The north is often symbolized by caribou. School children even know of the massive herds made up of thousands of barren ground caribou migrating across the open tundra. The caribou is one of those iconic species, featured prominently on Canada’s 25-cent coin. Boreal woodland caribou are a variety of caribou, related to the caribou living in the north. They are also related to the reindeer, which is what the species is referred to in northern Europe. Boreal caribou live in forests, and travel much shorter distances every year, if at all.
Moving through Canada’s boreal forests, woodland caribou are a bellwether for intact wilderness. Caribou have been shown to be incredibly sensitive to disturbances like roads and clearings. As we fragment our forest for industrial activity, we remove a bit more caribou habitat.
With the establishment of Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA) in 2003, woodland caribou became a protected species under federal law.
In June 2006, after the Wilderness Committee collected more than 10,000 signatures from concerned Manitobans, the provincial government finally listed the woodland caribou under the Manitoba Endangered Species Act (MESA). This was tremendous news, and an important step for the protection of this iconic species, but the woodland caribou is not safe in the woods yet. Unless the habitat of these beautiful and elusive animals is protected, as is legally required by MESA, the high-risk herds of caribou will accelerate down their path to extinction.
Large logging corporations operating in caribou habitat on public land are putting forth risky and experimental plans for destroying caribou habitat, even though similar actions have proven detrimental in other provinces.
In the winter of 2007-2008, caribou numbers were down sharply in Tembec's logging area, after massive experimental harvests were conducted. The logging corporation says this is likely just a blip.
In Tolko's logging area, their expansion plans don't even account for the existence of caribou. In areas that are already set aside from industrial activity to protect caribou, Tolko has decided to run destructive all-weather roads. Most caribou habitat in Tolko’s logging are already riddled with clearcuts and bisected by roads.
Government action on protecting caribou habitat, on both the federal and provincial levels, has been very slow coming. The Manitoba government in particular does not wish to release data about caribou populations. What Manitobans deserve, and the woodland caribou require, is a moratorium on all logging operations in or near caribou habitat until the Manitoba government presents a peer-reviewed management plan for each caribou range. Plans and experiments put forth by logging corporations—companies with vested interests in logging caribou habitat—have proven to be devastating to caribou, and will not be accepted by the concerned citizens of Manitoba.