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Woodland caribou study finds herds face trouble in remote areas

As northern Ontario's woodland caribou numbers continue to dwindle, an environmental watchdog says the province needs to step up to protect the remaining population.
It's estimated Ontario has about 5,000 remaining woodland caribou. The species is considered threatened. (MNRF)

As northern Ontario's woodland caribou numbers continue to dwindle, an environmental watchdog says the province needs to step up to protect the remaining population.

The Wildlands League is applauding the release of a Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry report on the state of the woodland caribou.
Anna Baggio is the director of conservation planning for the Wildlands League. (Supplied)

Spokesperson Anna Baggio said the report provides a lot of information about the northern Ontario herd, but says much of the data within the document is troubling.

The report shows woodland caribou  — a species designated as threatened  — faces trouble in even the most remote areas, including near the Ring of Fire in the James Bay lowlands.

“When mineral exploration can cause a range to be disturbed by 10 per cent, that starts to paint a story about the cumulative impacts of mineral exploration,” Baggio said.

“Ontario won’t have any way to get a handle on that if the industry is exempted.”

She said the Wildlands League is currently suing the province because of the exemptions it brought in in 2013.

“It is our view that these exemptions are unlawful. And that the minister made a mistake when he recommended them to cabinet. All these exemptions matter because they exempt so many industries from the endangered species act.”

It’s estimated Ontario has about 5,000 remaining woodland caribou, scattered in groups across the north.

The manager of caribou conservation with the MNRF said the ministry is taking action.       

“Recently Ontario has taken further steps to protect and recover caribou,” Michael Gluck said.

“That's through the release of our range-management policy. That demonstrates a meaningful improvement in caribou conservation and recovery.”

Gluck said the new policy will use information in the recent report to make planning decisions in caribou country, with the goal of maintaining or improving habitat across their ranges.

The information, while it paints a sobering picture, is viewed as “a breath of fresh air” for Baggio.

“I actually welcome the release of the data and the transparency. It’s an important milestone for Ontario. It’s very important for people to have access to this data. It’s all available online for people to go in and read the information.”

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