(Montreal) Environmentalists are calling on the Quebec government to unveil its plan to protect caribou habitat, after promising several years earlier to implement a strategy to save the herds.
Published yesterday at 10:21 am.
Morgan Lowrie The Canadian Press
The project was scheduled to be presented in June, but the Environment Ministry postponed it due to the numerous forest fires that were ravaging the Quebec region at the time. At the time, the government said it wanted to study the impact of the fires on caribou and logging.
We wanted to present the plan at the end of 2023, but Environment Minister Benoit Charette confirmed to the daily La Presse that the unveiling of the strategy had been postponed “to around mid-January”.
The Canadian Press attempted to obtain updates on the matter, but the government did not respond to its request.
“History only repeats itself,” laments the president of the environmental group Action boréale, Henri Jacob. He recalls that before coming to power in 2018, the Avenir Québec coalition promised to implement a policy to save caribou. The plan was originally scheduled to be presented in 2019, but has since been repeatedly postponed.
“Push back and push back [le processus] is a strategy. And during this time, we continue to cut timber in parts of the forest that are vital to caribou,” he believes.
Mr Jacob says there is no reason to delay the protection plan, not even wildfires. The directive should continue to be subject to consultation, he reminds us. The government can then take the opportunity to adjust its plan to take into account the consequences of the wildfires.
Alain Branchaud, general director of the environmental group SNAP Québec, describes the urgency of the situation. According to him, caribou herds across the province are in decline. He blames forestry, whose practices contribute to disturbing or even destroying animal habitat.
“We cannot accept any further delays,” he said.
He believes a serious plan to save caribou should include protecting at least 35,000 square kilometers of their vital habitat. The federal government, citing scientific studies, has already indicated that it is necessary to achieve a minimum of 65% undisturbed habitat to sustain the caribou population, but Mr Branchaud insists this is the bare minimum.
According to a study published by the journal Land, around 140,000 square kilometers of forest have been lost to forestry in Quebec and Ontario since 1976. This decline had obvious impacts on the caribou population. The Canadian and Australian researchers found that only two of the 21 caribou areas studied reached the 65 percent percentage.
“Significant changes need to be made in the management of the boreal forest in Ontario and Quebec to make it more environmentally sustainable. “We need to place greater emphasis on protecting and restoring the oldest forests and reducing threats to caribou populations,” the study says.
While the government waits to present its strategy, it is pursuing other measures to protect caribou. Among them: the controversial decision to corral three herds and kill the wolf packs that approach them.
A report was presented in 2022 following a series of stakeholder consultations.
Despite the delay, Mr. Branchaud wants to be cautiously optimistic.
The Quebec government has committed to protecting 30% of its territory. The federal government hopes to be able to follow this example. Mr. Branchaud says these promises could force governments to work with indigenous communities to preserve caribou habitat. He also believes that, despite opposition from powerful industry, Quebecers are increasingly understanding the importance of managing forests more sustainably.
He stressed that the decision to bifurcate the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife in 2022 is positive as the interests of the two sectors are often conflicting.
Henri Jacob says he is excited about the government's future strategy but doesn't think Quebec will abandon lucrative forestry and mining activities in caribou habitats, even though they are important for many plants and other animal species.
“We don’t trust the government anymore,” he says, adding that he would love to be wrong.