Federal gov't announces plan to protect caribou after legal action taken
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society took environment minister to court over the matter
The federal government has come up with a proposed 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.
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The plan released Thursday night notes that the provincial and territorial governments have primary responsibility for the lands where the caribou are found.
But it says federal officials will require reports on progress to ensure that protection and recovery efforts are effective.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society filed an application for judicial review in Federal Court last April, accusing
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna of not telling Canadians how the caribou are being protected.
Society lawyer Frederic Paquin said at the time the Species at Risk Act requires her "to form an opinion about whether or not the critical habitat of the woodland caribou is protected."
According to a federal government news release issued Thursday, the proposed plan "fulfills Canada's commitments under the federal Species at Risk Act."
What about other herds?
Environmentalists say Ottawa's new caribou recovery plan won't inform Canadians on what the federal government is doing to conserve the many herds that aren't already under some form of protection.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says it will continue its legal action to force greater transparency from Environment Canada despite Thursday's announcement.
Alain Branchaud, a biologist with the group, says McKenna is required to report on which herds remain unprotected and what's being done to remedy that.
He says Ottawa's plan, which outlines an extensive research program and looks to the provinces for action, fails to do that.
More than 80 per cent of Canada's woodland caribou herds are considered to be in decline.
N.W.T. may be ahead of the game
Kris Brekke, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's N.W.T. chapter, said the Northwest Territories may be ahead of the game when it comes to protecting caribou habitat.
"We're fortunate to have our own species at risk legislation," Brekke said.
"The N.W.T. species at risk committee listed the species [boreal caribou] as threatened and produced a recovery strategy in February, and there's some actions that come with that.
"When we look across the country, perhaps we're in a good spot," he said.
"We're in a place where perhaps we can be proactive so we're not in as dire a recovery operation as in other parts of the country."
Brekke said the federal government appears to be showing leadership on protecting boreal caribou habitat, but it's too early to talk about accomplishments.
"Comparatively to they way things have moved in past days, it's a positive step," Brekke said.
"But we'll see when the rubber hits the road. Action plans need to be implemented, and we need to know how that's being done and we need to be able to monitor the results."
With files from Randy Henderson