A solitary caribou stands in the snow at the entrance to a grove of trees

Canada betrays its ‘Species at Risk Act’ while province wipes out mountain caribou habitat: VWS

By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The nation’s Species at Risk Act is no law at all, says a local environmental group.

The Valhalla Wilderness Society contends that the Species at Risk Act (SARA) does not provide protection under the law for the endangered mountain caribou and its habitat, 30 years after Canada signed an accord — at the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Rio De Janeiro — to protect biodiversity, which spawned the enactment of SARA

In early December Canada hosted the 15th U.N. Convention on Biodiversity in Montreal, but the event served to mark the current state of fate of the mountain caribou in the province, said Valhalla Wilderness Society’s (VWS) Craig Pettitt in a press release. 

“B.C. is ravaging biodiversity, not only by cutting down some of our most biodiverse and oldest forests, but also by slaughtering predators to prop up caribou numbers while the habitat destruction continues,” he said.

“The truth is that Canada has a long record of withholding enforcement of the SARA for species that have an economic value. Simply put, it appears that B.C. and Canada have decided it is more profitable to log caribou habitat than to save the caribou.”

Pettitt said Canada’s Species at Risk Act has failed to protect habitat for the endangered deep-snow mountain caribou. 

“These rare and irreplaceable caribou are declining toward extinction due to extensive logging of their critical habitat,” he said. 

The caribou reside in an old-growth inland temperate rainforest, an area that contains trees up to 1,800 years old that have been targeted for clearcutting for nearly 100 years — and less than three per cent of the big-treed old-growth remains.

In 2009 the province did protect some of the caribou’s habitat, but it wasn’t enough as the herds were unable to thrive, said Pettitt.

“The province blames predation by wolves and cougars for the loss of the caribou, but scientific research has proven that the increase in predation is caused by logging forest and fragmenting it with logging roads,” he said in the press release. “This increases the number of large predators, makes their hunting easier, and makes the caribou more vulnerable.”

The VWS and other environmentalists, biologists and lawyers filed separate legal petitions under SARA in 2017 concerning the plight of the mountain caribou with the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).  

“We all provided expert scientific testimony that the deep-snow mountain caribou faced imminent threat to their survival,” recalled Pettitt. 

One year later the federal minister declared imminent threat to the caribou’s recovery, and said an immediate increase in habitat protection was urgently needed.  

“Nearly four years later there has been no increase in habitat protection while hundreds of wolves have been slaughtered,” said Pettitt. “According to Canada’s SARA, the minister should have made a recommendation to cabinet for an Order forcing B.C. to increase habitat protection. No recommendation happened.”

Two years ago VWS filed a second petition alleging that the minister of Environment and Climate Change was in violation of the SARA by failing to recommend that cabinet write an Order.  

“Seven months later the ECCC publicly acknowledged that a recommendation had been made,” said Pettitt. “But the political arm of government refused to write an Order.”

He called on the government to honour the Species at Risk Act to save the caribou.

“Once the caribou have lost too much habitat, the caribou may never again be able to be recovered to a self-sustaining level,” he said. “Their survival may always be dependent on cow penning and the extensive slaughter of wolves and cougars, which is known to cause a serious loss of biodiversity.”

Top image credit: Woodland Caribou – Photo by Steve Forrest/USFWS via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License).

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