Canada’s boreal kingdom needs a political champion

Posted on April 20th, 2009

Source: Winnipeg Free Press - Letters to the Editor

Re: Province’s caribou numbers stable (April 13). Across Canada, woodland caribou have disappeared from half of their historic range. The new federal government report on woodland caribou shows that we need to maintain and protect their boreal forest habitats in order for this threatened species to survive. In Manitoba, the report makes it clear that eight of our 11 identified caribou ranges are on the edge and any further habitat disturbance within them will likely lead to dwindling local populations.

The issue of saving woodland caribou from extinction is about much more than protecting one species. Securing a healthy future for caribou will be a huge step toward ensuring the well-being of all of Earth’s life forms, including humans. The caribou’s boreal forest habitat is the Earth’s largest source of fresh water and the world’s largest storehouse of carbon, which helps slow the accelerator pedal on climate change. In other words, protecting the immense and intact forested regions that caribou need will safeguard our drinking water and aid greatly in stabilizing global climate.

Industry leaders and the government should agree to a halt to industrial forestry within Manitoba’s remaining intact contiguous range for this species. This action would protect against further range loss while researchers collect data, map particular ranges, and increase knowledge about range conditions. Also of key importance, Manitoba’s Conservation and Recovery Strategy for Boreal Caribou needs to be revised to make large-scale boreal conservation its key objective. The current approach to managing caribou populations through logging prescriptions is merely an experiment that will likely prove to be another failed attempt by humans to control nature.

In 2007, 1,500 highly respected scientists from more than 50 countries around the world called for protection of Canada’s boreal forest. The scientists’ letter to the federal and provincial governments recommends preserving a minimum of half of Canada’s Boreal Forest in protected areas while allowing only carefully managed development on the rest. This is in accordance with the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, a plan already endorsed by Canadian conservation groups, 25 Canadian First Nations, and more than 75 major businesses with annual sales of $30 billion. Ultimately, to keep Manitoba’s caribou alive and the boreal region fully functioning for all of us, Premier Gary Doer must live up to his commitment to the Boreal Framework by announcing his pledge, and a process, to protect the majority of our province’s boreal kingdom.

Ron Thiessen

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society