Manitoba has unveiled a new strategy for protecting woodland caribou that environmental groups are calling the most progressive in the country.
Under the strategy, 15 boreal caribou ranges have been identified in the province and plans are underway to protect each of them, beginning with those considered most fragile.
The government has committed to protect and manage 65 to 80 per cent of the caribou habitat in each of the management units.
"Manitoba’s (caribou) recovery strategy is by far the best one in all of Canada," said Ron Thiessen, a spokesman for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). "The unprecedented commitment to protect large areas of intact caribou habitat is setting a great example for the rest of Canada to follow."
Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh announced the strategy at a news conference Wednesday that included representatives from industry, environmental groups and the aboriginal community.
Woodland caribou were protected as a threatened species in Manitoba in 2006 under the Endangered Species Act. Threats to the beasts, featured on Canada’s 25-cent piece, include habitat destruction from forest fires and habitat fragmentation from roads, trails, transmission lines, logging and other industrial operations.
The government is forming a series of plans, with public input, to protect caribou habitats in each of the 15 designated zones. It has already received commitments of support from forestry company Tolko Industries and the Hudbay mining company.
Manitoba will complete management-unit action plans for high-priority areas within two years and for all 15 caribou ranges by 2018.
Estimates of Manitoba’s boreal caribou population range from 1,800 to 3,150. One of the province’s goals is to improve population monitoring. It said it will also continue to monitor the causes of caribou mortality.
The health of the woodland caribou is an excellent indicator for the health of the boreal forest itself, said Thiessen. "They’re a very sensitive species."