You may have seen the wake-up call this morning outside of Ottawa. Fifty one tombstones, in memory of Canada’s woodland caribou herds lined up as a reminder to Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change that the fate of this species lies in her hands. Why tombstones? Because without concrete action taken by our government, Canada’s iconic species face extinction.
Yesterday, after years of delays, the federal government released a report outlining the state of caribou habitat across the country. You know that feeling of waiting for a message, a message that you know will be bad but that you still hope won’t be as bad as you expect? Well, it’s worse.
“The Commissioner is absolutely right when she says we need stronger federal leadership to protect species at risk. The continued expansion of industrial activity in critical caribou habitat is a disregard of our legal and moral obligations to protect biodiversity. At a time when species are in decline around the world, it’s time for Canada’s federal government to do its part and implement the Species at Risk Act,” said Shane Moffatt, Head of the Forest Campaign at Greenpeace Canada.
Canada’s woodland caribou are one hoof in the grave. Of the 51 herds across Canada that still exist, 37 are unlikely to survive without habitat protection. Their numbers have declined by 30% in the past two decades alone and scientists are warning that without urgent action now, entire herds could go extinct. As the destruction of their habitat continues, the herds decline faster and faster.
Woodland caribou have roamed Canada’s Boreal forests for thousands of years. This iconic species depends on vast expanses of old growth forest to raise their young and hide from predators. Yet while the caribou have been on the Species at Risk list for over 15 years (which happens to be a lifetime, for them!), our governments have failed to protect their habitat from continued unsustainable logging and industrial activities.
Today, Greenpeace is asking McKenna to take her role as Environment Minister seriously and protect our endangered species. The path forward is clear. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change must finalise agreements with Indigenous, provincial and territorial governments to ensure lasting protections for caribou and the Boreal forest they inhabitat. Failure to reach agreements so far is contributing to a growing crisis in our forests that our governments have the power to fix.
Lasting protection for caribou in the Boreal also means respecting Indigenous rights and knowledge. Legally binding protection measures must be implemented with a clear deadline, interim protections, transparent reporting on progress and an independent scientific review.
Canadians deserve to know how species at risk of extinction, and their critical habitats, are doing under this administration.
Daily newspaper headlines warn that animals around the world are under threat. Last month, Sudan, the last white male rhinoceros, died in Kenya. In Australia, the Mary River turtle — you know, the one with the green punk hairdo — is now one of the most endangered reptiles in the world. In the contiguous United States, the last wild herd of caribou is technically extinct as there are only 3 females left alive, no males. And in Canada? Every day that passes without protecting their habitat brings our woodland caribou one step closer to extinction. Soon it will be too late and another animal will disappear from our world. That’s why Greenpeace chose tombstones as a graphic reminder that the time to act is now.
After 5 years of delaying, provinces and territories have failed to follow through with measures to protect the boreal woodland caribou. Herds have been declining across the country at an alarming rate and may soon become extinct in some areas. Meanwhile, our federal government is not providing the leadership required to halt this crisis in the forest.