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Feds pressure Ontario on boreal caribou conservation

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault raises the prospect of issuing a critical habitat protection order
(Government of Canada)

OTTAWA — The federal government has established a timeline for Ontario to take additional steps to protect the boreal caribou and its habitat.

The species was declared to be threatened since 2003.

Stephen Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, announced last week that Ottawa is giving the province until April 2024 "to demonstrate equivalency of approach between provincial measures and the federal framework."

According to Guilbeault, that timeline was previously agreed upon mutually.

The minister said that after determining earlier this year that some portions of the boreal caribou's critical habitat on non-federal land in Ontario is not adequately protected, he has recommended that a critical habitat protection order be issued as required under the Species at Risk Act.

Details of what that order would include have not been spelled out, but the Ontario Forest Industries Association recently expressed concern about its potential impact.

"Provided that Ontario successfully puts in place the necessary measures and achieves results through the Boreal Caribou Conservation Agreement," the minister said, further steps under the act will not be required.

The two governments signed that agreement in 2022, and committed to several steps:

  • Planning and implementing habitat restoration activities.
  • Increasing protection of boreal caribou habitat through protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.
  • Using evidence-based approaches to manage for self-sustaining local populations.
  • Monitoring and reporting on current and projected future population and habitat conditions.
  • Collaboration and implementation of conservation measures that are informed by independent experts, Indigenous communities and organizations, and stakeholders.

The federal minister's statement didn't specify where he feels the province's efforts are falling short, but noted that the 2022 agreement commits the two governments to collaborate on expert-led validation of evidence-based approaches to manage self-sustaining caribou populations, and to demonstrate continued alignment with federal-provincial caribou conservation frameworks where appropriate.

Guilbeault acknowledged that the province has demonstrated its commitment to implementing conservation measures, and has initiated population monitoring and engagement sessions with stakeholders including Indigenous peoples.

He also referenced Ontario's announcement in Thunder Bay earlier this year of a $29-million investment, over four years, to support on-the-ground restoration, protection and other conservation activities.

The minister said the federal government is prepared to commit to further financial assistance to support these conservation activities.

Under the federal boreal caribou recovery strategy, provinces and territories are expected to put in place plans to outline how each range will be managed to maintain, or attain, a minimum of 65 per cent of undisturbed habitat.

Ontario's estimated 5,000 surviving boreal caribou herd include populations along the north shore of Lake Superior and islands, and farther north across the breadth of the province between Quebec and Manitoba.

TBnewswatch reached out to the province's ministry of the environment, conservation and parks for comment on Guilbeault's statement.

In a brief reply via email, the ministry said "Minister [David] Piccini stood with partners to announce a historic $29.4 million investment in caribou conservation to uphold the Boreal Caribou Conservation agreement and protect this majestic species. We look forward to working in good faith with all partners on boreal caribou conservation."

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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