Measures proposed by the Quebec government to help protect its dwindling caribou herds will make no difference in the short term, say biologists, who cite a lack of will to create protected areas for the species.
There are currently only 5,252 woodland or mountain caribou left in Quebec. There are only seven left in Val-d’Or. The Charlevoix and Gaspésie herds — numbering 16 and 35 caribou respectively — are also on the brink of extinction.
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault previously sent an ultimatum to the Legault government, requesting all information regarding measures to protect Quebec caribou and their habitat by April 20.
However, Radio-Canada has learned that the Quebec plan was not sent until mid-June and was deemed deficient by the federal government.
Without a sufficient plan, Guilbeault had threatened to use an order in council to impose measures under the Species at Risk Act. The provision has never been used in Canada and, once in force, it can remain in force for five years.
The federal government would theoretically take charge of approximately 35,000 square kilometres, or 2.3% of the entire territory of Quebec, to protect the species.
Biologists who have seen Quebec’s proposed plan say Ottawa may need to intervene, due to a reluctance to act on the part of the provincial government.
The plan will not ensure survival: expert
Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the measures proposed by the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP) as part of its discussions with Environment Canada.
The nine-page document proposes several measures, including the dismantling of certain forest roads, the development and maintenance of caribou enclosures, the control of predators and the remote monitoring of herds.
Biology experts specializing in caribou told Radio-Canada that the absence of new protected areas, which would allow the government to protect the mature forests where caribou live, was concerning.
“It does not clearly show that we are going to protect as many square meters of woodland, as many square kilometers of forest,” said Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, professor of animal ecology at the University of Quebec at Rimouski.
St-Laurent said forest protection is “the elephant in the room” and that until there is a real strategy for it, Quebec “is not tackling the problem head-on.”
Earlier this year, the Quebec government commissioned an independent commission committee of experts launch a series of regional public hearings, aimed at formulating recommendations to “protect caribou habitats and limit the socio-economic impacts of this protection”, such as the forestry industry. He is due to submit his findings to the government this summer.
Some caribou habitats have been seriously damaged by human disturbances, particularly by the presence of logging roads and logging operations.
But the Quebec plan is effectively “the status quo, carried out with very little ambition to ensure the survival and recovery of the species,” concluded Mr. St-Laurent.
Quebec wants to retain its jurisdiction
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Quebec should retain exclusive provincial jurisdiction over woodland caribou management.
But Alain Branchaud, executive director of the Society for Nature and Parks (SNAP Quebec), said the provincial government must do more to prevent the federal government from intervening.
“If the Quebec government wants to maintain its leadership in caribou protection, it must move forward with the protection of the territory and provide the necessary resources,” he said.
Joined by Radio-Canada, the MFFP defended the plan, saying each point is listed as a short-term solution, while a series of other medium- and long-term measures will be incorporated into the future habitat protection strategy. .
The ministry did not explain why no protected areas were proposed in the document.