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In Quebec, a political battle to save woodland caribou

Previously, woodland caribou flourished in southern Quebec, and even in New England. But, from climate change to logging, its population is dwindling. The latest public surveys indicate, in 2012, a 30% drop in livestock in twenty years, and other data, but less complete, indicate an even more marked trend since then. Serge Couturier, biologist and former employee of the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, is appalled by the rate at which caribou territory is shrinking: ” The situation is critical. Its habitat is increasingly disturbed and there is no government vision that shows it is not going to be sacrificed. »

Caribou, collateral victim of deforestation

The researcher explains that logging transforms the natural territory of woodland caribou into an inhospitable land. When industry cuts down trees in the forest, the corridors they open up facilitate movement. The wolf enters the scene and seizes the territory. “The caribou finds itself in an environment that is no longer its own, and with wolves and black bears, it is the big loser”explains Serge Couturier.

→ ANALYSIS. Deforestation: these natural environments that we neglect

Today, there would remain between 6,500 and 8,000 woodland caribou in Quebec. The other caribou subspecies are also threatened. In northern Quebec, the Rivière George herd, which numbered 800,000 migratory caribou in 1993, is now only estimated at 8,000 animals.

The caribou, intergovernmental chicanery

For the Ottawa government, Quebec is not doing enough to save the species, as repeated by federal environment minister Steven Guilbeault, a former environmental activist. He is pushing the province to release details of its protection plan. Despite an ultimatum set for April 20, Quebec remains silent. Ottawa is therefore brandishing the threat of a decree that would give it control of the forest-dwelling caribou territory, covering an area of ​​35,000 square kilometres. It would pave the way for a possible moratorium on logging in this area.

The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, braces himself. For him, caribou are “a field of jurisdiction of Quebec, not of the federal government”. He argues that we must find ” a balance “ between the survival of the species and that of the jobs in the industry. In charge of the file at the start, his minister of forests received a shower of criticism for pointing the finger at the Innu, an indigenous nation.

He accused them of having killed 10% of a herd of cattle in eastern Quebec (“They are not helping the situation either”). For Ronald Brazeau, director of the natural resources department at the council of the Anishnabe Nation of Lac-Simon, the minister prefers “blaming First Nations for diverting attention from inactions and failures” of the ministry.

The enclosures of “shame”

In this file, it is the enclosure, by Quebec, of the isolated caribou herds of Val-d’Or, in the west of the Belle Province, and of Charlevoix, about a hundred kilometers from Quebec, which most indignant Serge Couturier. “It’s tragic, it’s a shame. Especially since the ministry does not announce the glimmer of a return in kind plan for these animals. The truth is that these enclosures are places of death. They lock them up and demand new studies of the impact of this or that logging operation. This is the same strategy that the tobacco industry was implementing: more and more studies to bury the debates. » Another herd, in the Gaspé, was to be penned at the beginning of the year, but the capture has been postponed until next year.

By email, Canada’s Department of Environment and Climate Change says “Waiting for Quebec to come back with a plan that will demonstrate effective protection of woodland caribou, the time has come to do things right and develop a common conservation plan”. The province has pledged to provide a document later this week.


The caribou, one of the symbols of Quebec

This deer – called “reindeer” in Europe – is bigger than the deer, but smaller than the elk. Thanks to its thick coat, it can live in cold environments. In the fall, the ridges of its hooves become sharp to enable it to break through the ice in search of food.

There is only one species of caribou, divided into several subspecies. One of the most vulnerable is the woodland caribou, whose hunting is prohibited in Quebec. A fine of 20,000 Canadian dollars (15,000 €) is provided for offenders, double in case of recidivism.


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