Source: Radio-Canada

Published on December 4, 2019

The Quebec government plans to kill wolves this winter and proceed with the dismantling of logging roads to protect Val-d’Or’s caribou. However, the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) rejects the idea of full protection of the territory. The strategy chosen is not well received by biologists and activists.

Radio-Canada has learned that the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs rejects the idea of creating a new protected area on the Val-d’Or caribou territory, in addition to the current one. “It is not being considered because the territory is heavily used, particularly for vacationing, hunting and fishing, as well as for certain industrial activities,” the MFFP media relations team said by e-mail.

Instead, the chosen approach aims “to adapt forest management to reduce the rate of disturbances, including the dismantling of roads.” The MFFP will also proceed with the felling of about ten wolves this winter, which are believed to be responsible for the death of some caribou. Because of the logging roads, wolves can more easily move around the territory and attack their prey.

Chances of success?

According to the biologist at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, known for his knowledge of caribou issues, the government’s strategy is “going nowhere.” According to him, the chances of success are conditional to the application of a series of measures, including the control of predators, the enclosure of females, the closing of roads and the end of logging. “You can’t pick and choose one part of the recipe, you have to have the whole recipe,” he says.

“If you just tackle predator control, if you close roads, but don’t stop forest management, you’re not protecting the forest. So we’re not going anywhere.”

Martin Hugues St-Laurent, biologist

The ministry team also concurred with the biologist in 2018. The report on the status of the Val-d’Or caribou, published in March, stated that without a series of measures, including enclosing the females, it would be “unlikely that the population would survive until an acceptable level of disturbance was reached.”

Wait until 2023

Minister Pierre Dufour has begun a reflection on the caribou protection strategy that could lead to other actions in 2023. The Department also indicated by e-mail that “other population management measures are currently being studied” for the Val-d’Or caribou.

Mr. St-Laurent believes that the timeline is imprudent and that action must be taken much more quickly. He wonders if this is not a “time-saving” strategy. The taste it leaves in the mouth is that we try to gain time by hoping that the herd will die out and then after that we say “well OK now, we stop bothering ourselves with that and then we liberalize access to resources,” he pessimists.

Boreal Action slams the Ministry

Boreal Action’s president, Henri Jacob, claims to have prepared a caribou recovery plan, including the establishment of a new protected area more substantial than the current one, in regular consultation with the Ministry. Today, he deplores the fact that the MFFP is opposed to the idea of a protected area. “It was at his request [Minister Pierre Dufour] that we worked for three weeks full time to implement the project that we presented to his cabinet,” he says. No one ever told us that it didn’t make sense.”

“What is absurd is that instead of initially telling us that they had no intention of moving forward, they asked us to prepare a plan, and now we have no contact, despite our requests for a meeting.”

Henri Jacob, President of Boreal Action

Mr. Jacob promises to revive the mobilization. “The ministry tells us that there is no more collaboration possible, so we’re going back to opposition, he exclaims. If there is no serious action soon, not in 2023, the herd will disappear. But it won’t disappear incognito, we’re going to organise ourselves so that people know that it’s the fault of the ministry responsible for the forests.”

The Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Pierre Dufour, refused our request for an interview on this subject.

However, his political attaché, Carl Charest, emailed us a list of information in response to the Minister’s request. He mentioned in particular that it would take 40 years by stopping all development before the habitat would become favourable to the caribou and that “disturbance by land users is also a threat”. Finally, he reminds us that there is a 400 km2 protected area in Val-d’Or and that grey wolves and black bears are “the primary cause of caribou mortality.”

The Mayor of Val-d’Or is in favour of the current approach.

The mayor of Val-d’Or, Pierre Corbeil, describes the Ministry’s approach as “pragmatic”. He believes it would be difficult to expand the protected area. “The area in question is very densely occupied by summary shelter leases, resort leases, even the recreational forest is partly within the territory in question”, he points out.

He believes that future interventions must ensure a conciliation of uses. “The challenge here is to try to manoeuvre and carry out in a consensual way, or at least the broadest possible consensus, measures which make it possible to reach conservation objectives, but also to pursue occupation objectives for hunting, fishing, ATV, snowmobile, he underlines. There are things that can be done, and then there are things that are not necessarily acceptable. “