Environmental groups tear up new caribou protection agreement between Ontario and Ottawa

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

A new five-year deal between the federal government and Ontario to protect the province’s beleaguered caribou is a “spectacular failure” for the species, environmental groups say.

Ottawa and the province reached the agreement last week, describing them both as “the key to caribou recovery management” that also takes into account the economy.

But several environmental groups say they are devastated by the new agreement.

The Wildlands League, David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature said the recently reached agreement encourages the clearing of tracts of forest that are part of boreal caribou habitat.

“It’s a spectacular failure,” said Anna Baggio, director of conservation at the Wildlands League.

“This deal enshrines more habitat destruction.”

She said the agreement does nothing to ensure that logging and mining is reduced in caribou range in northern Ontario.

Boreal caribou are threatened both federally under the Species at Risk Act and in Ontario under the Endangered Species Act.

There are about 5,000 caribou left in the province, the federal and provincial governments said.

There is also a small, isolated population along the coast and several islands in Lake Superior.

In 2019, the province, Michipicoten First Nation and several conservationists helped relocate a small number of caribou to different islands in the lake in an effort to save this population.

Several wolves made it onto Michipicoten Island when the water froze and created an ice bridge in 2014. The wolves ended up killing and eating most of the caribou over the next few years. These wolves were moved to Isle Royale on the American side of Lake Superior.

“It’s shocking,” Ontario Nature’s Julee Boan said of the deal in a statement.

“This agreement not only delays the restoration of caribou habitat, it gives the green light to more habitat destruction.

The David Suzuki Foundation has accused federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault of prioritizing relations with the Ontario government over saving habitat.

“We have seen minister after minister and bureaucrat after bureaucrat waiting for Ontario to do the right thing instead of acting,” Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation said in a statement.

“The sad thing is that after all this waiting, the province continues to put forward a political landscape that promotes habitat destruction.”

The province’s Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agreement “provides a framework that commits the two governments to establish and implement the conservation measures necessary to maintain and restore self-sustaining populations of boreal caribou in the province,” reads the published agreement decision. on the provincial government website.

The decision also notes that the caribou range “also provides many valuable natural resources to the forestry and mineral exploration and mining sectors.”

“While the primary objective of this agreement is to maintain or improve the environmental conditions necessary for the recovery of boreal caribou, Ontario and Canada recognize that achieving the protection and recovery of boreal caribou will take into account the factors social and economic in concert with conservation measures,” the decision says.

Environmental groups have said the deal is at odds with threats by federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to unilaterally implement tougher protections for caribou in Quebec.

Representatives of Quebec, from the Premier to the Minister of Forests, said that it was an overrun on the part of the federal government and that it would cost jobs.

Environment and Climate Change Canada said Thursday the agreement with Ontario “does not preclude the minister from using his authority” under the Species at Risk Act.

“Parties to the agreements will be held accountable and will demonstrate progress in implementing the conservation actions outlined in the conservation agreement, through public reporting,” the ministry said in a statement.

Guilbeault said the deal is an “important first step to ensure sustainability”

“It includes significant new commitments to habitat restoration activities, increased habitat conservation areas, better evidence-based decision-making, monitoring and reporting, and stakeholder collaboration. stakeholders, supported by a shared investment of $10 million for 2022-2023,” he said.

“We have made it clear that more conservation work and additional funding will be needed in the future to ensure the success of caribou recovery.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 28, 2022.

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