Montreal

Province should do more to protect dwindling caribou populations, urges Nature Québec

Quebec is expected to release a strategy for caribou conservation this spring, but some environmental groups are advocating for more ambitious measures before it's too late.

As herds continue to decline, advocates want concrete measures in place

The population of woodland caribou of the mountain ecotype in the Gaspé numbered 1000, in the 1950's. Quebec's wildlife ministry estimates there are just 75 left. (Denis Desjardins/SEPAQ)

Quebec is expected to release a strategy for caribou conservation this spring, but some environmental groups are advocating for more ambitious measures before it's too late.

A report by the Quebec Forest, Wildlife and Parks Ministry shows a decline in caribou populations in several regions of Quebec.

In the Val D'Or region, there are fewer than 10 caribou remaining.

To bolster their chances, the province is looking at building maternity enclosures in Charlevoix, the Gaspé and in Val D'Or.

But the director of Nature Québec, a non-profit conservation organization, says that may be too little, too late.

"Having to use enclosures as a measure of last resort proves that the ministry has not done enough in the past few years to prevent these populations from disappearing," said Alice-Anne Simard.

Alice-Anne Simard is the director general of Nature Quebec, a non-profit conservation organization. (Submitted by Alice-Anne Simard)

She said that human activity is often responsible for the caribou decline and a possible solution could be "putting a moratorium on logging in the direct habitats of caribou."

She said that this species, and its habitat, need to be preserved.

"Caribou are so essential to a healthy forest environment, that if they were to become extinct.. they could sweep away entire ecosystems and local communities."

The Ministry told CBC it is considering a variety of measures including prolonging a moratorium on logging in Val D'Or, among other measures.

But experts are worried about the rate at which caribou are disappearing.

"It's getting very critical. At this rate, we don't know how many more years there will be caribou in the Val D'Or region," said Daniel Fortin, a professor in the department of biology at Université Laval.

Along with human disruption, Fortin said that logging and building of new road networks helps the caribou's natural predators proliferate.

"Often they won't [travel very] deep into the conifer forest. But if you have a road network that allows them to access the area very easily, then caribou might not be safe within those forests anymore." 

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