British Columbia’s boreal woodland caribou at continued risk: CPAWS Report

CPAWS annual review finds limited progress nationally in 2015

Vancouver, BC – In its third annual review of government action to conserve Canada's boreal caribou, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds there has been very limited progress in B.C. and spotted progress elsewhere in Canada, with too few jurisdictions showing significant leadership in protecting the species that has long graced our 25-cent coins.

B.C. is currently sitting at the back of the pack when it comes to efforts across the country to save this iconic species. To add to existing pressures on these caribou, the province continues to push for and approve new LNG projects whose long-term cumulative impacts on caribou habitat are still unknown. The approval of new LNG projects and the expansion of the industry will require thousands of new fracking wells in boreal caribou habitat, and linear infrastructure that will further disturb an already highly fragmented landscape.

“At this point, it’s beyond concerning,” says Peter Wood, Director of Terrestrial Campaigns for CPAWS-BC. “The federal recovery strategy says no more than 35% of caribou habitat can be disturbed for the species to have even a 60% chance of survival, yet over three quarters of this habitat in northeastern B.C. is already allocated to the natural gas industry, and the B.C. government is pushing to expand the industry to the detriment of an entire species.”

Under the federal Species at Risk Act, all provinces and territories are required to have plans in place to recover their boreal woodland caribou populations by 2017, based on the 2012 Final Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou. B.C. has made no progress towards developing range plans for any of its six boreal caribou herds since the release of the recovery strategy, and other efforts to address cumulative effects in decision making that could help the species seem to be disconnected from the recovery strategy’s requirements for caribou.

“In order to meet the requirements of the federal recovery strategy and give boreal caribou a chance of survival, the province will need to begin implementing more proactive measures to limit the growth of industrial development to within the limits of what the species can sustain over the long term,” says Wood.

Across Canada, CPAWS observed the most positive government policy actions in 2015 on caribou conservation in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The organization also noted early positive signs of change in Alberta’s new government’s approach to caribou habitat protection, but gave all other provinces and territories much more mixed reviews, with the biggest concerns reserved for British Columbia and Ontario.

In terms of acres on the ground, new protected areas were established in 2015 in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba that will conserve approximately 16,000 km2 of caribou habitat – 16 times more than was protected last year. However, this represents only about 1% of the total area of boreal caribou habitat identified as “critical” in the federal recovery strategy.

Boreal Caribou occupy about 2.4 million km2 of Canada’s boreal forest – less than half of their North American range in the 19th century.  The biggest threat to their survival is habitat fragmentation, which increases access by predators. Scientists consider caribou as bellwethers of the health of the boreal forest, which also cleanses our air and water and stores vast amounts of carbon within its soils, moderating climate change. 


View CPAWS’ full national report at:


Jessie Corey
Terrestrial Campaigns Coordinator