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Can caribou survive a ten year stall on protecting areas in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region?


The mayors of the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region have requested the ministry of sustainable development in Quebec declare a moratorium on identifying protected areas in their region, a region that is vital for endangered woodland caribou in the province.

WHAT?

I have to admit, when I first heard the phrase, I had to repeat it a couple of times before its meaning sank in.

But it is true; the mayors have asked that for ten years no decision to create areas to protect caribou, other endangered species and valuable ecosystem services, be taken.

It seems an odd use of the term moratorium. From a caribou’s perspective waiting ten years for a decision on protecting the habitat they rely on must seem like business as usual, not a moratorium at all.

And in the meantime the forests they rely on will stay open for logging and other activities that will threaten them. Business as usual, indeed.

What is happening?

This request for the mayors comes after the latest round of public consultations managed by the Conference Regionale des Elus (CRE) in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region on how the region will contribute to protecting 12% of Quebec wilderness by 2015.

The reason for the moratorium, the mayors claim, is that the community has expressed concerns about the impact that the creation of these protected areas will have on local jobs and the economy.

But is that a reason to stop action for 10 years?

Can the caribou wait ten years for a decision?

I’m guessing the caribou would say no. First, for them it has already been ten years. In 2002 they were designated as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and in 2005 designated “vulnerable” in Quebec’s endangered species law.

Second, their numbers are small. There are about 1000 caribou in the region, and more than half of them have been sighted in the publically managed forests being targeted by the moratorium. 

Third, if no action is taken the areas being discussed could be gone. These areas are in the last untouched forests of the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region and are vital for Quebec’s endangered woodland caribou herds.

Livelihood Concerns

It is understandable that the people from the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region are concerned about livelihoods. The forest industry’s slowdown in the past 10 years has impacted the community.

However, protected areas are not the cause of this slowdown. The decline is largely due to drop in demand of paper products on international markets, as well as past overexploitation.

On the other hand, ensuring that the creation of these protected areas does not add pressure to an economy struggling to get back on its feet makes sense, and is possible. Getting to that point though, requires finding solutions, not freezing the process.

Taking Action

Since starting at CPAWS this past December I have heard one story after another about how herds across Canada are disappearing before our eyes. How actions taken are often taken too late to save a herd.

I think the people of the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region are lucky to have a real chance to envisage a different future for themselves and caribou. It’s not too late now, but it will be in 10 years.  

CPAWS is asking that we not make the caribou of the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region wait to have areas important for their survival protected. We will be watching the actions of the mayors and the ministry of sustainable development to make sure that considered action, not evasion and stalling, is their plan.