Measures and recommendations for caribou management and conservation
Communities, First Nations and employers want to be involved in decisions about where and how measures are implemented to conserve and protect Species At Risk (SAR). To date, consultations by the federal government have been minimal and distant. Consultations were initially conducted by Ontario but have since been neglected. Consultations conducted by Ontario did not respond to public concerns regarding caribou protection measures. Since Canada’s SAR actions are incomplete and it relies on provinces to complete the program, Canada must take responsibility for the failure of provinces to adequately carry out consultation.
Communities and industries affected by caribou recovery measures have repeatedly asked the government to carry out a socio-economic impact evaluation of the habitat measures and the government has repeatedly refused to engage. While SARA requires Canada to carry out socio-economic impact evaluations of SAR measures, a socio-economic evaluation is optional in Ontario. This is unacceptable to our community.
In our Ontario experience, Indigenous Traditional Knowledge has not been considered in the caribou conservation process.
Adaptive Management and Science
As new science becomes available, it must be applied to improve current practices through the process of Adaptive Management. In Ontario, we are not seeing it being applied. Caribou recovery measures were developed and applied in the Ontario Woodland Caribou Conservation Plan in 2009. In the subsequent 8 years, many new scientific developments on caribou have been revealed and the knowledge base has grown immensely, yet the CCP remains unchanged and outdated.
Of particular concern is the simplistic concept that caribou population health can be solely evaluated by disturbance of habitat and ranges. New science confounds and seriously questions the concept. It is important that Canada recognize the appropriate concepts, otherwise we are heading down a path of heavy financial burden on our major employers, impacts to jobs, unnecessary ecological effects caused by misguided protection measures that will fail because we didn’t respond suitably.
Overlap between the feds and provinces. Development and monitoring of agreements. All at the Canadian taxpayers’ expense. How can this be streamlined, made more efficient?
Federal Action Plan is partial because it does not address all requirements of the Species At Risk Act (SARA). The Action Plan relies on Provincial Range Plans to be adopted over time:
in our situation, we have provincial direction that ignores the reality of the regional landscape and ploughs ahead with caribou-saving measures that will not work. We need a process that will develop ecologically-realistic Action Plans and this federal approach does not achieve that goal.
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) will assess whether the boreal caribou and their habitat are effectively protected across Canada:
How will ECCC do this? The provinces already have considerable and expensive teams of experts addressing caribou and habitat. Is Canada ramping up similarly? Is this cost effective and are we getting value from these overlapping bureaucracies?
Conservation agreements will be struck between provinces and the federal government under section 11 of SARA, to hold provinces accountable to action:
Again, this creates more costly bureaucracy, as teams of legal agreement writers and negotiators will be required to establish, implement and monitor the agreements.
If the Federal Minister determines that any portion of critical habitat is unprotected, a report will be issued that describes the steps to be taken to protect critical habitat and the Minister will recommend that the Governor in Council issue an order:
This will open the federal government up to significant lobbying by ENGOs. How will science, rather than special-interest politics, prevail?
The forest industry and many communities continue to demand that a complete account of economic cost and job impacts of the SARA and specifically caribou habitat measures, be undertaken with full involvement of those who will be affected.
Will there be federal funding made available to reinvigorate a program for use of prescribed fire to improve or restore habitat?
Context and Scope of the Action Plan
We support direct actions to manage predators, as in many cases this is much more cost effective than attempting to limit predator numbers through expensive long-term forest cover manipulations that will prove costly with dubious outcomes.
While provinces have primary responsibility for management of natural resources and wildlife in boreal caribou ranges, our experience is that Ontario is intransigent to the public comment and resistant to public engagement in developing plans to conserve boreal caribou.
Science to Support Recovery
The model which is used to predict caribou population status based on disturbance and the policy decision that established 60% minimum probability for a self-sustaining population, may have been based on the best available information at the time in 2011, but is now outdated. Since then, new science and information has been uncovered, which significantly challenges the veracity of both the premise for the model and the policy decision. Caribou living in 3 distinct highly disturbed locations in Ontario, Nagagami, Longlac and Fauquier challenge the disturbance assumption. As well, 6 of the 13 Ontario ranges are outside the area of forest management and have low levels of disturbance yet are still experiencing declines in a caribou numbers. Either the disturbance-population status theory is flawed, or other significant unidentified factors are co-contributing to caribou decline in the less disturbed ranges i.e. variables within caribou habitat that, to date, have not been controlled or we are incapable of measuring. For example, Ontario has good pregnancy rates, but low recruitment, meaning something is happening between pregnancy and the first 8 months of life (Ontario does recruitment surveys in the winter). Black bears have been found to be significant predators of calves in Quebec. Frequent stillbirths are apparent from video-collaring in Ontario. The validity of simply linking population status with disturbance is seriously put into question by more current science and observations.
