Companies call out Canadian caribou conservation
October 5 deadline passes and caribou range plans not completed
Agroup of multinational companies worth nearly $600 billion are imploring the Canadian government to do more to protect threatened boreal caribou.
The group of companies includes household goods manufacturers Procter and Gamble, paper towel manufacturer Kimberley-Clark, fashion retailer H&M, organic food producer Amy’s Kitchen, ice cream purveyors Ben and Jerry’s, publisher Greystone Books, IT company Rose International and religious publisher Liturgy Training Productions.
The companies highlighted concerns that the boreal forest, its species and hundreds of Indigenous communities that depend on the forest are threatened by unsustainable logging practices.
The signatories of the letter are all committed to sourcing sustainable pulp, paper and other forest products.
Caribou are listed as a threatened species. Surveys have indicated that only 14 of the country’s 51 caribou ranges are self-sustaining, and that 30 per cent of the caribou population could disappear in the next 15 years if action isn’t taken.
In 2012, the federal government gave provinces and territories an October 5 2017 deadline to produce range plans to protect boreal caribou and its habitat.
The plans must include conservation of at least 65 per cent of range habitat.
None of the nine provinces or territories with boreal caribou populations hit the deadline.
“Based on our environmental commitments to our customers, we seek materials that are free of controversy and have been acquired through sustainable harvesting,” the letter signed by the companies said.
“While we commend individual forestry companies that have certification … we strongly believe scientifically rigorous province-wide woodland caribou protection plans are needed to reassure buyers that boreal products have been purchased at the expense of this threatened species and their intact forest habitat.
“We echo the Federal Government’s request that provinces submit robust caribou habitat protection plans that are grounded in science, and ask that you submit these with the consultation and consent of Indigenous peoples whose traditional territories include woodland caribou habitat.
“We also call on the federal government to take strong interim measures to protect critical woodland caribou habitat until recovery plans can be fully implemented.”
While the October 5 deadline passed without any plans in place, different provinces are at different stages of developing the range plans. Some have plans nearly finished, while other jurisdictions have barely started.
According to a December 2016 report from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Saskatchewan is one of the provinces doing the most tangible work in protecting caribou.
In 2016, the report said, Saskatchewan approved a forest management plan that includes a 20-year deferral on harvesting 2,230 square kilometres of caribou habitat, as well conservation practices throughout those 20 years.
The government has also been actively meeting with groups to complete range planning.
Finally, the report said, scientists looking at boreal woodland caribou in the northern range have found the population to be in good health, an important first step towards understanding what needs to be done from a management perspective.
Saskatchewan is set to make even more progress.
According to Kevin Murphy of the Ministry of Environment, the Saskatchewan public and the federal government will see the first range plan later this month. The framework in that plan will be used for the outstanding four plans still in development
“We are planning to release our draft range plan for the central boreal plain at the end of October,” Murphy said.
‘We’re going to release that to all of our key collaborators the public and to the federal government for comment.”
Using the central range base template, detailed work on the boreal shield and east and west boreal plain ranges will be completed between 2018 and October 2020.
‘We’ve staged it out over time, but the base frameworks and all of the guiding principles will be released in October with our first range plan and will apply to all of them,” Murphy said.
The federal government is aware of Saskatchewan’s timeline and has been supportive, Murphy said. The feds have also been appreciative of the province’s collaborative approach, and all the data that’s been collected.
The data includes ongoing monitoring of the provincial caribou population, looking at genetics and herd structure. That work will continue.
That collaborative approach is what led to the delay in the plans being released.
“With all the stakeholders, First nations, Métis, trappers, industry groups, academics and others, we wanted to build a solution that incorporated their wisdom, their knowledge and their guidance, not to produce something that’s top down,” Murphy said.
“Building that kind of collaborative, consensus-based solution takes time. Our plan has always been for October of this year. With everyone involved, I think we’ve done a fairly good job of pulling that together.”
Having that buy-in is vital, especially from the forestry industry.
“If we don’t have the forestry industry to help us mimic the natural disturbance of the ecosystem, we will have worse caribou habitat in 50 years than we have today,” Murphy said.
“Far better that we have economic utilization and allow people to have livelihoods from the boreal forest than to have catastrophic ire or blow down situations. They’re a vital partner.”
CPAWS is also working closely with a handful of forestry companies.
Florence Daviet, the CPAWS national forest program director, said that while an industry group has called out the range planning framework set federally, individual companies have been eager to help conserve caribou habitat.
She said Tembec, ALPAC and Weyerhaeuser have been taking proactive steps to find solutions.
The mining industry has also been supportive.
“They’ve been articulating that they find it very frustrating this topic hasn’t been addressed,” Daviet said.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, and for them, it’s a business issue because they don’t know where to invest, whether they’ll have access to an area they might want to mine. It’s been freezing them instead of helping them know how to move forward. It’s important to get these plans completed and protection established so we know what the playing field looks like.”
Daviet stressed the importance of protecting woodland caribou.
‘The caribou are extremely important, especially in places where the herds are facing an extreme amount of disturbance. The faster these plans can be made, the easier it is to find solutions that work,” she said.
‘The longer you wait, and the more actors there are on the landscape, the harder it is to find appropriate solutions.”
Daviet called boreal woodland caribou an umbrella species. She said if their habitat is protected, several other species will thrive as well. That includes wolverines, grizzlies, other species of caribou and boreal birds.
“We’ve been seeing huge declines in boreal birds because they breed in the boreal forest and need large, intact forest landscapes,” she said.
“Caribou are sensitive to industrial disturbance, they’re considered the canary in the coal mine. If we’re losing caribou, we know there are other species coming in behind if we don’t address the problem.”
That’s why it’s so frustrating for Daviet that so little progress has been made on caribou conservation.
She understands the plans are complicated, but provinces have been aware for five years that they needed to put these range plans together.
‘Five years have passed and there’s very little caribou habitat protection. It’s discouraging that we’ve hit this five year mark and still have no caribou habitat clearly protected,” Daviet said.
“With nine provinces and territories: Yukon, Northwest Territories, BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, that’s a lot of area and places for people to make land use decisions of how they’re going to handle this protection.
“There’s a lot of work to do.”
Canadian woodland boreal caribou are threatened, and provinces had until Oct. 5 to come up with range plans to conserve the species. The deadline passed, and very little work has been done to protect the habitat of this Canadian icon. Now, a group of multinational companies committed to sustainably-sourced paper products are adding their voices to the call to protect the caribou.