The Caribou Issue

What's happening with caribou?

Caribou is an iconic species and all Canadians can agree that we must take important steps to ensure that caribou are with us for generations to come. In some parts of the country, caribou populations are declining significantly, however, in other parts, populations are self-sustaining. Contributing to these differences in populations trends are a combination of complex factors including natural and human activity on the land in addition to a changing climate. With observing climate change, we are seeing alterations to caribou habitat, food supply, new predator/prey relationships emerging, and introductions of new pathogens and disease.

Boreal Woodland Caribou are designated as ‘Threatened’ under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).  The federal government developed a Recovery Strategy in October 2012, and encouraged Provinces and Territories to implement caribou plans to support recovery within 5 years (by October 2017). The federal government released their own draft Boreal Woodland Caribou Action Plan in July 2017.  In the months ahead, the federal government will review incoming provincial/territorial plans or strategies for boreal caribou to determine whether or not they sufficiently address the current challenges facing caribou and effectively protect identified caribou habitat.

Canada’s forest products sector is in a unique position to be part of the solution in supporting caribou populations. As our professional foresters and biologists work in Canada’s forests, they actively manage forests, harvest and plant trees with local species and ecosystems in mind. As provincial caribou plans are being developed or revised, we have been sharing our research and experience of what is occurring in Canada’s forests with governments across the country.  We have also been working closely with municipal governments, community leaders, environmental partners and Indigenous communities.. For more information, click here (link to how we help page). 

As there are many interconnected factors contributing to caribou decline, there is not a clear solution. 

With increasing pressures to finalize provincial caribou plans in order to meet deadlines, there is concern that local knowledge and adaptive management approaches to support caribou populations will not be incorporated into government plans. 

If governments are not using the most up-to-date information and addressing all factors, including those related to climate change, these plans may do little to nothing to help struggling caribou herds. Moreover, they pose the risk of affecting thousands of jobs in hundreds of communities across northern and rural Canada – communities that rely on these jobs to keep their towns vibrant and strong.   

Canada's forest products sector

Canada’s forest products sector prides itself in being Canada’s greenest workforce. We are subject to among the most stringent provincial and federal forestry laws and regulations in the world. Our sector invests significant resources every year developing forest management plans to support biodiversity, local ecosystems and forest research making us world-leaders in sustainability.

In managing for local ecosystems, nation-wide management of the largest number of third-party certified and audited forests in the world, and mandated forest regeneration into our forest management strategies, Canada is recognized as a trusted source of legal and sustainable forest products.

The forest sector in Canada employs over 230,000 Canadians directly, another 700,000 indirectly, and is the life-blood of more than 600 Canadian communities.

Canada’s forest sector is also part of the solution for climate change. Through active forest management, and the use of wood, we are contributing to Canada’s Paris Agreement target. Learn more at

Moving forwards

We have two main concerns with the current approach related to caribou recovery:

Not incorporating regional Best Available Information and Climate Change Impacts

Since 2011, the federal government has been referring to what is called a disturbance to non-disturbance ratio as the model for caribou plan development. In short, the model is to maintain 65% of habitat in an undisturbed state across all population ranges.  At the time the model was established, it was based on the best available science, however, management strategies have improved and science has gained a greater understanding of factors affecting caribou.   

  • Regional Variability:  Caribou ranges extend across the country and as Canada encompasses a diverse landscape, environmental factors influencing caribou populations will differ from region to region. As of now, the 65% threshold provides a general understanding of one factor towards caribou decline, but is unable to capture regional differences of factors influencing caribou populations. Therefore, research towards understanding local conditions and variables will be crucial in promoting caribou recovery. Forest managers across Canada have initiated research within areas where they operate to better understand caribou responses and have integrated caribou recovery into their forest management strategies.  
  • Changing forest environment: Further research on climate change-related trends of caribou and other species, including predators, moving northward will also be important to incorporate into caribou plans as we are living in a changing environment. Solutions need to be flexible and adapted to the future needs of species given projected climate change scenarios.   
  • Multiple factors at-play: Thus far in caribou conservation efforts, there has been an emphasis on human-related and natural disturbance, however there are other non-disturbance factors like habitat alteration due to climate change, caribou nutrition conditions, predator/prey relationships, and pathogens and disease influencing caribou populations. In only addressing one piece of the puzzle, there is a risk that efforts may not help caribou as other factors are still at play. It is suggested that future research attempt to develop an understanding on how these factors are interconnected and find solutions that focuses on mitigating multiple factors. 

While we appreciate the federal government has expressed that they are open to new science and flexibility around 65/35, we hope that they continue to be open to integrating new strategies into caribou conservation based on the complex factors mentioned above.

Analysis of Socio-Economic Impacts

Although it is critical that we get the science right, it’s also important to understand what the repercussions could be to local communities and the families who rely on jobs in forestry and the broader natural resources sector. We are calling on governments to commit to an analysis of socio-economic impacts for each impacted region in the country, in advance of any final decisions being made and to consider the complete array of factors that may affect caribou populations.  Furthermore, the government needs to be crystal clear about how they will meaningfully engage in ways that will afford forest companies, communities, Indigenous Peoples and other interested or affected parties the opportunity to provide their valuable input, before final decisions are made.

A better way

We must continue to work together to support the future of caribou in Canada.

Our commitment going forward is to continue to work with governments and our partners in Indigenous communities, municipalities and with environmental and community groups to ensure the best science and information can inform plans that will deliver for caribou and northern and rural communities. 

We are also prepared to bring our experience to bear on the development of modelling to support the government’s socio-economic analysis of caribou policy impacts.

In the longer-term, the forest products sector calls on governments to adopt a multi-species, ecosystem-based approach to supporting biodiversity in our forests.

But, for now, let’s focus on finding the best solution to promote caribou recovery and support local communities. 

Join thousands of Canadians and tell your local MP right now that you believe we need a better caribou action plan

There is too much at stake for rushed plans that won't work and will hurt local economies. Use the form below to send a letter right now to your local representatives, telling them that you support the right plan for caribou that also makes sure our forest industry remains strong.

Sustainable Forestry: It's a Canadian Thing
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Climate Change and Caribou
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Jobs in Rural and Northern Canada
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