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CPAWS advises federal government to stay after class for work on caribou recovery strategy

Ottawa – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is handing in a review today to the federal government of its draft recovery strategy for Boreal woodland caribou, accompanied by a “report card” summarizing its findings and recommending remedial work to close loopholes that could undermine the species’ long-term survival.

Boreal woodland caribou are listed as nationally “threatened” within Canada, requiring the federal government to develop a recovery strategy under the Species-At-Risk Act. Environment Canada released the draft strategy in August, and is accepting public comments on it until October 26th. The government is expected to announce the final strategy a month after the public comment period ends.

The caribou graces our 25 cent piece. This Canadian icon is also a sign of the health of our vast boreal forests which purify the air we breathe and the water we drink, and store vast amounts of carbon.

“School, like parliament, is back in session, so we thought we should take a careful look at the government’s work to protect one of Canada’s most emblematic and threatened species.  On balance, there is significant room for improvement,” says CPAWS National Boreal Conservation Manager Chris Henschel.

“We’re giving the government good marks for acknowledging scientists’ findings that habitat loss from industrial development is the principle threat to the species, and protecting intact habitat is key to their survival,” says Henschel.

“But after that, the marks go downhill.  Most glaringly, the strategy is missing the critical element of requiring adequate habitat protection for this species.  Unless it’s improved, our concern is that the strategy will hasten Boreal woodland caribou’s continued decline in many parts of the country,” adds Henschel.

The group is calling for remedial work by the government in the following areas:

Giving an equal chance of survival to all of Canada’s remaining woodland caribou – Right now, the strategy only sets the goal of recovery to self-sustaining levels for half of Canada’s 57 remaining local populations of woodland caribou within the next 50 years. For the remaining herds, the strategy’s goal is to maintain their existing numbers, even though many of them have already reached levels that scientists have determined are too low for self-sustenance. CPAWS says the government should set the goal of recovering ALL remaining caribou populations, including those most threatened with extinction in areas such as the Alberta and Saskatchewan oil sands and northern British Columbia.

Safeguarding critical habitat – The strategy leaves a considerable amount of land within current caribou ranges largely unregulated, leaving room for more human development that will likely push already threatened herds to extinction.

Offering a high probability of success – the federal government has set the bar too low for caribou’s long-term health by assuming that a 60% level of probability of survival is adequate. At this probability level, the strategy allows human disturbance of up to 35% of existing caribou habitat. CPAWS recommends raising the bar for caribou’s survival to 80%, which would mean more habitat must be maintained or recovered for the species.

Focusing on habitat protection versus predator control – The strategy would allow provincial governments to continue the destruction of critical Boreal woodland caribou habitat until only 5% remains in areas where some of the most endangered herds now cling to survival. It could also enable these governments to implement decades of large-scale wolf killing, without protecting the habitat that caribou need to recover to self-sustaining levels over the long term.  Destruction of habitat is defined in the Recovery Strategy as habitat alteration that adversely impacts the ecosystem and reduces overall function.

“This is plain math.  With only 5% of their remaining habitat – caribou have virtually no chance of recovering to self-sustaining population levels. We’re calling on the federal government to amend the strategy so that it requires protection of all remaining undisturbed habitat in already heavily fragmented areas where Boreal woodland caribou are clinging to survival,” says Henschel.

CPAWS believes that conserving boreal woodland caribou habitat across the country is possible while also ensuring a prosperous forest sector.  We are working to achieve both goals through the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.  Through the CBFA, environmental groups are working with the forest sector to propose effective caribou conservation plans that address socio-economic impacts.


To view the report card and the detailed submission by CPAWS, visit

For media interviews, contact Ellen Adelberg (613) 569-7226 x 234 or Holly Postlethwaite (613) 569-7226 x 232