In Quebec, Clash Over Caribou is heating up

They are known as “gray ghosts” that roam silently and in sparse flocks through Canada’s boreal forests and mountains. They crash out of sight almost as suddenly as they appear, for the few who are lucky enough to spot them. The animal is so loved in Canada that it is minted on the 25 cent coin.

But forest and mountain reptiles are threatened with extinction, and the Canadian government, which is legally responsible for protecting certain endangered species, is moving to ensure that the gray ghosts do not return to haunt it.

That may have been Canada’s environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, in mind this week. Guilbeault, an experienced environmentalist who became a minister, and his office have negotiated with Quebec on the development of a strategy to protect reindeer, which has been delayed several times. Conservation agreements with British Columbia and Ontario have also been subject to many years of delay, but are being negotiated, and Alberta reached an agreement with the federal government in October 2020, publishing its first land use plans under the agreement last week.

“In Quebec, there has been no progress,” Guilbeault told reporters at a news conference Tuesday as the government moves toward what he called “uncharted territory” by threatening to use, for the first time, a “safety net.” ”Provision in species in the Hazard Act to implement protection on the ground that spans the reindeer’s critical habitat.

[Read: America’s Gray Ghosts: The Disappearing Caribou]

It is 10 years since the federal government announced its strategy to recover the reindeer, which requires provinces to draw up and implement plans within a specific time frame to take care of these animals’ critical habitats.

Chris Johnson, a professor of landscape conservation at the University of Northern British Columbia, said the amount of time and money invested in research and data collection aimed at protecting this iconic species in Canada is “really quite extraordinary and these animals need that.”

“We often just do not have the science to support recovery initiatives, at least with any confidence,” but the opposite is true of this species, Professor Johnson told me. “Science is pretty clear.”

He said data suggest that reindeer have a better chance of surviving when their critical habitats are maintained at a threshold of 65 percent – in other words, when that part of their landscape is not disturbed by human activity.

Land conservation policies put the industry in the provinces, from oil fields in Alberta to mines and forestry in Quebec, in a situation where, in a land dispute, they lock the antlers together with the reindeer.

Quebec Prime Minister François Legault said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that there should be a “balance” between rescuing the reindeer and protecting jobs, pointing to the work of an independent commission that studied the reindeer as a sign of the province’s progress.

The Quebec chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, a nonprofit organization, has taken the federal government to court more than once for violating the provisions of the Species at Risk Act, including those related to reindeer. The group warned the government in November last year that it would go to court again to force the federal government to act to protect the reindeer.

“Because we won all our cases, I think they’re taking the lead in starting all the processes needed to put the safety net in place,” said Alain Branchaud, director of the department.

Further west, in Alberta, a lack of habitat conservation clears paths for wolves, predators of reindeer, which in turn has caused an excessive reliance on the extinction of wolves, said Carolyn Campbell, conservation director of the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Wolf killings now occur in half of Alberta’s reindeer areas. “It’s a really drastic and kind of terrible reflection on the choices of our society that we are now scapegoats,” she said.

[Read: Hunting Moose in Canada to Save Caribou From Wolves]

[Read: Trapped on an Island With Wolves, the Only Way Out for These Caribou Was Up]

In British Columbia, researchers partnered with indigenous communities, which secured a landmark conservation agreement to protect just over 3,000 square miles of reindeer habitat by 2020. Seven years earlier, the group of scientists and indigenous conservationists had begun using what are considered short-term strategies, such as for example. maternal reindeer to protect baby reindeer from predators, and helped grow a subpopulation of reindeer to 101 by 2021, up from just 38 animals eight years earlier, according to a study published in late March.

Clayton Lamb, a postdoc researcher and co-author of the paper, said native guardians live at the height of the reindeer and look after them.

As the clock ticks, wolf hunts and reindeer herds shrink, it will only become more expensive and more difficult to recover these endangered animals, Professor Johnson from the University of Northern British Columbia told me.


  • Mike Bossy, a Montreal-born Hockey Hall of Famer, died at the age of 65. Mr. Bossy helped steer the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s, but he felt this race never got the recognition it deserved.

  • Another former New York NHL player from Canada, Sean Avery from the New York Rangers, was known as a provocateur on the ice. When he retires, his jokes bring him to court.

  • Julie Doucet, a cartoonist from Montreal, returns after a two-decade hiatus with the upcoming release of her new cartoon, “Time Zone J,” on April 19th.

  • While Russian oligarchs continue to be hit by economic sanctions, Britain has frozen assets in Jersey that are believed to be linked to billionaire Roman Abramovich through an accountant who worked in Toronto for many years.


Vjosa Isai is a Canadian News Assistant at The New York Times. Follow her on Twitter at @lavjosa.


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