Can Quebec’s declining caribou herds be saved? Environmental groups no options under consideration

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How much are Quebecers willing to pay to save the province’s caribou?

That’s the question being asked by the province’s independent woodland and mountain caribou commission.

The commission will launch a series of regional public hearings this spring to gather participants’ opinions on two theoretical scenarios for the protection of the species.

Of the two scenarios proposed, one would do little to protect a quarter of caribou habitat in Quebec and would have minimal impact on logging. The other is to put in place more measures to protect caribou, but that would cost the province millions of dollars and eliminate hundreds of jobs in the forestry industry.

The commission’s mandate is not to analyze the causes of the decline in the number of caribou, said Nancy Gélinas, dean of the Faculty of Forestry, Geography and Geomatics at Laval University, who chairs the commission.

“We will not become caribou experts,” she said.

Instead, according to Gélinas, the goal is to make recommendations that will both “protect caribou habitats and limit the socio-economic impacts of this protection.”

2 hypothetical scenarios

On Thursday, representatives of the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks presented the two scenarios he had developed as part of the commission’s work.

The first case, more favorable to caribou populations in Quebec, is based on an update of work begun in 2019. Tens of millions of dollars would have to be spent to restore certain caribou habitats seriously damaged by human disturbance. , in particular by the presence of forest roads and logging operations.

Investments should also be made in caribou management and protection measures.

Depriving the logging industry of these habitats would result in a loss of just over 900,000 cubic meters of wood per year, according to documents presented Thursday. This would mean a loss of approximately 841 jobs in the forestry industry, which directly employs some 60,000 Quebecers.

Of the two options presented by the commission, one would do little to protect a quarter of caribou habitat in Quebec and would have a minimal impact on logging, while the other would put in place certain caribou protection measures and eliminate jobs and economic benefits for the forest industry. (Radio-Canada)

The second scenario proposes concentrating caribou protection efforts where the chances of success are highest.

This would amount to wiping out three herds of woodland caribou in difficulty, namely those in the regions of Val-d’Or, Charlevoix and Pipmuacan, and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, as well as the caribou population of Péribonka.

Under this scenario, which would have no impact on the forest industry, Quebec would eliminate habitat restoration zones and abolish all corridors connecting habitats where caribou can thrive. With the exception of Gaspésie, no territory south of Amos, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, would be protected.

Scenario 1 provides for the maintenance of restoration zones for Charlevoix, Val-d’Or, Pipmuacan and Péribonka. These areas and the corridors that connect them disappear in scenario 2. The hatched parts are the same for both scenarios. (Courtesy of the Government of Quebec)

Neither scenario is acceptable, say environmental groups

The commission’s documents have already been criticized by environmental groups who are calling for immediate action to save caribou herds.

Nature Quebec executive director Alice-Anne Simard said there should be no scenario that would “lead to the extinction” of a quarter of caribou habitat in the province and eliminate all connecting corridors between these habitats.

She said the first scenario is the only one that should be considered, and even that needs to be improved.

“The first scenario is already a compromise between the needs of the species to ensure its recovery and the demands of the forest industry,” Simard said.

Another group, the Society for Nature and Parks Canada (CPAWS), has said it intends to boycott the commission because the options presented appear to favor the logging industry and will not do enough to save the caribou.

Quebec’s woodland caribou are listed as endangered by the federal government. Environmental groups say the options presented by the commission appear to favor the forestry industry and will not do enough to save the caribou. (Katrina Noel/Radio-Canada)

“The two scenarios they propose, the one that would be the best for the caribou is not enough. It sends the message that they are not really interested in saving the species,” said CPAWS Director General Alain Branchaud.

He said CPAWS is also considering legal options to force the province to protect its caribou herds.

The commission stressed that its work is not intended to choose between one scenario or the other, but rather to stimulate reflection and frame the discussion according to two extreme options.

The in-person consultations will begin on April 12 in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, in Gaspésie, and will end on May 17 in Baie-Comeau, on the North Shore of Quebec. The schedule also includes stops in Baie-Saint-Paul, La Sarre, Val-d’Or, Chibougamau and Alma.

The commission will meet with citizens, including representatives of the First Nations communities, as well as stakeholders from the regions concerned in order to hear their opinions on these hypothetical scenarios.

Quebecers are invited to express themselves by participating in one of the public hearings, by submitting a brief or by completing an online questionnaire.

Once the consultations are complete, the commission will submit its recommendations to the government before the end of the summer.

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