Iconic Canadian animal in jeopardy after a decade of mishandling by Ontario government
TORONTO – Three environmental groups are calling on the federal government to step in and protect boreal caribou critical habitat in two ranges in northern Ontario.
On Nov. 13, Ecojustice submitted a petition to the federal government on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature and Wildlands League urging the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada to recommend a safety net order under section 61(4) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) for two local boreal caribou populations in northwestern Ontario located approximately 120 km north west of Thunder Bay.
The focus of the petition is two population ranges, Churchill and Brightsand, which face particularly grave circumstances. A biological review conducted by the groups shows boreal caribou critical habitat degradation has worsened in these two ranges since 2011. This, combined with low calf survival and low adult female survival, means these caribou are increasingly unlikely to survive. A legal review by Ecojustice supports the petition’s biological review.
“Our analysis shows that the lack of legal protection continues to jeopardize caribou survival and recovery in Ontario,” Ecojustice lawyer Sarah McDonald said. “Fortunately, the Species at Risk Act’s safety net provision gives Minister McKenna the tools she needs to step in and recommend protection for caribou habitat. We urge the minister to use them.”
It is the federal minister’s duty to recommend that cabinet issue an order to protect habitat when a threatened or endangered species’ critical habitat is not effectively protected by law. A safety net order, if made under SARA, would expire in five years unless the federal cabinet renews it. The groups say an order would protect critical habitat and could provide an incentive for the Ontario government to bring in protections for the threatened iconic land animal under its own Endangered Species Act.
“Ontario isn’t doing anything to facilitate caribou survival and recovery,” Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation said. “The federal government’s directive to maintain and restore a minimum of 65 per cent of caribou habitats has been ignored, while the forestry industry remains exempt from Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. This is exactly the type of situation that calls for a safety net order.”
“Boreal caribou are bellwethers. They play a critical role in helping us understand the state of the boreal forest and wetland ecosystems where they live. We urge the government to take immediate steps to protect this iconic species, and expect them to do so in partnership with Indigenous peoples, and in a way that respects their knowledge and rights to free, prior and informed consent,” Thunder Bay-based boreal program manager at Ontario Nature Dr. Julee Boan said.
“Both these ranges are in a long-term decline and under a multitude of ongoing threats such as an expanding footprint from forestry cutblocks and associated roads, mineral exploration and from a proposed new major permanent 300 km transmission line in the Churchill range,” director of conservation planning at Wildlands League Anna Baggio said. “To make matters worse, the province of Ontario recently extended a blanket exemption for the forest industry from the protection provisions of its Endangered Species Act and continues to approve known harmful industrial activities in caribou’s critical habitat.”
Boreal caribou are listed as threatened both federally and provincially. Federal cabinet has not issued a single safety net order since SARA came fully into force in 2004.
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Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, goes to court to defend nature, combat climate change and fight for a healthy environment for all.
The David Suzuki Foundation is a national, non-profit organization that uses evidence-based research, education and policy analysis to conserve and protect the natural environment, and help create a sustainable Canada.
Ontario Nature is a charitable organization that has been working to protect Ontario’s wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement since 1931.
Wildlands League is a not-for-profit charity that has been working to protect public lands and resources in Ontario since 1968, beginning with a campaign to protect Algonquin Park from development.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Anna Baggio, Wildlands League, 416-453-3285
John Hassell, Ontario Nature, 416-786-2171
Sarah McDonald, Ecojustice (please contact Catharine Tunnacliffe at firstname.lastname@example.org), 416-368-7533 ext. 542
Rachel Plotkin, David Suzuki Foundation, 416-799-8435