Group calls for protection of woodland caribou

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Barb Sweet
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Species in ‘steep and rapid decline,’ says report

Terry French

The Canadian Boreal Initiative is calling on the provincial government to temporarily halt new forest harvesting and road building in woodland habitat areas, among other things, but Environment Minister Terry French said that ban is not going to happen.

Releasing a report on the woodland caribou’s habitat, the environmental group said government should not allow any new harvesting or roads until a five-year caribou strategy is completed, as well as the 2013 sustainable forest management strategy and research is finished.

It also called on government to adopt caribou management that maintains large intact habitat landscapes across the island.

The group also wants the province to adopt a natural areas plan and put priority on protecting areas that overlap with caribou ranges.

But Mr. French said the department is in the fourth year of a five-year, $15-million research project, and science suggests that predators such as bears, coyotes and lynx are to blame for declines in caribou, not development and fores-try activities.

“There’s no evidence for us to stop fores- try or mining,” Mr. French said.

Mr. French said the province is studying the possibility of expanding protected habitats.

But he said the decline of the caribou population has some good news — calves are stronger, indicating the decline is slowing and the signs are good for the future.

“We are headed in the right direction. We are not out of the woods yet, absolutely not,” he said.

The report notes that significant habitat remains in Newfoundland, protection of those areas are inadequate in the face of pressures like forest harvesting, industrial development and construction of roads and transmission lines that mar the suitability of the land and constrain caribou movement, but increase access for hunters.

“Woodland caribou in Newfoundland have recently experienced a steep and rapid decline,” the report reads.

“While predation on caribou calves is a key reason for this decline, habitat alteration from human land use and activities can result in functional habitat loss - a decline in caribou occupancy well beyond the immediate footprint of the disturbance.”

In 2002, the woodland caribou population was 85,000, more than double the entire Boreal population in Canada, and was not considered at-risk. But, according to the report, since the late 1990s when the Newfoundland caribou population peaked at 96,000, caribou numbers have experienced “a severe and rapid decline.” The total population in December 2009 was estimated to be 32,000.

Larry Innes, executive director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, said in a news release the province has an opportunity to position itself as a national leader on caribou conservation.

“We still have the opportunity to develop conservation solutions through collaboration between the province, industry, local communities and Aboriginal governments. This is far preferable to trying to manage conflicting demands in a crisis,” he said.

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada

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