Activists 10 Years Behind the Current State of Science on Woodland Caribou

Caribou - Photo Courtesy J Schaefer
Caribou – Photo Courtesy J Schaefer

THUNDER BAY – OPINION – Recently activists have claimed that Ontario has not acted to save caribou. Articles submitted to the Toronto Star (Will anyone act to save the caribou? Ontario is not; Ontario stumbles on caribou protection plan) are working against the substantial efforts the province, industry, communities and stakeholders have done to study the habitat of caribou in the Boreal forest. These activists are conveniently ignoring over 20 years of work, 600 tracked animals and $11 million dollars of government research. As if it was Groundhog Day, campaign science is once again attempting to shut down Ontario’s most renewable and sustainable sector, at the expense of 57,000 hardworking men and women in northern and rural communities across this province.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (MNRF) surveys confirm that the recession of caribou range in Ontario has been minimal or non-existent over the last several decades. The majority of the core range occupied since the 1950s is still occupied today, and the range has been extended southward significantly along parts of the southern range edge in northwestern Ontario (compared with the area occupied in the 1950s).

The Dynamic Caribou Habitat Schedule has been in place in forest management plans for over 20 years and requires that forest managers concentrate harvesting, minimize road densities, implement road decommissioning strategies, and develop approaches to promote conifer species (caribou habitat). This is consistent with the Caribou Conservation Plan developed by Ontario government and makes management decisions based on the state of caribou ranges.  This places Ontario as a leader within Canada in terms of caribou range research and management.

In northwestern Ontario, progressive forestry practices for caribou habitat management have been in place since the early 1990’s. Recent data suggest that caribou range retraction has ceased within the past few decades and that caribou are returning to previously harvested areas, suggesting that existing management practices are effective in promoting habitat renewal.

Climate change might be the single greatest threat to caribou habitat, yet activists remain largely silent on this.  An article published this year in the research journal Rangifer, states that by 2050, “under the most conservative greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, with a range of increase in minimum winter temperature between 0.9-5.3ºC, we projected a loss of 57.2-99.8% of woodland caribou range in Ontario.”

Instead, activists continue to hang their hat on human disturbance, despite an evolved understanding of caribou behaviour and ecosystem management within scientific literature.  You cannot help but connect the dots and realize that these groups do not care about the conservation of caribou, they only care about fundraising dollars, putting an end to an industry, and threatening a way of life within our northern communities.

Sustainable harvest volumes within Ontario have increased by 75% since their historic low in 2009, according to Natural Resources Canada.  The industry is recovering and busy providing Toronto’s booming real estate market with an affordable, sustainable, local, and climate-friendly material to build homes with. This renewed economic activity also provides northern, rural, and Indigenous communities with amazing opportunities. The forest sector continues to sustainably harvest less than 0.5% of Ontario’s managed Crown forests annually, yet this small amount supports 57,000 direct jobs. At the end of the day, we will continue to manage our forests responsibly and for generations to come.

To accuse the forest sector and the MNRF of not taking action on woodland caribou, without an understanding of the current state of science, the enormous volume of work completed, and an acknowledgment of the progressive changes to sustainable forest management is an embarrassment. Our jobs, communities, and way of life are irresponsibly being placed at risk by the lobbying efforts of activists and based on information that is 10 years behind the curve.


Mayor Wendy Landry                                                              Mayor Alan Spacek

NOMA President                                                                     FONOM President

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