Caribou status for Environment Week 2009

  • Published on Jun 03 2009 |
  • This article is tagged as: caribou

Newfoundland hunters and conservationists call for action to protect island’s diminishing Boreal caribou

A newly established Newfoundland and Labrador coalition of conservationists, outfitters, hunters and trappers is calling for immediate action to address dramatic losses of Boreal woodland caribou on the island of Newfoundland.

The Coalition for Sustainable Forests of Newfoundland and Labrador (CSFnl), launched January 2009 by the provincial chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation (NLWF) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters Association (NLOA) are calling on the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to take actions similar to provinces such as Ontario and Quebec that are committed to protecting half of the boreal forests from industrial development, and are moving towards ecosystem-based management plans.

There is an overriding concern that quality and quantity of boreal forest habitat may be the contributing factor to these declines similar to elsewhere in Canada as identified in a groundbreaking report released in April by Environment Canada about the state of the country’s Boreal woodland caribou.

It has been over a year since the Honourable Minister of Environment and Conservation Charlene Johnson announced $15.3 million for an intensive 5 year effort to stem the alarming rate of declines of woodland caribou on the island from a high of 96,000 in 1998 to 32,000 in 2008. To date little is known by the public of plans, schedules or set of objectives for the remaining four years, and hunters and outfitters are concerned that hunting closures might be established by the Wildlife

Division.

According to released information, rates of losses of calves to predators are very high, notably black bear and the recently established eastern coyote. “Everyone agrees with the central need to save woodland caribou, and we want to ensure that this Government continues to recognize the importance of this icon as a game species in supporting sporting and economic elements” says Ric Bouzan of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation (NLWF).

CPAWS and other groups in Newfoundland are concerned about the scientific credibility of information being released to the by government. Insular Newfoundland apparently ‘fell through the cracks’ of the Federal COSEWIC status report (2002) on woodland caribou that reported an estimated a population of 100,000 and increasing for insular Newfoundland based on credible references. This resulted in woodland caribou being listed federally under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) elsewhere in its Canadian range but not insular Newfoundland. In stark contrast, the Honourable Charlene Johnson, Minister of Environment and Conservation for Newfoundland and Labrador reported in a March 5, 2009 press release that “Caribou populations have been in a state of decline since approximately the mid to late 1990s. From an estimated peak of over 90,000 caribou in 1996, the present population is estimated at 37,000.”

“The recent release of 5-year cutting Plans for 20,000 km2 of western Newfoundland from environmental assessment does not reflect a true commitment by the Department of Environment and Conservation for conservation and recovery of woodland caribou.” notes Julie Huntington, executive Director of CPAWS-NL.

“If we are to ensure the long term survival of woodland caribou on the island of Newfoundland then our government will have to act more decisively.” states Julie Huntington, Coordinator for the NL Chapter of CPAWS. “Protection of half of our boreal forest from industrial development and the evolution of ecosystem-based management that determines what to leave before deciding what to take is a major step in the right direction.”

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BACKGROUNDER from Dr. Ian Goudie and Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters Association (NLOA)

“The growing caribou numbers during the late 1980s and early 1990s in Newfoundland likely exceeded the carrying capacity of the habitat, and herds appear to have been managed to unsustainable levels while hunters and outfitters were denied hunting licenses.” noted Wayne Holloway of the Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters Association (NLOA). In some areas, concentrations of some herds led to heavy rates of parasite infections, and in others, herds likely faced rapid losses and deterioration of old forest habitats due to increased demands and access from the timber industries.

“The issue of managing for high quality caribou habitat is complicated by the fact that the unsustainably high populations of introduced moose are limiting the regeneration of the indigenous balsam fir forests and provide alternate prey to a burgeoning predator population” says Dr. Ian Goudie Coordinator of the CSFnl. “In winter, over half of the diet of woodland caribou is tree lichens, and these species only grow in profusion in old-growth forests. These forests are rapidly being targeted and removed by industry, and replaced with herbivore-resistant softwoods that are not part of the natural forest sequence”. Management for woodland caribou must include management for moose as well as forested habitat on the landscape. This is the basis for ecosystem management that is the focus of the CSFnl campaign. “Current caribou management is fractured among different departments and divisions and is ad hoc”, notes Dr. Goudie. The losses of calves, aging of herd animals, reduced herd health with reducing capacity to breed, continued loss of old-growth forests and increasing second growth habitat with ready access by humans and predators all spells impending disaster.