Woodland Caribou

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Woodland caribou are a reclusive and iconic species of the boreal forest that is designated “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As the map below illustrates, woodland caribou have been disappearing from the landscape as their southern limit of occurrence moves north over the decades due to a variety of human induced disturbances. Most notable of these disturbances in more recent years is the opening up of intact forest landscapes by forestry activities.

Earthroots was one of several organizations that campaigned aggressively over the years for modifications in forest management techniques to preserve caribou habitat and mitigate the population decline. That campaign appeared to succeed when MNR (now MNRF) published a recovery strategy in 2008 as was required by the ESA . That recovery strategy was a sincere effort by competent technical professionals  and it seemed to set the Ministry on a course toward a sophisticated system of boreal forest management that would stop the species decline. It appeared the provisions of the ESA were doing their job.

Unfortunately it was all too good to be true for too long. In 2018 the government “temporarily” suspended the application of the ESA to forestry operations, and in 2020 they permanently exempted forestry from the ESA. There are no more legislative protections of woodland caribou from forestry operations, only guidelines in the forest management planning documents.

Guidelines are not mandatory. There are no penalties or punishments for not following guidelines. A forestry company or the Ministry responsible can’t be taken to court for violating guidelines.

So again, the effort to assure that the Crown forest is managed for the persistence of woodland caribou falls to the people of Ontario working with groups like Earthroots. Please help us by supporting this campaign!

Approximate historical and current southern limits of continuous distribution of woodland caribou in Ontario (from Darby et al. 1989).

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