Northwest communities in decline, future uncertain – Comment

February 23, 2015

By: The Chronicle Journal

On behalf of the Township of Ignace, I am responding to the Feb. 4 column by Julee Boan of Environment North (Woodland Caribou In Decline, Future Uncertain).

As one of 260 communities in Ontario dependent on the forest industry, for years we have followed processes regarding woodland caribou conservation and recovery strategies. We have watched certain environmental activists using this issue to attack the forest industry. We as key stakeholders will continue to make ourselves heard.

After Christmas the State of the Woodland Caribou Resource Report was released by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). Rather than seeing its findings as “sobering,” we find them incomplete and inconclusive.

We also see the findings do not provide a clear explanation for the decline in caribou.

Of the 13 caribou ranges in Ontario, for nine ranges MNRF is “uncertain if range condition is sufficient to sustain caribou.” MNRF thinks that two are sufficient to sustain caribou, while the remaining two are not.

While MNRF found that populations are not stable or increasing, the report says the finding “supports an interpretation that caribou populations within Ontario may be in short-term decline.” We imagine that MNRF cannot say more, since information has only been collected for three years.

For years certain environmental activists have criticized Resolute Forest Products’ harvesting in the Brightsand caribou range.
While the range has the lowest survival rate at 79 per cent, it has the second highest calf recruitment rate at 22 calves per 100 females.

While the growth rate is 0.87 for the Brightsand range the lowest rate belongs to Missia range, which is in the Far North and has never been harvested.

The Brightsand range is among the best for the sufficiency of winter and refuge habitat. The findings do not show the range is being mismanaged.

Report findings do not support the hypothesis that the amount of disturbance is the key factor affecting the sustainability of caribou. The Sydney range, which has the highest level of disturbance at 62.7 per cent, has the highest growth rate. Two northern ranges have very low disturbance levels, but the growth rates for two of these ranges are among the three lowest.

Statistical analysis shows the relationship between levels of disturbance and population growth is very weak.

While there is a lot of uncertainty regarding reasons for the decline of woodland caribou, there is no uncertainty regarding the impact of measures to limit wood supply. Curtailing harvesting means mill shutdowns, business closures and job losses. In 2013 the panel reviewing the Endangered Species Act recommended that socio-economic assessments be done. The provincial government needs to begin this process.

We support this work MNRF is doing since it will improve forest management planning. We depend on the boreal forest, so we want it to be sustainable. Ontario is a leader in forest management and we are confident MNRF and other stakeholders working together can ensure the boreal forest will provide for all species, including woodland caribou and humans, into the future.

Lee Kennard, Mayor
Township of Ignace

By: The Chronicle Journal

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