Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Caribous of Val-d’Or : we must restore the habitat, environmentalists proclaim

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The Val-d'Or woodland caribou herd is grouped together in an enclosure set up south of the city. (Archive photo)

  • Gabriel Poirier (View profile)Gabriel Poirier

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Environmental groups from Abitibi-Témiscamingue and elsewhere warn Quebec: repopulating the forest caribou herd south of Val-d'Or, as proposed by the Ministry of the Environment, is doomed to failure if their habitat is not also restored.

Reintroduction is an essential ingredient to improve the fate of the herd of Val-d'Or, says the president of Action boréale, Henri Jacob. But we need the whole recipe, all the ingredients. One of the ingredients that is not there is the restoration of the environment.

Mr. Jacob was reacting to an article fromLaPresse, published Monday morning, which reveals the intention of the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, and Wildlife and Parks to capture six caribou that live in the North in order to relocate them to the Val-d'Or herd.

This herd, made up of nine individuals, has been grouped together since 2020 in an enclosure south of the city.

We must restore the territory, pleads Henri Jacob. This involves closing forest roads and continuing to exercise some control over predators, such as wolves. We must also limit overcrowding by ATV and snowmobile users and by hunters. Otherwise, the caribou will disappear.

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The president of Action boréale, Henri Jacob. (File photo)

The idea is not to create a zoo [and keep them in enclosures], adds biologist Alain Branchaud, also general director of the Society for Nature and Parks (SNAP Quebec). We must recreate a wild herd which will be self-sufficient and which will be able to grow and reach a level of self-sufficiency, he adds.

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Mr. Branchaud points out that it is largely human activity that disrupts the natural habitat of the Val-d'Or caribou herd.

We need to set up protected areas, he says. We can also, in the herd's distribution area, reduce the impacts of certain industrial activities such as logging, mining claims and vacation leases.

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The general director of SNAP, Quebec division, Alain Branchaud. (File photo)

The two men deplore what they call the inaction of Quebec on this issue, but also that of Ottawa. Since 2019, the Quebec government has been slow to present its strategy for protecting woodland caribou habitat. The federal government threatened to interfere in this matter by decree without ever intervening.

There is a speech, but reality is not implemented. On both the federal and provincial sides, caribou is simply talk.

A quote from Henri Jacob, president of Action boréale

The woodland caribou has been considered, since 2003, as a threatened species in Canada, while Quebec has classified the species as vulnerable since 2005.

They don't even dare to designate it as threatened. This shows that there is no political will. If they recognized that it was an endangered species, they would be obliged, by their own laws, to do everything possible to restore the species and the habitat, Mr. Jacob complains.

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Val-d'Or caribou are fed three times a day with a mixture containing hay, lichen and feed. (Archive photo)

In writing, the office of the federal Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault, once again urges Quebec to act.< /p>

The Government of Canada expects the Government of Quebec to respect its commitment to guarantee 65% undisturbed habitat in the range of each population, as announced in August 2022. The loss of biodiversity is worrying and we must act immediately, indicates Mr. Guilbeault's office.

Alain Branchaud blames the forestry lobby for the delays that Quebec is accumulating in the file of woodland caribou.

We find that the government's attitude, as a whole, is disrespectful of all the stakeholders who participated in good faith in the Commission's consultations on woodland caribou. They made proposals and highlighted the science that can guide our choices, he says.

This is not necessarily harmful from an economic point of view. There will be disturbances, workers will be impacted, but generally speaking, if we managed the forest in a way compatible with maintaining caribou, we would probably have a forestry that would be healthier than at the moment. .

A quote from Alain Branchaud, biologist and general director of the Society for Nature and Parks in Quebec

The Minister of the Environment of Quebec, Benoît Charette, declined our request for an interview. After an acknowledgment of receipt, the ministry had not specified the details of its relocation pilot project to us at the time of publishing this report.

Henri Jacob emphasizes that the survival of the woodland caribou goes beyond the needs of this species. The caribou is an umbrella species. When it disappears, the rest of the ecosystem disappears with it, like the fisher and the bird and plant species that are associated with caribou, he explains.

Biodiversity is one of the most stable and effective keys to combating climate change. Ecosystems in balance, and therefore very diverse, store CO2 much better. When you reduce biodiversity, you reduce its capacity to accumulate CO2 in the soil and in plants.

A quote from Henri Jacob, president of Action boréale

A long-time activist, Mr. Jacob calls on the Minister of the Environment to resign from his post, a call he made publicly last month.

Lucien Wabanonik, chief of the Anishnabe nation of Lac-Simon, was unable to make time to participate in an interview. While traveling in Toronto, he initially agreed to speak to us after learning of the La Presse revelations. Its community works to preserve the Val-d’Or herd.

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The CAQ MP for Abitibi-Est and former Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Pierre Dufour. (Archive photo)

The member for Abitibi-Est, Pierre Dufour, recognizes that it is difficult to predict, x27;currently, whether the initiative to save the Val-d'Or woodland caribou herd will be successful or not. He maintains that this idea had been considered, but discarded, when he was Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks.

What I looked at was the principle of protecting those who were still alive. I put more emphasis on animal welfare, hence the creation of enclosures. This is what allowed the herds, in particular that of Charlevoix, to improve. There was also the birth of three fawns in Val-d’Or, he points out.

To the possibility of reducing human activity, Mr. Dufour responds that balanced decisions must be adopted to avoid disrupting the economy. “What is always special about Mr. [Henri] Jacob is that it is the same individual who said, around ten years ago, that there was nothing more to be done with this herd and that the actions adopted at the time should have been taken well before,” he says.

We all know that it is very difficult to maintain a herd when it does not have a minimum of 50 head, unless you create an enclosure like we did when I was minister. You have to start somewhere. We stopped the bleeding, adds Mr. Dufour. Now we have to see what we can do to improve the situation and reintroduce these animals into areas already exploited by the industrial and recreational tourism sectors.

Pierre Dufour also challenges the motivations of Minister Guilbeault and reiterates Quebec's autonomy in these areas of jurisdiction. When you see the article [published] today by Minister Guilbeault, you wonder if he is really just considering animal welfare or if he wants to harm the industrialization of the territory. I ask myself questions when I read this article, he adds.

Mr. Dufour did not want to come forward with a date regarding the publication of the CAQ government's strategy for the preservation of the woodland caribou.

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