Environmental groups disappointed with Canada’s Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou

Environment Canada is accepting public comments until February 22, 2012, before finalizing the Recovery Strategy.

By: Alys Granados

The caribou is a national symbol for Canada but the boreal woodland population has experienced population declines of over 30% over the last 20 years. Habitat destruction by humans has played a large role in these declines and the species is now federally listed as “threatened” with extinction under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA). To address this, Environment Canada recently released their Recovery Strategy for Canada’s 57 Boreal Woodland caribou herds. Its goals are to 1) maintain numbers in the17 herds that are currently classified as self sustaining, 2) achieve self-sustaining status for the 12 herds currently classified as non self sustaining, and 3) stabilize the 28 herds currently not self sustaining in number.

Environment Canada’s plan acknowledges the role of human-caused habitat loss as a primary contributor to caribou declines. However, the recovery strategy is being criticized for not applying this. Sierra Club agrees with the research of groups like Ecojustice, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), and Nature Canada who feel that the level of habitat protection under the plan (a maximum of 65%) is inadequate for long-term caribou survival. According to Ecojustice, the recovery strategy is a violation of SARA and puts industrial and political interests ahead of science.

Under the plan, for the 17 already self-sustaining herds, only 65% of critical habitat must be maintained, while for the 12 non self-sustaining herds this should increase to 65% over the next 50 years, with connectivity between herds. For the 28 herds to be stabilized through the plan, their range must include 5 to 65% of critical habitat. Chris Henschel of CPAWS notes that at a 5% level of remaining habitat, the likelihood for herd survival would be far too low.

What also appears to be missing from the recovery strategy is any identification of where such critical habitat is. Furthermore, physical connectivity between these 28 herds is not deemed necessary so long as the distance between them is not too great (though what an acceptable distance would be is not clear). Suitable habitat (mature and old growth forest) is not only important for movement between populations, but also for migration between winter and summer ranges. This migratory behavior crosses provincial boundaries, illustrating the complexities involved in managing such a species whose range extends from coast to coast.

Finally, the plan is criticized for including predator management as a means to protect caribou.

According to Nature Canada, predator culls fail to address the root cause of caribou declines: habitat destruction caused by forestry, mining, and hydroelectric power development.

Environment Canada is accepting public comments until February 22, 2012, before finalizing the Recovery Strategy. Comments can be emailed to Environment Canada at RecoveryPlanning_Pl@ec.gc.ca or by visiting the Environment Canada’s website at the link below. Action can also be taken through a petition on the Nature Canada website (see below).  The petition will be sent to Environment Minister Peter Kent and calls for a stronger recovery plan that places more importance on protecting caribou habitat.    

Environment Canada’s website for the Recovery Strategy:

Nature Canada Petition: https://secure2.convio.net/nc/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=159

Ecojustice website:

CPAWS website:


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