Canadian Federal Government’s Threat to Step in and Protect Quebec’s Woodland Caribou Considered an Overstep by Quebec’s Premier

The Canadian federal government (Ottawa) is threatening to act on its own to protect the at-risk woodland caribou and the animals’ habitat in the province of Quebec. On Friday, April 8, 2022, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault gave the Quebec government until Wednesday, April 20 to provide him with information on how the province intends to protect the woodland caribou and its habitat.

In a news conference held on Tuesday (4-12-22), Guilbeault said, “Quebec still has the opportunity to act and to come to the table and negotiate in good faith, but that must be done quickly.” If the province doesn’t agree to rapidly impose measures to prevent the decline of the species, Guilbeault said he would recommend the federal government adopt an order-in-council that would unilaterally create protected habitat for the caribou in Quebec.

That has led to a quick response from Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who said such action would be interference in an area of provincial jurisdiction. “This is Quebec’s jurisdiction, so we have an independent commission that is looking into this,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “We have to have a balance between saving the caribou but also protecting jobs that are important in certain regions of Quebec.”

The woodland caribou is considered “vulnerable” by the Quebec government. According to provincial data, from 2005 to 2016, the estimated population of the woodland caribou in the province varied between 5,635 and 9,981 animals. The mountain caribou subspecies of the woodland caribou is considered “threatened” by Quebec. Its population is estimated at around 40.

The Quebec committee currently studying caribou protection has faced criticism from environmental groups because it does not include any caribou experts. It is headed by Nancy Gelinas, a Université Laval professor who studies forest economics.

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador has said the Quebec committee is not taking the rights and interests of First Nations into account during consultations.

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