Caribou: Quebec presented an unconvincing plan without protected areas

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Caribou: Quebec presented an unconvincing plan without protected areas

The woodland caribou habitat is heavily disturbed by human activities.

The plan submitted by Quebec to the federal government is not likely to help woodland caribou in the short term, biologists deplore. According to them, the absence of new protected areas, “the sinews of war”, does not give hope of a recovery of the herds and rather confirms the status quo that Ottawa wants to tackle.< /p>

At the beginning of April, the federal Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault, sent a letter to the Legault government in which he summoned it to provide any information on the protection of deer in Quebec soil.

The requested information was finally passed on to federal officials last June, two months after the April 20 deadline set by the minister. Their contents have not convinced Ottawa to back down.

Without a satisfactory plan, Mr. Guilbeault threatens to impose an order in council on the x27; critical habitat under Canada's Species at Risk Act. The federal government would thus take control of activities in territories covering an area of ​​up to 35,000 square kilometers, or even a little more.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault came out against Quebec three weeks ago, accusing the province to persist in the issue of woodland caribou.

Radio-Canada has obtained a copy of the measures proposed by the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) as part of its discussions with Environment Canada.

Dismantling of forest roads , development and maintenance of caribou enclosures, non-commercial silvicultural work in certain areas of habitat being restored, spruce budworm control in Gaspésie, telemetric monitoring of herds, predator control : studies and various projects for the year 2022-2023 are presented on nine pages.

Radio-Canada showed the plan in question to two experts on boreal caribou and their habitat.

If Quebec seems at first glance to do a lot, the document does not reassure them. One of the impressions is that most of the measures had already been announced, while others will not show results for several years. One of them speaks of a collection of everything that is done at the MFFP on caribou, but without any real coherence or evaluation of their impact on the recovery of the herds.

He also notes the presence, in the Quebec plan, of measures targeting migratory caribou, an ecotype distinct from the woodland or mountain caribou that are in question in the negotiations with the federal government. The lack of distinction between the day-to-day management of the ministry and the actual intervention measures is also criticized.

The habitat of woodland caribou is disturbed by more than 70% in several sensitive sectors in the south of the province.

Without consulting each other, the two biologists especially noticed the lack of creation of protected areas, which would make it possible to protect certain mature forests or old.

It does not seem to show clearly that we are going to protect so many thousands of cubic meters of wood, so many square kilometers of forest, observes Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, professor of animal ecology at the University of Quebec in Rimouski. The elephant in the room, he adds, is that Quebec is not tackling caribou habitat alteration head-on.

In a real strategy, considering the state of current knowledge, it should be written: “We are going to create a certain number of square kilometers of protected areas and we are going to restore these areas”, slice he.

The absence of a more assertive restoration of the territory is disappointing, according to Mr. St-Laurent. He would have liked a certain break with the vision that has been put forward in recent years at the department, which has allowed the forest industry to source caribou habitat. .

The plan presented to the federal government, in his opinion, perpetuates the status quo of actions carried out with very little ambition to ensure the survival and recovery of the species. There is nothing that leads us to believe that the status quo will lead us to other results, he judges harshly.

Aerial view of forest areas where cuts have been made in the Laurentides wildlife reserve, where Charlevoix caribou frequented certain massifs before being put in enclosures last winter.

This more economic vision of the forest has, according to him, contributed to the decline of woodland caribou populations in Quebec, of which there may only be 5,252 individuals left today.

For Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, the key now is to identify the few patches of intact forest still available, protect them, and initiate extensive restoration around these areas. By doing that, we will take a different trajectory, he said.

“We are no longer in the ecology of conversation, we are in the ecology of restoration. We're a lot better at fixing the mistakes of the past, in my opinion. »

— Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, biologist and professor of animal ecology at UQAR

Martin-Hugues Saint-Laurent, biologist at UQAR and caribou expert.

Alain Branchaud, general manager of the Society for Nature and Parks (SNAP Quebec), agrees. According to him, the 2022-2023 plan contains absolutely nothing to suggest the establishment of new protected areas and connectivity corridors allowing woodland caribou herds to not only maintain themselves, but to thrive.

Like Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, he criticizes the lack of will to act more strongly on the restoration of the habitat and its protection against human disturbances.

The logical sequence would be to first commit to protecting territories that we already know are important for the recovery of caribou and to set up protected areas. who target these territories, he insists. Then, you have to go and intervene in those environments when there have been disturbances. This would already be, in his view, an adequate plan more likely to be supported by Ottawa.

On restoration, Quebec already uses certain tools, such as the dismantling of forest roads and restoring them to their natural state. But the different pieces of the plan, in its current state, are not consistent with each other, believes Alain Branchaud.

Alain Branchaud, General Manager of the Society for Nature and Parks of Canada, Quebec section

The biologist also finds it a little embarrassing to see Quebec begging for money from the federal government to finance its forest management activities, which are inappropriate for the recovery of the species. The Quebec plan indeed shows that many of the current or future projects were planned under a budget sharing agreement with Environment Canada.

However, without an agreement on the protection of species at risk, the last one having expired since last March, transfers from the federal government have been interrupted for the moment.

After Minister Steven Gulbeault stepped down in April, Quebec Premier François Legault claimed exclusive provincial jurisdiction over woodland caribou management.

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“If the Government of Quebec wants to maintain its leadership in caribou protection, it must move forward with the protection of the territory and put in the necessary resources. »

— Alain Branchaud, Executive Director, CPAWS Quebec

Alain Branchaud believes that Quebec should seize the open door of Ottawa in the current caribou negotiations . In exchange for protected areas, for example, he said the province could obtain funds to compensate forest users who would suffer the consequences.

Quebec has already made a request to this effect, but it is impossible to know what the province is ready to offer in exchange to meet federal expectations.

Invited to react to criticism and clarify certain elements, the MFFP defended its plan sent to Ottawa. In particular, it specifies that each measure listed is considered short-term, while a series of other medium- and long-term measures will be embedded in the future habitat protection strategy.

As to why the creation of protected areas was not included in its document transmitted to Ottawa, the ministry did not offer the same answer.

Pierre Dufour is Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks and led the various actions to protect woodland caribou during the first term of the Coalition avenir Québec.

In addition to To ensure population monitoring through a major annual deployment of various activities, major protection measures have been put in place, in particular the temporary protection of sensitive forest areas, habitat restoration and the introduction of management measures to populations whose state is considered precarious, instead wrote the MFFP in an email sent to Radio-Canada.

Quebec says it has imposed certain conditions on the federal government to arrive at a caribou agreement. First of all, he demands respect for the process of developing his new strategy, which will probably not be ready before the provincial elections in the fall.

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