Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

Environmentalists still await recovery plan caribou

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The project was to be presented in June, but it was postponed due to forest fires in the province. (Archive photo)

The Canadian Press

Environmentalists are urging the Quebec government to present its plan to protect caribou habitat, several years after the promise of the implementation of a strategy aimed at saving the herds.

The project was to be presented in June, but the Ministry of the Environment postponed it because of the numerous forest fires which were then hitting Quebec territory. At the time, the government said it wanted to examine the repercussions of the fires on the caribou and on logging.

We wanted present the plan at the end of 2023, but the Minister of the Environment, Benoît Charette, confirmed to the daily La Pressethat the unveiling of the strategy had been pushed back to mid-January or thereabouts.

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A young caribou. (Archive photo)

The Canadian Press attempted to obtain an update on this matter, but the government did not respond to its request.

History is only repeating itself, deplores the president of the environmental group Action boréale, Henri Jacob. He recalls that the Coalition Avenir Québec had promised the implementation of a policy to save the caribou before coming to power in 2018. The plan was to be presented initially in 2019, but it has always been postponed since that time.

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Pushing back and pushing back [the process] is a strategy. And in the meantime, we continue to cut wood in parts of the forest that are essential to caribou.

A quote from Henri Jacob, president of the environmental group Action boréale

Mr. Jacob says there is no reason to postpone the protection plan, not even forest fires. The policy should still be the subject of a consultation, he reminds us. The government will then be able to take the opportunity to modify its plan to take into account the consequences of the forest fires.

Alain Branchaud, general director of the SNAP Québec environment group, describes the urgency of the situation. According to him, caribou herds are in decline throughout the province. He blames the forestry industry, whose practices contribute to disrupting or even destroying the animal's habitat. We cannot accept further delays, he says.

According to him, a serious plan to save the caribou should include protection of at least 35,000 square kilometers of their critical habitat.

The federal government, citing scientific studies, has already indicated that a minimum percentage of 65% undisturbed habitat must be achieved in order to maintain the caribou population, but Mr. Branchaud insists that x27;this is the bare minimum.

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The caribou is threatened in Canada, where much of its habitat has been altered by human activities such as mining and logging.

According to a study published by the scientific journal Land, some 140,000 square kilometers of forest have been lost since 1976 to the forestry industry in Quebec and Ontario. This decline has had obvious repercussions for the caribou population. The Canadian and Australian researchers found that only 2 of the 21 caribou ranges they studied met the 65% percentage.

Significant changes must be made to the management of the boreal forest in Ontario and Quebec, in order to make it more sustainable, from an ecological point of view. We must place more emphasis on the protection and restoration of the oldest forests and reduce the dangers for caribou populations, we can read in the study.

While waiting to present its strategy, the government is relying on other measures to help protect the caribou. Among them: the controversial decision to confine three herds and kill packs of wolves that approach them.

A report was presented in 2022 following a series of consultations with stakeholders.

Despite the delay, Mr. Branchaud said want to be cautiously optimistic.

The Quebec government is committed to protecting 30% of its territory. The federal government hopes to imitate it. Mr. Branchaud says these promises could force governments to work with Indigenous communities to conserve caribou habitat. He also believes that the Quebec population increasingly understands the importance of managing forests in a more sustainable way, despite resistance from the powerful industry.

He underlines that the decision to split the Ministry of Wildlife and Forestry in 2022 was positive since the interests of the two sectors are often at odds.

Henri Jacob says he is impatient to see the future government strategy, but he does not believe that Quebec will give up lucrative forestry and mining activities in caribou habitats, even if these are important for many plants and other species animals.

We no longer trust the government, he says, adding that he would be happy to be wrong.

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