British Columbia

Provinces fail to meet deadline to protect threatened boreal forest caribou habitats

The provinces has failed to meet a federal deadline to release plans to protect boreal forests habitats and caribou populations.

The provinces were given 5 years to develop plans but none made the Oct. 5 deadline

Caribou grazing near Port Aux Choix (Point Riche Lighthouse) on a beautiful summer day. (Submitted by Donnie O'Keefe)

Canadian provinces have failed to meet a federal deadline to release plans to protect caribou populations and their boreal forests habitats.

In 2012, the federal government found 37 of Canada's 51 boreal caribou herds were not self-sustaining, with wildlife scientists predicting they could decline by 30 per cent over the next 15 years.

Provinces were given five years to develop habitat protection plans under Canada's Species At Risk Act.

The federal government emphasized that all caribou ranges should be at least 65 per cent undisturbed.

The deadline set by the federal government was Oct. 5, 2017. So far, no province has publicly released a plan. 

Rachel Plotkin, with the David Suzuki foundation, called the failure to meet the federally-mandated deadline a "black eye" for Canada.

"Immediate leadership is needed by the federal and provincial governments to reverse caribou decline by maintaining and restoring the habitat that caribou need to survive," she said.

Fort Nelson First Nation concerned

In B.C., the Fort Nelson First Nation is particularly concerned — more than 80 per cent of the province's boreal caribou habitat is in its territory.

Elders have said caribou sightings are increasingly rare within the territory and the animals are often spotted roaming individually, as opposed to in herds.

Katherine Capot-Blanc, acting lands director of the Fort Nelson First Nation Lands Department, said the nation is trying to be proactive.

"Since 2011 we have repeatedly attempted to engage with government about our concerns with the boreal caribou population but have not received any substantive response," she said.

Capot-Blanc said the federal and provincial governments have failed to provide a map of critical habitat to be protected and the lack of co-ordination between the two levels of government is cause for concern.

She said the First Nation has developed its own action plan to try and protect the area's caribou and their boreal forest habitats.

The province has been asked for comment. In March, B.C.'s former Liberal government issued a statement saying the plan would be announced in the fall.

In July, the federal government proposed its own plan to protect Canada's threatened boreal caribou population, three months after a wildlife conservation group took the environment minister to court over the matter.