Cari­bou cri­sis

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial -

It may be hard to ad­mit, but it looks like the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is pre­pared to twid­dle its fin­gers un­til an en­tire north­ern cari­bou herd is com­pletely ex­tin­guished. The lat­est cen­sus of the Ge­orge River cari­bou herd is in, and the num­bers are worse than dis­cour­ag­ing - they’re down­right ter­ri­fy­ing.

Keep in mind, the herd had 385,000 an­i­mals in 2001. Nine years later, the num­ber was

74,000. Even with a halt to hunt­ing in

2013, by 2016 the num­bers had fallen to 8,900 an­i­mals.

Now, the num­ber is 38 per cent lower, at just 5,500 cari­bou.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s news re­lease on the lat­est de­cline reads a lit­tle bit like a half-hearted apol­ogy for mak­ing the wrong de­ci­sion: “In 2017 the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of En­dan­gered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) rec­om­mended list­ing the Ge­orge River Cari­bou Herd as En­dan­gered. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered the rec­om­men­da­tion and - at the spe­cific re­quest of In­dige­nous gov­ern­ments and com­mu­ni­ties in Labrador - de­cided not to list, and agreed to de­velop a co-man­age­ment ap­proach be­tween In­dige­nous gov­ern­ments and com­mu­ni­ties and the gov­ern­ment of New­found­land and Labrador.”

If you go back to that COSEWIC re­port in 2017, the cold hard science is alarm­ing: if the cur­rent trends con­tinue, within three gen­er­a­tions, there’s a 20 per cent chance that the Ge­orge River herd will be ex­tinct. That’s within the next 18 to 27 years.

“(The) over­all threat score for the ... pop­u­la­tion was ‘Very High to High,’ based on an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of threats but mainly from pre­dicted im­pacts from min­ing ac­tiv­ity, as­so­ci­ated roads and in­creased ac­cess, hunt­ing, in­creased fire events, and veg­e­ta­tion change as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate change,” the re­port says. (Cari­bou de­pend on lichen, and in­creas­ing tem­per­a­tures in the north are see­ing ar­eas of lichen re­placed by other plants.)

Well, that cer­tainly has not worked - nor does the half-hearted re­sponse that Fish­eries and Land Re­sources Min­is­ter Gerry Byrne was quoted as giv­ing in his depart­ment’s news re­lease: “The con­tin­ued de­cline in Ge­orge River Cari­bou Herd num­bers is se­ri­ous and dis­turb­ing. My depart­ment con­tin­ues to reach out to Labrador In­dige­nous gov­ern­ments and com­mu­ni­ties, the Gov­ern­ment of Que­bec, and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to de­velop a co-man­age­ment ap­proach that would sup­port the re­cov­ery of these iconic and vi­tal an­i­mals.”

The COSEWIC re­port does not mince words about the is­sues: “In sum­mary, un­sus­tain­able har­vest (over­har­vest) rates by hu­mans is a known threat . ... It ap­pears that so­ciopo­lit­i­cal is­sues be­tween gov­ern­ments will re­sult in some level of on­go­ing har­vest. The im­pact of har­vest will in­crease as the cari­bou pop­u­la­tions de­cline.”

Read­ing be­tween the lines in the prov­ince’s news re­lease, it sure sounds like COSEWIC is right.

So, by all means, con­tinue reach­ing out for that co-man­age­ment ap­proach, at least for the next 18 years or so un­til it sim­ply doesn’t mat­ter any­more.

We’re fid­dling while Rome burns.

The lat­est cen­sus of the Ge­orge River cari­bou herd is in, and the num­bers are worse than dis­cour­ag­ing - they’re down­right ter­ri­fy­ing.

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