Minister Pierre Dufour retains “hope” to save the Val-d´Or caribou

The Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks Pierre Dufour believes that it is still possible to save the isolated caribou population of Val-d´Or. The government believes, however, that it must continue the studies in progress, in particular to analyze the impact that a rescue plan would have on the other “users” of the territory, including the forest industry.

“I think there is still hope,” he said on Tuesday before question period in the National Assembly. Questioned by The duty, the minister did not want to go ahead with a deadline beyond which it will be too late to avoid the extinction of the little herd, which would now have no more than seven animals, against 18 in 2016.

Despite the critical situation of the Val-d’Or caribou, who live in a habitat very disturbed by human activity, Pierre Dufour defended the decision of the Legault government to pursue a “meta-study” whose deposit is planned only in March 2021.

“There is a lot of information that we don’t have, like when we have impacted sectors,” he said. Mr. Dufour mentioned the “resort”, the “four-wheeler” and the “ski-doo”, but also a “mining company” and “a forestry company” which cannot currently cut in a protected area for the caribou.

Concretely, industrial cutting is prohibited over 1046 km2, while the “forest management plan” put in place to try to protect deer covers a total of 2160 km2. But “the range of the Val-d´Or caribou” is estimated by government experts to be more than 7,800 km2. Logging is therefore prohibited on only 13% of the range.

Two studies

When The duty reminded the Minister that his department already has two scientific studies that specify the “scenarios” to be implemented in an attempt to save the last caribou, he replied that these studies only take into account “wildlife habitat”. “Wildlife habitat, for all of Quebec, in the case of caribou, we know it by heart,” said the minister.

The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) notably holds a “Feasibility study for the recovery of the Val-d’Or caribou” produced by 25 experts from the department and filed in January 2017. This reports on the needs to “restore” caribou habitat, but also the need to reintroduce young caribou into the herd, as part of a captive breeding program.

The analysis document produced at the request of the government also addresses certain issues for the other “users” of the territory, including a whole section devoted to “anticipated repercussions on the forest industry”. The 2017 document, obtained under the Access to Information Act, is however redacted, so that a section mentioning a “socioeconomic study” including the impacts on “vacationing” and “jobs” does not is not visible.

Be that as it may, the optimal “scenario” developed by MFFP experts three years ago would result in “estimated costs” of around $ 14 million, according to the government study, including the “additional impacts on the possibility of forestry ”.

The case of Lac-St-Jean

In addition, Pierre Dufour defended on Tuesday the government’s decision to abolish the protective measures put in place on three forest areas located in the Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean region. These were subject to “administrative protection” prohibiting the industrial felling of trees, to preserve the habitat of the woodland caribou.

According to what the minister said, there had been no “passage” of caribou in these areas “for many years”.

Wrong reasoning, according to Henri Jacob, president of Action boréale. “It is very simplistic to say that caribou do not frequent these three areas. The herds move from year to year. In winter, they feed on terrestrial lichen. So, after a certain time, the animals will leave the territory, to return there once the lichen has regenerated. “

In fact, the government based its decision on the fact that no caribou had been spotted in these areas, according to data collected using the rangefinder system that certain animals wear.

However, a presentation by MFFP experts in June 2019 indicates that the picture of the situation on which the government’s decision was based was incomplete. In fact, the region where the three forests are located had not been the subject of an aerial inventory since winter 2012. However, the realization of such inventories is included in the measures of the “government action plan To protect caribou habitat and ensure “rigorous monitoring” of populations.

Even though the woodland caribou has been considered endangered for more than 15 years and the species continues to decline, the Legault government decided last year to postpone the development of a “strategy” to 2022 to avoid the disappearance of the cervid, which would count between 6,000 and 8,500 animals on Quebec soil. On Tuesday, Minister Pierre Dufour said he was confident of arriving at a “positive outcome” for the species.

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