730 10 NOVEMBER 2017 • VOL 358 ISSUE 6364 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
Canada fails to
protect its caribou
Despite legislation, Canada has failed to protect its boreal woodland caribou. Canada’s
endangered species legislation, the Species
at Risk Act (SARA), passed into law in 2002.
Boreal caribou were listed as threatened in
2003 (1), but a draft recovery plan was never
finalized (1). Now, after almost a decade,
the critical habitat necessary for recovery,
required under SARA, has been identified
but not effectively protected.
The delay is not due to lack of information. In 2007, Environment Canada
assembled a blue-ribbon scientific panel,
and for the next 5 years, a team of more
than 25 scientists from universities, nongovernmental organizations, and government
assembled the data necessary to identify
critical habitat for 1,000,000 km2 in 51 caribou ranges across Canada (2). The results
were integrated into a National Recovery
Strategy in 2012 (3). At that time, 37 of the 51
local populations were in decline, and only
14 were stable (3). The proximate cause of
declines is predation, intensified by apparent
competition—i.e., when asymmetric predation rates lead one prey species to increase
and another “competing” prey species to
decline (4). However, predation rates on
caribou are ultimately linked to unsustainable natural resource extraction by forestry
and energy sectors (3, 5, 6).
The provinces had 5 years under SARA
to implement range recovery plans. These
plans were due to the federal government
on 5 October 2017. Not one jurisdiction in
Canada met that deadline (7). Instead of
recovering caribou habitat, for example,
Alberta permitted 8887 new oil wells in critical habitat between 2012 and 2014 (6). This
failure to follow its own environmental laws
puts at risk Canada’s international commitments to the 1994 Convention of Biological
Diversity (8) and the goal of protecting 17%
of Canada under Aichi Biodiversity Target
1 (9). It also accentuates Canada’s failure to
commit to the UN Declaration of the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples, as loss of caribou
hunting violates First Nation treaties (10).
The failure to protect caribou habitat also
threatens biodiversity (11) and Canada’s commitment to address climate change given the
boreal forests’ immense carbon stores and
the carbon emissions of the energy sector
(12). The Trudeau government must abide by
its own environmental laws and set a clear
Edited by Jennifer Sills
and rapid pathway to effective protection
and recovery of caribou across Canada.
Mark Hebblewhite1 and Daniel Fortin2
1Wildlife Biology Program, Department of Ecosystem
and Conservation Sciences, W. A. Franke College of
Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana,
Missoula, MT 59812, USA. 2Département de
Biologie, Université Laval, Québec, Québec G1V 0A6,
Canada. *Corresponding author.
1. J. C. Ray et al ., Rangifer35, 49 (2015).
2. “Scientific assessment to inform the identification of
critical habitat for woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus
caribou), boreal population, in Canada: 2011 update”
(Environment Canada, 2011).
3. “Recovery strategy for the woodland caribou (Rangifer
tarandus caribou), boreal population, in Canada”
(Environment Canada, 2012).
4. R. D. Holt, Theoret. Pop. Biol.12, 197 (1977).
5. M. Festa-Bianchet, J. C. Ray, S. Boutin, S. D. Côté, A. Gunn,
Can. J. Zool. 89, 419 (2011).
6. M. Hebblewhite, Biol. Conserv. 206, 102 (2017).
7. “Report on the progress of recovery strategy
implementation for the woodland caribou (Rangifer
tarandus caribou), boreal population in Canada for
the period 2012–2017,” Species at Risk Act Recovery
Strategy Series (Environment and Climate Change
8. “A biodiversity outcomes framework for Canada”
(Convention on Biological Diversity, 2006); www.cbd.int/
9. Convention on Biological Diversity, Aichi Biodiversity
Targets (2011); www.cbd.int/sp/targets/.
10. M. Hume, “West Moberly First Nation wants drastic steps
to save caribou,” The Globe and Mail (2013).
11. O. Bichet, A. Dupuch, C. Hebert, H. Le Borgne, D. Fortin,
Ecol. Appl. 26, 612 (2016).
12. J. Hansen, “Game over for the climate,” The New York
Times (2012), p. A9.
North Atlantic right
whales in danger
In 2017, an unprecedented mortality event
occurred in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
Canada: Twelve endangered North Atlantic
right whales were found dead (1–3). With
fewer than 500 individuals remaining,
North Atlantic right whales are federally
protected in the United States and Canada
(1, 3, 4). Canadian and U.S. attempts at
recovery planning have focused on the
need to reduce deaths caused by human
activity, particularly from fishing gear
entanglement and ship strikes in the Gulf
of Maine and Bay of Fundy, where North
Atlantic right whales traditionally aggregate each summer (3, 4).
Since 1999, North Atlantic right whale
researchers have advocated for stronger
protection for the whales through mitigative
measures, such as ship speed reductions,
fisheries closures, and altered ship routes
in areas where whales were known to feed
and breed within the Gulf of Maine and
Bay of Fundy (4–7). Mandatory vessel speed
restrictions in the United States and altered
shipping routes in Canada have been in
place in the North Atlantic right whales’
core habitat since 2008 (8, 9). However, the
Gulf of St. Lawrence—site of the 2017 mortality event—was not previously considered
core habitat (2, 5).