The woodland caribou is one of the most important species of the North America boreal forest, being a unique cultural icon in Canada but also a mean of assessing the health of Canada’s boreal ecosystem. Indeed, this species is perceived as being a “focal” species, because woodland caribou “are wide-ranging, sensitive to landscape disturbances and considered by many scientists to be an umbrella species (Lee et al, 2010).
Source: Rudolph et al (2012)
Unfortunately, the Species At Risk Act (SARA) classifies the different subspecies of the woodland caribou as endangered, of special concern, or threatened, as it is the case for the boreal population (Lee, 2012). Today, as the CPAWS (2013) states, only 30% of the boreal woodland populations (17 of 57) are considered self-sustaining throughout the Canada’s boreal ecosystem.
Source: CPAWS, 2006
And the observed continuous declining trends of the populations are mainly due to “large-scale disturbance to high quality caribou habitats from development projects”, as Matthew Hawco summarizes in his recent MEIA blog post. For Beauchesne et al (2014), the major human activity in the Boreal forest is forest harvesting, which causes tremendous adverse effect on the woodland caribou populations by altering their habitats and increasing the landscape’s fragmentation. Therefore, attention toward the regulation and the sustainable management of logging activities is critical in order to maintain and safeguard the viability of woodland caribou populations. This is specifically the case in Quebec, where the forest industry is largely contributing to the economic and social development of the province by creating direct jobs and forest products (Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, 2008), while in the same time the percent of caribou habitat protected is low, compared to other Canadian’s provinces (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Percentage of caribou habitat protected by province, in Canada
Source: CPAWS, 2006
As I said before, logging can have damaging effects on the woodland caribou populations, both direct and indirect. Indeed, logging reduces the amount of old growth forest, and therefore it decreases the quality and quantity of lichen, the principal source of food for caribou. Moreover, caribou are very sensitive to disturbances, and studies have shown the displacement of populations at a minimum of 13 km from logging areas (Nature Québec, 2007). Also, the logging activities increase the occurrence of predator populations such as wolves, which further threatens the viability of the woodland caribou.
Then, what could be the solution to deal with this critical situation?? EIA…!
Indeed, the Environmental Impact assessment process, which is project-driven, could assess the forestry and logging projects and activities, and it could determine the resulting environmental impacts from them, emphasizing the need of preserving the woodland caribou habitat from any disturbance.
But, as I speak, as incredible as it may seem, forest or logging activities/projects are not subjected to Quebec’s EIA process; only road infrastructures built for the purpose of logging require a mandatory EIA, which is indicated in Section II, f) of the “Réglement sur l’évaluation et l’examen des impacts sur l’environnement” (Government of Quebec, 2015).
I really think that it’s absurd, especially regarding the potential impacts and threats that can be induced for the woodland caribou populations. I highly recommend the inclusion of forest and logging activities in the list of projects requiring a mandatory EIA, which will primarily emphasize and focus on the conservation of the woodland caribou. Otherwise, its populations will continue to decrease dangerously until…
Beauchesne, D., Jaeger, J., St-laurent, M-H. (2014). Thresholds in the capacity of boreal caribou to cope with cumulative disturbances : evidence from space use patterns. Biological Conservation.172. (2014). 190-199.
Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society (CPAWS) .(2013). Population critical: how are caribou faring?. First annual report on government’s efforts to conserve Canada’s declining Boreal caribou populations.
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). (2006). Uncertain Future: Woodland Caribou and Canada’s Boreal Forest: A report on government action. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Sierra Club of Canada.
Lee, P. (2012). Canada’s woodland caribou: industrial disturbances in their ranges and implications for their survival. Edmonton.
Lee, P., Hanneman, M., Gysbers, J., Cheng, R . (2010). Atlas of Key Ecological Areas Within Canada’s Intact Forest Landscapes. Edmonton, Alberta: Global Forest Watch Canada. 10th Anniversary Publication #4. 54 pages.
Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. (2008). Sustainable Management in the Boreal
Forest: A Real Response to Environmental Challenges, Québec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, Direction de l’environnement et de la protection des forêts, 51 p.
Nature Québec. (2007). Revue de littérature des connaissances sur le Caribou forestier, réalisée dans le cadre du projet « Critères et propositions d’aires protégées pour le Caribou forestier ». 24 pages.
Règlement sur l’évaluation et l’examen des impacts sur l’environnement, 2015 . Section 2, f. Retrieved from http://www2.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/dynamicSearch/telecharge.php?type=3&file=/Q_2/Q2R23.htm
Rudolph, T. D., Drapeau, P., St-‐Laurent, M-‐H. and Imbeau, L. (2012). Status of Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in the James Bay Region of Northern Quebec. Scientific report presented to the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec and the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee). Montreal, QC. 77pp.