Tembec and conservation group to protect caribou habitat by Lake Winnipeg, Man.; to halt area logging for at least 50 years

WINNIPEG, Man. , October 11, 2007 (press release) – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and forestry corporation Tembec have negotiated a minimum 50-year halt on logging in an area used extensively by woodland caribou on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Habitat protection is key to maintaining populations of this threatened species, as they are extremely sensitive to human developments.

"This is good news for caribou. CPAWS looks forward to our ongoing efforts with Tembec to increase protections for caribou," stated Ron Thiessen, Executive Director of the CPAWS Manitoba chapter. "Healthy boreal forests are critical to caribou survival."

The 26,000 ha area deferred from harvesting is the "winter core zone" of the Owl Lake woodland caribou herd. In other words, the lands the herd uses most during Manitoba's cold months. A 50-year deferral of forestry operations in the area provides security for some of the herd's most important habitat while allowing ongoing research to identify more about survival needs of this threatened species.

"Winter is an important season for woodland caribou.  Their survival depends on finding areas with sufficient food, favourable snowcover, and few predators -- conditions that are characteristic of old forests,"  according to Dr. Jim Schaefer, Associate Professor, Biology Department, Trent University.

The Owl Lake woodland caribou herd is located in Manitoba's southernmost caribou range. Habitats south of their range, such as in Whiteshell Park, have been so altered by human activities that caribou no longer reside there. The Manitoba government recognizes major threats to the caribou as habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation.

A Manitoba government report states "It is estimated that the (Manitoba) woodland caribou population has decreased by 50% since 1950." Manitoba's woodland caribou population is estimated to be between 1800-3100 animals. Last year, woodland caribou was listed as a threatened species under the Manitoba Endangered Species Act.

Woodland caribou are known as the icon of Canada's boreal forests. They are also an indicator species of boreal forest health. Where there are caribou, there are intact robust boreal forests. Where the caribou are gone, it's a clear sign the ecology of that forest has been severely damaged.

As the boreal is the world's largest source of fresh water and the northern lungs of the planet, protecting it is essential for everyone's future. The boreal also helps slow down climate change by storing tones of carbon. Local communities rely on it for traditional activities and emerging sustainable economic opportunities such as eco-tourism - one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Every Canadian depends on the boreal for either a job, or food, or supplies.

"Establishing large protected area networks in our boreal forests will ensure the needs of wildlife and people will be met in the future,"  Thiessen asserted.

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