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press release

Environmental groups call for federal protection of Ontario’s boreal caribou

November 14, 2018

Iconic Canadian animal in jeopardy after a decade of mishandling by Ontario government

For immediate release
Nov 14, 2018

TORONTO – Three environmental groups are calling on the federal government to step in and protect boreal caribou critical habitat in two ranges in northern Ontario.

On Nov 13, Ecojustice submitted a petition to the federal government on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature and Wildlands League urging the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada to recommend a safety net order under section 61(4) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) for two local boreal caribou populations in northwestern Ontario located approximately 120 km north west of Thunder Bay.

The focus of the petition is two population ranges, Churchill and Brightsand, which face particularly grave circumstances. A biological review conducted by the groups shows boreal caribou critical habitat degradation has worsened in these two ranges since 2011. This, combined with low calf survival and low adult female survival, means these caribou are increasingly unlikely to survive. A legal review by Ecojustice supports the petition’s biological review.

“Our analysis shows that the lack of legal protection continues to jeopardize caribou survival and recovery in Ontario,” Ecojustice lawyer Sarah McDonald said. “Fortunately, the Species at Risk Act’s safety net provision gives Minister McKenna the tools she needs to step in and recommend protection for caribou habitat. We urge the minister to use them,” McDonald added.

It is the federal minister’s duty to recommend that cabinet issue an order to protect habitat when a threatened or endangered species’ critical habitat is not effectively protected by law.  A safety net order, if made under SARA, would expire in five years unless the federal cabinet renews it. The groups say an order would protect critical habitat and could provide an incentive for the Ontario government to bring in protections for the threatened iconic land animal under its own Endangered Species Act.

“Ontario isn’t doing anything to facilitate caribou survival and recovery,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation. “The federal government’s directive to maintain and restore 65 per cent of caribou habitats has been ignored, while the forestry industry remains exempt from Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. This is exactly the type of situation that calls for a safety net order.”

“Boreal caribou are bellwethers. They play a critical role in helping us understand the state of the boreal forest and wetland ecosystems where they live. We urge the government to take immediate steps to protect this iconic species, and expect them to do so in partnership with Indigenous peoples, and in a way that respects their knowledge and rights to free, prior and informed consent,” said Dr. Julee Boan, Thunder Bay-based boreal program manager at Ontario Nature.

“Both these ranges are in a long-term decline and under a multitude of ongoing threats such as an expanding footprint from forestry cutblocks and associated roads, mineral exploration and from a proposed new major permanent 300 km transmission line in the Churchill range,” said Anna Baggio, director of conservation planning at Wildlands League. “To make matters worse, the province of Ontario recently extended a blanket exemption for the forest industry from the protection provisions of its Endangered Species Act and continues to approve known harmful industrial activities in caribou’s critical habitat,” Baggio added

Boreal caribou are listed as threatened both federally and provincially. To date, federal cabinet has not issued a single safety net order since SARA came fully into force in 2004.

Read a copy of the petition here.