areas that have been entirely left to nature. For example, Ontario’s Sydney range, where forestry activities take place, is associated with a high disturbance level of over 60 per cent and yet more caribou are surviving and being born each year than in other Ontario ranges that have low disturbance levels, such as the Missisa range at a 14 per cent disturbance level, where no forestry activities take place.
Based on these recent population parameters reported for Ontario, forest management, as practiced in Ontario according to MNRF guidelines, does not appear to be threatening Boreal caribou populations. Sustainable forest management will continue to provide a long-term supply of Boreal caribou habitat.
This suggests that Boreal caribou are not threatened due to a lack of habitat. Their habitat is being protected across Ontario, and in any case woodland caribou populations appear to be stronger in areas where forestry companies operate. If caribou habitat is protected but the species continues to decline, it is due to factors other than disturbance. Emerging science would suggest that factors other than disturbance (predation, disease, climate change) are influencing caribou populations.
Without an adequate understanding of all the potential factors causing the decline in Boreal caribou, it is not possible to develop science-based policy. Further policy should be discussed after scientific studies have validated or modified current hypotheses about the relationship between disturbances and the population dynamics of Boreal caribou. The forest industry supports the recovery of Boreal caribou and other species at risk. However, in the absence of sound science and any socio-economic analysis of the impacts of implementing these caribou policies, the viability of the forest industry is threatened.
On August 20, 2015, the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) released an Economic Note estimating the likely costs in terms of jobs and economic activity of conservation measures to protect the Boreal caribou in Quebec. The report found that Quebec’s caribou recovery plan will threaten 2,931 jobs and $367 million in economic activity. No such report exists for Ontario as of yet, but similar costs would be expected.
Given the importance of the forestry sector, it is vital that we analyze the economic repercussions that would be entailed by additional governmental constraints on harvesting operations. Moreover, the Species at Risk Act requires that socio-economic impacts be considered. Yet, to this day, no analysis of the socio-economic impacts has been made public by the government.
For the sake of our future, the Canadian forest industry needs the Government of Canada to commit to a comprehensive review of the Federal Recovery Strategy for Woodland Caribou to ensure that policy reflects the most current science and research findings.
Christine Leduc is the director of policy and communications for the Ontario Forest Industries Association.