Exploring concerns of locals in Northern Ontario regarding boreal caribou habitat loss

TORONTO | TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE MISSISSAUGAS OF THE CREDIT, ANISHNABEG, CHIPPEWA, HAUDENSOAUNEE AND WENDAT PEOPLES — For over a decade, the Canadian Government has urged Ontario to align with the federal boreal caribou recovery strategy. Responding to mounting concerns in northern Ontario about the maintenance of vital caribou habitat, the David Suzuki Foundation and NRDC collaborated with wildlife advocate Blake Moynes to highlight this issue in a series of Instagram videos. The first was released on September 29.

Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, Blake is known for his journey on ABC’s The Bachelorette and his unwavering dedication to wildlife. With a background in global anti-poaching and animal conservation efforts, Blake witnessed unsustainable resource extraction’s toll in his home province’s boreal forest.

His partnership with DSF and NRDC led him three hours north of Thunder Bay. There, the team visited volunteers from Friends of Wabakimi and spent a night at Wabakimi Outfitters Lodge. During their stay, they discussed the impacts of the declining boreal caribou population on tourism for canoeists and nature enthusiasts. Moynes was lucky enough to catch a float plane ride over the boreal forest, getting a bird’s eye view of the forest degradation. The journey then took the team to Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation in Pic River, where Chief Duncan Michano explained how the caribou decline has affected his community.

“The Ontario government wants us to believe a logging site simply mimics the impacts of a wildfire, but fires don’t leave lasting impacts on animal movements in the form of industrial roads,” emphasized Moynes.

Caribou populations are declining, in large part, due to a combination of habitat loss and logging roads, which set into motion a shift in predator dynamics. To ensure the species’ long-term survival, Canadian provinces were directed by the federal government to keep a minimum of 65 per cent of boreal caribou habitats free from industrial disturbance. This safeguarding of critical habitat would also benefit at least 80 other species, including the wolverine and American pine marten, which depend on the boreal forest. Nonetheless, the Ontario government persists in permitting resource extraction like logging and mining in intact habitat within caribou ranges, resulting in the ongoing degradation of the boreal forest.

“Our concerns about declining caribou populations continue to be overshadowed by a government that puts corporate profits over sustainability,” said Dr. Julee Boan, Boreal Partnership Manager for NRDC. “Rather than adjusting forestry operations to lower risks to boreal caribou, Ontario has granted the forest industry a permanent exemption from having to comply with federal requirements to support caribou recovery and long-term survival.”

In March 2023, Canada’s federal Minister of Environmental and Climate Change, Stephen Guilbeault, issued a warning to the Ontario government, declaring the critical caribou habitat is not being effectively protected in this province. In April 2024, the federal government will announce whether or not they will intervene to protect caribou habitat on the ground.

Rachel Plotkin, Boreal Project Manager, DSF asserts, “Ontario has ignored the imperative to protect caribou habitat year after year. It’s evident that the government lacks the credibility to safeguard this threatened flagship species and the overall health of the boreal forest. Federal intervention is imperative to reverse caribou decline.”

The partnership between Moynes, DSF and NRDC aims to raise awareness about this critical issue and encourage the public to advocate for caribou habitat protection. Additional videos will be launched from his Instagram account over the next three weeks.

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For more information or media requests, please contact:

Kate Kourtsidis, David Suzuki Foundation, kkourtsidis@davidsuzuki.org, 613-806-8184

The David Suzuki Foundation (DavidSuzuki.org | @DavidSuzukiFdn) is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, founded in 1990. We operate in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We collaborate with all people in Canada, including First Nations leadership and communities, governments, businesses and individuals to find solutions to create a sustainable Canada through scientific research, traditional ecological knowledge, communications and public engagement, and innovative policy and legal solutions. Our mission is to protect nature’s diversity and the well-being of all life, now and for the future.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.