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Caribou protection | Without “firm commitments” from Quebec, Ottawa will intervene



Ottawa will carry out its threat and will impose caribou protection measures in Quebec, we learned at the start of the work of the Independent Commission on Woodland and Mountain Caribou, set up by the Legault government.

Failing to receive “by April 20” information on the implementation by Quebec of new measures to ensure the protection of caribou and their habitat, the federal government plans to impose them by decree.

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a letter to Quebec Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Pierre Dufour, dated April 8, that The Press has obtained.

“Firm commitments from Quebec to immediate recovery and protection measures would be an important positive step,” he writes.

In emphasizing his obligation to act if he believes that provincial laws do not effectively protect an endangered species, Minister Guilbeault refers to the “safety net” provision contained in the Species at Risk Act.

“This is big news,” says the General Manager of the Society for Nature and Parks (SNAP), Quebec section, Alain Branchaud, who points out that “this tool, which is at the heart of the Species at Risk Acthas never, ever been used” to date.

Unlike emergency orders, such as those adopted by Ottawa to protect the western chorus frog in Longueuil and La Prairie, this approach is not justified by an imminent threat, explains the biologist, who has acquired knowledge in-depth knowledge of the law when he worked for the Federal Ministry of the Environment.


Alain Branchaud, General Manager of the Society for Nature and Parks, Quebec section, in 2016

The question is: is the critical habitat that has been identified subject to effective protection measures?

Alain Branchaud, General Manager of CPAWS, Quebec section

Protect 35,000 km⁠2

Ottawa could therefore prohibit any activity likely to harm the recovery of boreal caribou (called woodland caribou by Quebec), in particular logging.

“Minimally, it’s about 35,000 km⁠2 that would be targeted,” said Alain Branchaud, who bases himself on the priority sectors to be protected targeted by the forest-dwelling caribou recovery team from the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP).

“There are about twenty areas that are known”, he says, including three large protected areas proposed and about fifteen smaller territories to make “conservation cores”.

In the lot are the last intact forest massifs sheltering the Pipmuacan caribou herd, which is under strong pressure, and which the MFFP proposes to abandon to its fate in one of the scenarios submitted to the Independent Commission on woodland caribou and mountaineers.

Such an intervention by Ottawa is likely to provoke the ire of the forest industry, but Alain Branchaud believes that it is possible to do things “intelligently, so that the socio-economic impacts are limited”.

Quebec could even take advantage of it to progress towards its objective of protecting 30% of its territory by 2030, he says, pointing out that 35,000 km⁠2 represent 2.3% of the area of ​​the province.

A “huge precedent”

Ottawa’s imminent intervention could have repercussions in other provinces, believes Marco Festa-Bianchet, director of the biology department at the University of Sherbrooke, who served for ten years on the Committee on the status of species. at risk in Canada.

Boreal caribou are endangered or threatened from Labrador to the Yukon, [et] most governments in Canada do their best not to protect its habitat.

Marco Festa-Bianchet, director of the biology department at the University of Sherbrooke

Ottawa’s intervention also creates a “huge precedent” from which other species could benefit, adds Alain Branchaud.

“There are several hundred threatened or endangered species whose critical habitat has been identified,” he explains.

However, Ottawa must first demonstrate that the provincial protection measures are insufficient and that it has tried to work with the governments in place to correct the situation, explains the former official.


Small herd of Pipmuacan caribou

In the case of caribou, the federal government began documenting Quebec’s shortcomings in 2018 and urged Quebec to quickly and concretely protect species at risk on its territory, in a first letter last January.

The Quebec Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Pierre Dufour, did not comment on the new missive from his counterpart Steven Guilbeault.

“The minister intends to respond directly in writing to his vis-à-vis in the coming days, without intermediary”, replied to The Press its director of communications, Michel Vincent.

Start of the Caribou Commission

The announcement of an imminent intervention by Ottawa to protect caribou in Quebec comes at the start of the commission set up by the Legault government to assess the costs and impacts of such protection. The Independent Commission on Woodland and Mountain Caribou begins this Tuesday in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts its tour of the regions where these large deer are still found, an itinerary that avoids the major centers, deplore experts and defense groups of the ‘environment. The exercise aims above all to “divert attention” from the already known and documented causes of the decline of the caribou, estimates Alain Branchaud, director general of the Society for Nature and Parks, Quebec section.

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    Estimation of the woodland caribou population in Quebec


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