The environmental assessment process is failing vulnerable wildlife populations such as the boreal caribou, says forestry activist and wildlife biologist Ian Goudie.
This week, the first annual assessment of how well provinces and territories are enacting the requirements for conservation plans under the federal government’s National Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou was released by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and David Suzuki Foundation, which finds the majority are lagging badly.
Newfoundland and Labrador got a low grade in the report, which marks the Red Wine caribou herd unlikely to survive and others in peril.
An environmental assessment releasing the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project warned it could affect 30 per cent of the winter habitat in the assessment area, and as much as 10 per cent of calving habitat of the Red Wine herd may be lost, the report said.
Goudie said when the idea of environmental assessments was first conceived, it was not just to flag potential risks.
“The intent in the 1980s was to identify potential environmental impacts and provide solutions,” Goudie said.
But he said the process has evolved into a lack of action.
In Labrador, the Lac Joseph, Mealy Mountain and especially the Red Wine Mountain herds of woodland caribou in central Labrador are small and in long-term decline, the report notes.
“The landscape of Labrador is becoming increasingly industrialized and the province does not have adequate measures in place to monitor and limit cumulative disturbances,” it said.
The document does acknowledge the Mealy Mountain herd has been potentially secured through the commitment to establish a national park and an adjoining Eagle River provincial waterway park.
The province’s recovery plan for caribou herds is about a decade old.
“This is worrisome for the fate of all of Labrador’s boreal woodland caribou already listed as threatened under the NL Endangered Species Act,” the report reads.
The landscape of Labrador is becoming increasingly industrialized and the province does not have adequate measures in place to monitor and limit cumulative disturbances. Environmental assessment release
But Goudie said prior to the report, CPAWS sent a questionnaire to all provinces and Newfoundland and Labrador did not respond.
“We can’t get a conversation on it,” he said.
Tanya Edwards, executive director for the NL Chapter of CPAWS, said in a news release the group is discouraged by the lack of progress the provincial government has made in developing effective caribou conservation measures.
“Without clear delineation of critical habitat and better follow-through on environmental assessments, Newfoundland and Labrador will be unable to use science-based decision-making for developing a land-use plan,” Edwards said.
“Without better protection of habitat (e.g., from hydro development) and better mitigations of impacts from hunting pressure in central Labrador, the province’s boreal caribou herds will continue to be imperiled with very little prospect for recovery. On the Island of Newfoundland, there is an over-emphasis on predator control as the solution to improving calf survival rates. There is little or no discussion of the interaction of habitat quality in exacerbating the documented effects by predators, and the burgeoning numbers of the introduced moose that keep predator populations high while caribou numbers rapidly decline.”
A spokeswoman for environment said the department takes the caribou issue seriously, has invested in research and will apply the environmental assessment process, where appropriate, to developments in area where there are caribou.