In Quebec, the Clash Over Caribou intensifies

They are known as “ gray ghosts wandering silently and in sparse herds through the boreal forests and mountains of Canada. They disappe...


They are known as “gray ghostswandering silently and in sparse herds through the boreal forests and mountains of Canada. They disappear almost as suddenly as they appear, for the lucky few who spot them. The animal is so beloved in Canada that it is engraved on the 25 cent coin.

But woodland and mountain caribou are threatened with extinction, and the Canadian government, which is legally responsible for protecting certain species at risk, is acting to ensure the gray ghosts don’t come back to haunt them.

That may have been on the mind of Canada’s Environment Minister, Steven Guilbeault, this week. Mr. Guilbeault, an environmental veteran turned minister, and his office are negotiating with Quebec to develop a caribou protection strategy, which has been repeatedly delayed. Conservation agreements with British Columbia and Ontario have also been years behind schedule but are under negotiation, and Alberta reached an agreement with the federal government in October 2020, releasing its first land use plans as part of last week’s deal.

“In Quebec, there has been no progress,” Guilbeault told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, as the government heads into what he called “uncharted territory” to threaten to use, for the first time, a “safety net”. in the Species at Risk Act to implement land protections covering critical caribou habitat.

[Read: America’s Gray Ghosts: The Disappearing Caribou]

It has been 10 years since the federal government published its caribou recovery strategyrequiring provinces to write and implement plans within a specific time frame to manage the critical habitats of these animals.

Chris Johnson, professor of landscape conservation at the University of Northern British Columbia, said the time and money invested in research and data collection to protect this iconic species in Canada is “really enough extraordinary, and these animals need it”.

“We often just don’t have the science to support recovery initiatives, at least with confidence,” but the opposite is true for this species, Professor Johnson told me. “The science is pretty clear.”

He said the data suggests caribou have a better chance of survival when their critical habitats are conserved at a 65 per cent threshold – in other words, when that part of their landscape is undisturbed by activity. human.

Land conservation policies place industry in the provinces, from oil fields in Alberta to mining and forestry in Quebec, in a position where they proverbially face off with caribou in a battle for land.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon said there should be a “balance” between saving caribou and protecting jobs, and highlighted the work of ‘a independent commission study caribou as a sign of the province’s progress in this area.

The Quebec chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, a non-profit organization, has taken the federal government to court more than once for flouting the provisions of the Species at Risk Act, including including those related to caribou. The group warned the government last November that it would go to court again to force the federal government to act to protect the caribou.

“Because we have won all of our cases, I think they are taking the lead in initiating all the processes necessary to put the safety net order in place,” said Alain Branchaud, director of the chapter.

Further west in Alberta, a lack of habitat conservation paves the way for caribou-predating wolves, leading to an overreliance on wolf culling, said Carolyn Campbell, director of conservation at the Alberta Wilderness Association.

The killing of wolves now occurs in half of Alberta’s caribou ranges. “It’s a really drastic and terrible reflection on the choices of our society, that we are now scapegoating predators,” she said.

[Read: Hunting Moose in Canada to Save Caribou From Wolves]

[Read: Trapped on an Island With Wolves, the Only Way Out for These Caribou Was Up]

In British Columbia, scientists partnered with Indigenous communities, who entered into a landmark conservation agreement to protect just over 3,000 square miles of caribou habitat by 2020. Seven years earlier, the group of scientists and indigenous conservationists had begun to use what are considered short-term strategies. , such as the maternal enclosure to protect baby caribou from predators, and helped grow a caribou subpopulation to 101 in 2021, from just 38 animals eight years earlier, according to a study published at the end of March.

Clayton Lamb, postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the paper, said Indigenous guardians live up high with caribou and care for them.

As the clock ticks down, wolves hunt and caribou populations dwindle, recovering these endangered animals will only become more costly and difficult, Professor Johnson, from the University of Northern British Columbia.


  • Montreal-born Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Bossy has died at age 65. Mr Bossy helped the New York Islanders win four straight Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s, but he felt that run never got the recognition he deserved.

  • Another former Canadian NHL player from New York, Sean Avery of the New York Rangers, was known as an on-ice challenger. In retirement, his antics land him in court.

  • Julie Doucet, a comic artist from Montreal, returns after a two-decade hiatus with the upcoming release of his new comic, “Time Zone J,” on April 19.

  • As Russian oligarchs continue to be the target of financial sanctions, Britain has frozen assets in Jersey believed to be linked to billionaire Roman Abramovich through an accountant who worked in Toronto for many years.


Vjosa Isai is Canada News Assistant at The New York Times. Follow her on Twitter at @lavjosa.


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Newsrust - US Top News: In Quebec, the Clash Over Caribou intensifies
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