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Government caribou plan fails to stop the extinction clock

  • Published on Apr 28 2009 |
  • This article is tagged as: caribou

Groups urge Premier McGuinty to act before June deadline

TORONTO- Save our Species (SOS), a coalition of leading environmental groups in the province, calls on the Ontario government to halt logging and road-building in critical woodland caribou habitat in response to the new Caribou Conservation Plan released by government late yesterday.  

The Conservation Plan, years in development, includes some of the best scientific thinking available concerning how to protect caribou. However, the Plan stops short of saying when habitat will actually be protected for this species.

“It’s time for action,” says Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Threats are imminent. The Plan has incorporated the best science as a framework for moving forward, but does not outline concrete steps necessary to prevent further caribou decline starting today.”  

Woodland caribou is listed as a threatened species under Ontario’s new Endangered Species Act. The goal of the Act is to protect and recover species at risk and their habitats. While containing clear scientific principles for caribou conservation, the plan permits continued logging and road building in some of the province’s best remaining woodland caribou habitat. However, demand for wood has dropped by 60% since the late 1990s, meaning that pulp and lumber mills can still run while caribou habitat is protected.  

“A government plan that allows habitat destruction will have ramifications in the marketplace,” says Catharine Grant of ForestEthics. “We’re finding that customers of Canadian forest products do not want to be associated with threats to species at risk.”

A new federally-commissioned science report, released earlier this month, also sounded the alarm for the species right across Canada including Ontario.  The science report recommended that logging be stopped in caribou habitat in Ontario until research proves that the species can tolerate more industrial activity without declining.  

“Woodland caribou is the first big test for Premier McGuinty’s endangered species legislation,” says Anne Bell of Ontario Nature. “We are very concerned that the Caribou Conservation Plan does not say how or when logging will be curtailed in threatened caribou habitat.”

The Caribou Conservation Plan is posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights for a 30-day comment period. Under the ESA, the province is also required to describe habitat for woodland caribou in a Habitat regulation, which is forthcoming. The ESA came into law in 2008, but forestry was given a one-year exemption. The government is required to make the sector compliant with the ESA by June 30, 2009.

“This plan is clearly the product of a ministry that is trying to “suck and blow” at the same time. For example, they finally recognize caribou do not come back to logged over areas, yet in the same document they state forestry is compatible with caribou. Much depends now on addressing this conflicted mandate and the definition of habitat in the Caribou Habitat regulation to come,” says Janet Sumner of CPAWS Wildlands League. “Stay tuned, the science tells us what needs to be done and the June deadline for caribou protection is fast approaching,” adds Sumner.

The draft Caribou Conservation Plan can be found at: http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/270811.pdf

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For further information:
Rachel Plotkin, David Suzuki Foundation, (613) 796-7999;
Catharine Grant, ForestEthics, (416) 527-2284;
Anne Bell, Ontario Nature, (416) 659-2339;
Janet Sumner, CPAWS Wildlands League, (416) 579-7370