The B.C. government has permitted logging on more than 900 square kilometres of land despite its being listed as critical caribou habitat, says newly released research.
The authors of the study, published in Conservation Science and Practice, say it’s an example of poor co-ordination between governments that has led to Canada’s ongoing failure to protect habitat for endangered species.
“We’re pointing out a lot of these things aren’t working well,” said Eric Palm of the University of Montana.
Researchers looked at southern mountain caribou herds in B.C. In 2018, the federal government found more than a dozen of those herds, some down to a handful of animals, were in imminent danger of disappearing.
“It is dire,” Palm said. “They’re going extinct and it is happening now.”
The federal Species At Risk Act requires provinces to identify critical habitat for caribou herds. B.C. has done that, but the land is all owned by the Crown and regulated by the province.
Using publicly available data and maps, researchers found 909 square kilometres of that critical caribou habitat has been logged over the last five years.
That’s a small percentage of the total habitat identified. But Palm said further impacts on that land—much of which is already disturbed—shouldn’t be permitted at all.
“The fact it’s being logged or destroyed in the first place is unacceptable.”
Shaun Fluker, a University of Calgary law professor and co-author of the paper, said much of the environmental protection provided under provincial rules is discretionary.
“(The land) might be protected, but the devil’s in the details in terms of what exactly the (logging) licences do or don’t allow for.”
In an email, a spokesman for B.C.’s forestry department said the government has committed $47 million over five years to support caribou recovery.
Brett Lowther said those measures include Indigenous partnerships and habitat management, such as wolf culls and penning of pregnant caribou mares.
“Forest managers in B.C. recognize that forestry needs to be a part of the solution and past approaches are currently being reflected upon,” Lowther wrote. “New practices that will support ongoing recovery efforts are being developed.”
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