Half of Canada was once home to reindeer—AKA boreal woodland caribou. But these gentle, iconic creatures have been pushed to the fringes. Industrial development has fragmented their habitat and increased their exposure to predators. Over half their historic range is gone. Today they remain only in our northern boreal forests and wetlands. Their future is uncertain, and without effective habitat conservation and recovery measures, many populations will go extinct.
Sign up for our newsletter
The Government of Canada's long-awaited Recovery Strategy for boreal woodland caribou—intended to help the species recover—was released last November. Today, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) follow with a report measuring how the provinces, territories and federal government have fared over the past year.
The Recovery Strategy mandates that each province and territory must maintain or restore at least 65 per cent of each caribou range as intact, contiguous habitat—a tall task for jurisdictions already allowing industrial resource extraction with few limitations. The Little Smoky caribou herd's habitat in Alberta is already over 95 per cent disturbed. And over half of Canada's caribou populations have been assessed as "not self-sustaining"—in other words, unlikely to survive unless strong habitat protection and recovery measures are put in place.
The report shows that Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories have made some conservation progress since the Recovery Strategy was introduced. But remaining jurisdictions get low grades and continue to allow business-as-usual industrial operations that destroy caribou habitat.
Canada's caribou remain under serious threat. Provinces and territories must take immediate action to reverse downward population trends by protecting remaining suitable habitat and moving aggressively to restore degraded habitat.