Source: David Rémillard

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The Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks accuses one of Quebec’s leading woodland caribou specialists of criticizing the government from “his ivory tower” at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR).

Minister Pierre Dufour shot his arrows at Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, professor of animal ecology at UQAR, during a press scrum at the National Assembly on Wednesday morning.

It’s easy to sit in your ivory tower at the University of Rimouski and say: “Here’s how it works”, the minister said about Mr. St-Laurent, who has a PhD in biology and has done a postdoctoral internship on caribou.

Mr. St-Laurent also leads a research team in land wildlife management, which is conducting several projects on woodland caribou.

The researcher has been very critical of the current and past governments in recent weeks regarding the protection of caribou habitat management.

Notably because Quebec City authorized the killing of wolves this winter in Val-d’Or and Charlevoix, where the herds each contain less than thirty animals.

Aerial depredation is a measure that Mr. St-Laurent describes as “extreme” and that only works if large reserves of critical habitat are protected.

The Department has also rehabilitated 46,000 hectares of forest for logging in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. The massifs in question were subject to administrative protection for woodland caribou.

Governments don’t have much leadership when it comes to deciding to conserve large tracts of commercial habitat and curb logging,” said Mr. St-Laurent in one of his many public interventions.

Running out of solutions

The researcher campaigns for the protection of old-growth forests and for any measure that will stop the rejuvenation of forest ecosystems, which favours predation and species other than caribou.

On this issue, the Minister admitted his powerlessness.

If Mr. St-Laurent is capable of growing back a mature forest – as he always says, “It takes a mature forest” – if he is capable of growing back a forest in the space of a year, let him tell me, because I don’t have the solution,” he said.

When the journalists suggested the idea of avoiding cutting down old-growth forests, Mr. Dufour suggested “telling the real story”.

The forest is a way of economically exploiting something that grows back. But for sure it can have an effect on the caribou, we won’t hide it. At some point, we’re going to tell each other the real business as well.

– Pierre Dufour, Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks

Contacted Wednesday, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent did not want to get into a war of words with the minister. He said he will continue to work with “the very competent officials” in the department, as he has done for years.

However, he maintains his recent criticisms that the forest industry is taking up too much space on caribou habitat, a problem that has been known for a long time.

This counter-attack by Minister Dufour is the second in as many days at the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs. The Ministry sent a formal notice to Henri Jacob of Boreal Action for comments made against a senior civil servant.

Wildlife policy

Minister Dufour ended his press briefing more serenely, inviting all those who have solutions to propose to contact his cabinet.

Mr. Dufour also recalled that the Department will present its wildlife policy next year, which should make it possible to better protect the caribou in its most favourable environments.

If such a policy were in place, territories would be “maximized for the protection of caribou.