Quebec details its plan to capture and fence isolated caribou herds to protect them – Montreal


The Quebec government will deploy helicopters, net guns, specially constructed traps and tranquilizer darts to capture and fence animals from two isolated wild caribou herds to prevent them from dying, the Wildlife Department announced Wednesday.

Members of the herds in Gaspésie, Que., and Charlevoix, Que., will be captured and moved to newly constructed enclosures before the end of winter, Wildlife Service officials told reporters.

The entire Charlevoix herd, estimated at less than 20 animals, will remain in the enclosures indefinitely, while in Gaspésie, it is planned to capture only pregnant females and release them once their fawns are a few months old.

The province is also building a larger pen for the herd in Val d’Or, Que., which was penned in 2020 and has just seven animals.

In a Wednesday morning briefing, a Wildlife Department biologist released photos and plans of facilities at each site. The images show tall electrified fences covered in black landscape fabric, designed to deter predators and curious humans.

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Typically, facilities each include two main living areas as well as smaller enclosures to isolate sick or lambing animals. They also include places where animals will be fed and can be captured if necessary.

As the land will not provide enough grazing material, the animal feed will be supplemented with lichen, grain and some hay.

Melissa Chatelain, a government biologist, described the project as “unique and large-scale”, promising that animal welfare was “at the heart” of every decision made.

The Quebec government has argued that confining caribou helps protect them from predation and ensures they have access to enough food, water and veterinary care.

READ MORE: Parks Canada plans captive breeding program for caribou in Jasper National Park

But conservationists have criticized the province for its failure to protect old-growth caribou forest habitat and for delaying the release of its long-awaited action plan to rebuild the species.

Carl Patenaude-Levasseur, a Wildlife Department official, told reporters that fencing the animals is seen as a temporary measure to help them survive, but he could not say when they might be released.

He said the answers would likely come when the government releases its caribou action plan, which is expected to be released later this year and take effect in 2023.

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Pier-Olivier Boudreault, biologist and director of conservation for nature group SNAP Quebec, described the government’s plan as a “smokescreen” that gives the public the impression it is serious about saving caribou as that its lack of meaningful action proves otherwise.

He said caribou numbers have declined due to decades of government inaction.

“We’re a bit disappointed to have ended up putting the caribou in enclosures,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “These are animals that roam thousands of square miles in the forest that are confined to a fifth of a mile in an enclosure.”

Boudreault suggested the millions of dollars spent on caribou fencing could be better spent on preserving remaining old-growth forests and closing logging and hunting roads that allow predators easy access to their prey.

Caroline Hins, a Wildlife Department biologist who was present at the technical briefing, admitted that it becomes more difficult to successfully release the animals the longer they remain in captivity.

“The longer we wait, the more caribou will lose their instinct to escape predators and feed,” she told reporters.

The Gaspé animals will be captured in a “traditional” way by helicopter and net gun, Chatelain said. From there, the pregnant females will be taken to one of the two 15-hectare “maternity pens”.

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In Charlevoix, where animals are known to be more fearful, Chatelain said the government is trying a strategy that involves building a temporary fencing system and herding animals into a smaller space where they can be tranquilized and taken to their homes. new enclosure.

Chatelain admitted that the government cannot offer any guarantee that it will succeed in capturing the caribou.

Patenaude-Levasseur said the cost of fencing for the new enclosures in Gaspé and Charlevoix is ​​about $1.1 million each, plus another $300,000 to $400,000 for other infrastructure such as roadways. access, feeders, wells and a residence for a guardian to watch the animals. .

This does not include ongoing annual costs such as caretaker’s salary, animal feed and snow removal.

© 2022 The Canadian Press


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