Newfoundland and Labrador’s caribou under growing threat: CPAWS’ annual report

  • Published on Dec 16 2014 |
  • This article is tagged as: caribou

St. John’s -- In its second annual review of governments' efforts to conserve Canada's boreal caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds that threats from industrial development to boreal woodland caribou have continued to increase while conservation and restoration efforts have shown little progress across the country.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we’re particularly concerned about the lack of mitigating  measures  required for approved developments such as the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project. We’re also concerned about  a recent attempt to exclude  construction of a mineral exploration resource access road in the central Avalon from environmental assessment. Both of these projects will affect important caribou habitat.

CPAWS also found examples of threats to vital caribou habitat in other parts of the country.  Manitoba has approved a mine in one of its provincial parks; natural gas extraction and exploration activities continue to increase in British Columbia; a peat harvesting project is advancing in Saskatchewan; and Alberta has approved about 5,000 km2 of additional oil and gas leases in the past two years. 

Woodland caribou have traditionally occupied much of Newfoundland and Labrador’s boreal landscapes. Now habitat fragmentation which  increases access and detection of caribou by predators is a serious threat to their survival. On the island of Newfoundland, the recent establishment of eastern coyotes and now possibly wolves increases the potential for these effects.  Scientists consider caribou as bellwethers of the health of the boreal forest, which also cleanses our air and water, and stores vast amounts of carbon within its soils, moderating climate change. 

In 2012, the Federal Recovery Strategy for Boreal Caribou under the Species-at-Risk Act outlined the critical needs for conservation and restoration measures in vital caribou habitat across Canada. It called for provinces and territories to complete conservation plans by 2017.   As of this fall, CPAWS found only six of the 51 required range plans to be in various stages of development, with none completed so far that meet the federal government’s requirements.

“In Newfoundland and Labrador we are not aware of any caribou range conservation plans under development,” says Ian Goudie, Forest Science Advisor for the CPAWS NL Chapter. “In fact, at this point the Department of Environment and Conservation does not even have a designated person who can speak for caribou management and conservation. CPAWS found that only one  province and one territory implemented concrete measures in the past 12 months that will benefit boreal woodland caribou.. Manitoba created a new park protecting about 1,000 km2 of habitat, and Northwest Territories listed boreal caribou as threatened under its new species-at-risk legislation.

It’s potentially helpful for caribou that the Newfoundland Department of Natural Resources released a Sustainable Forest Management Strategy this fall for the island of Newfoundland that will prevent industrial forestry on about 75% of the species’ range for the next decade. In the meantime,  in early December, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) issued notice that Canada’s entire boreal woodland caribou population is declining because “much of its habitat has been degraded … especially in the southern parts of its range.” It cited cumulative impacts of industrial activity as the chief reason, and also for the first time, it listed the island of Newfoundland caribou population as of ‘special concern’ due to its dramatic drop in numbers since the 1990s.

“In light of these findings, we urge immediate action by Newfoundland and Labrador to implement caribou habitat conservation and restoration measures  at a landscape level,” adds Tanya Edwards, Co-Executive Director of CPAWS-NL.  This includes completion by Newfoundland and Labrador of the science-based management plan for island of Newfoundland Caribou population that was started in 2008.

View full report

For interviews, contact:
Ian Goudie,Ph.D
John Jacobs, Ph.D
Tanya Edwards, Co-Executive Director