Logging in the habitat of the last caribou in Gaspésie

The Legault government intends to authorize logging in an area that is part of the habitat of the Gaspésie caribou, a population brought to the threshold of extinction in large part due to the degradation of the region’s forests. This project is planned as the government prepares to launch a program to capture pregnant females in an attempt to save the herd.

According to the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP), a “special management plan” is planned to cut trees in an area affected by the spruce budworm, located at the west of Gaspésie National Park.

In a written response to Homework, the department admits that “some of these intervention sectors are located partly within the interim measures for the mountain caribou of the Gaspé Peninsula”. In the same response sent by e-mail, he asserts, however, that these cuts “respect the terms provided for in the interim measures”, including the fact of “limiting” the cuts, and therefore the rejuvenation of the forest.

The MFFP also specifies that the cuts planned for the period 2022-2023 are located outside the area considered to be critical habitat, as defined under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

The cuts are actually located outside this critical habitat for the species, last specified in 2007. The felling of trees is however planned within two kilometers of this habitat, in an area identified by the Government of Quebec as part of the caribou’s “frequentation area”. Furthermore, there is currently a critical habitat review process under SARA. The proposal that is under study provides for an expansion of it.

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In an opinion produced as part of the consultations on the MFFP cutting plan, which ends on March 14, the Bas-Saint-Laurent Regional Council for the Environment (CREBSL) states that “with the planned cuts, the Gaspésie caribou would lose even more of their preferred habitat”, already very disturbed in the region.

Over the years, numerous industrial logging operations have been carried out all around Gaspésie National Park. The Legault government also dismissed in 2020 a protected area project, called “Vallières de Saint-Réal”, which would have made it possible to protect a territory favorable to caribou and located south of the Gaspésie National Park.

What’s more, the cuts will require the opening of new logging roads, which will facilitate the arrival of caribou predators. “In this context, it is essential to let the ecological processes take their course, the forests in question representing an important habitat for the caribou and an interesting area from a conservation point of view”, underlines the CREBSL.

Critical situation

The CREBSL recalls that the situation of this caribou population is critical. The results of the latest inventories carried out by the MFFP estimate that it has barely 32 to 36 caribou. In the circumstances, it is added, “reducing logging and closing logging roads are the main solutions”.

Same story on the side of the Society for Nature and Parks of Quebec. “While the federal government is threatening to intervene in Quebec on the species at risk file, the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs is playing with fire by proposing logging that will accentuate the degradation of the habitat of the Gaspésie caribou, and further jeopardize the chances of survival and recovery of the species”, argues its director of conservation, Pier-Olivier Boudreault.

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These new cuts come as the Legault government plans to capture and pen the last pregnant females in the population this winter. The objective is to protect the fawns during their first months of life, to prevent them from being killed by predators. They move more easily thanks to the forest paths, or else frequent the areas where felling has taken place.

The deer will be captured with a “net launcher aboard a helicopter”, or “on the ground using a tranquilizer gun”, specifies the MFFP. “The captured animal will be quickly immobilized and physically restrained to avoid injury, a veterinarian will carry out pregnancy checks using a portable ultrasound device. »

The enclosures originally planned, however, will not be built until next fall, so the females will be placed this winter in an “isolation enclosure”.

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