Recovery Measure 1
Our experience in Ontario is that Indigenous Traditional Knowledge (ITK) is not being used to further our knowledge about caribou and habitat. Locally, there is serious rejection of Ontario’s approach to recovering caribou by First Nations because ITK has not been sought or used in planning.
Recovery Measure 3
A greater understanding and recognition of regional landscape differences and caribou adaptations to landscapes is needed. What, in fact, constitutes a “range”? Our Ontario experience is that policy makers are resistant to considering regional ecological differences, to the detriment of indigenous wildlife other than caribou (e.g. moose), ecological dynamics and forest sector financial health. Landscapes that are not currently or will never be capable of becoming caribou habitat, and are not currently occupied by caribou, are designated as habitat and range and will be subjected to considerable silvicultural efforts and expenses if the reality of the situation is not soon recognized. Exisiting identified ranges must be reviewed using the latest knowledge and involve forest practitioners and communities.
Recovery Measure 5
Climate Change will bring profound changes to our communities and surrounding forests in the not too distant future. The most recent research on how CC will affect our forests, and as a result, caribou habitat, is available in two papers on boreal tree species, black and white spruce:
From Joyce and Rehfelt 2017
“The majority of the managed boreal forest in Canada…is projected to be vulnerable to extirpation forces as early as the decade centred on 2030.
“Approximately 56 per cent of the contemporary distribution [of black spruce] is predicted to be lost or threatened habitat by 2060.”
“Our analysis describes a future that is grim for P. mariana; difficult for ecologists; and desperate for forest managers.”
From Lu et al 2014
“Indeed, it appeared as though the growth of northern white spruce populations is becoming, if not the case already, suboptimal to a warming climate.”
“For example, at an average site in northern Ontario … over the past 30-40 years provenances from the southern group (moved northward by about 3° latitude) would have produced about 13.5% more mean stem volume than the local populations.”
We need pro-active public policy that will position society to adapt and prosper during climate change. Blindly hanging onto past paradigms is not an option:
From Joyce and Rehfelt 2017
“… the only course of action known to be untenable fraudulent is maintaining [forest management] programs designed for climates of [the] last century.”
Recovery Measure 6
The proposal to reconcile recovery measures for multiple species in the context of single landscapes will be a progressive step forward. To date, the multitude of species recovery plans (both federal and provincial) address single species without regard for impacts these measures have on other species occupying a common landscape, contrary to ecological reality. Can the federal government oblige provinces to more holistically integrate species at risk planning with all other species that share that landscape in mind?
Recovery Measure 7
Today, there are adequate resources and information available to measure and evaluate habitat disturbance. The challenge in our region is to bring existing science and knowledge into government policy and direction. Our challenge is getting recognition for the role that lichen plays in caribou habitat. Research in ever more distant remote sensing methods does nothing to assist in this challenge. Observing lichen from high resolution aerial imagery is challenging enough, let alone the thought of relying on space-based methods for lichen presence.
Recovery Measure 8
Research to optimize habitat recovery through landscape restoration must consider the impacts of climate change on likelihood of success. In a short period of several decades, CC will force us to reexamine the kinds of habitat that can simply be maintained, let alone restored at any given latitude. Forest ecoregions will only survive if human actions successfully artificially migrate them northward.
SARA requires that an action plan include evaluation of the socio-economic costs of an action plan, however in Ontario socio-economic evaluation is optional. Public consultation in Ontario has been completely unsatisfactory. The communities and industries affected by caribou recovery measures have repeatedly asked the government to carry out a socio-economic impact evaluation of the habitat measures and the government has repeatedly refused to engage. It is not acceptable that the federal government hand off responsibility to the provinces for identifying ranges and conservation actions and then accept that the province fails in its responsibility to affected citizens.
Likewise, it’s not acceptable that the federal government hand off responsibility to the provinces and let the provinces ignore engaging with Indigenous communities and applying ITK.
We want to participate in the discussions about caribou management and to be involved with establishing conservation measures and recommendations. Policy makers, both federal and provincial, have been intransigent to local interests, needs and knowledge for nearly a decade. This has to change!