The state of caribou in Quebec: The intersection of biodiversity and Indigenous rights

The state of caribou in Quebec

The intersection of biodiversity and Indigenous rights

The state of caribou in Quebec

The intersection of biodiversity and Indigenous rights

Quebec has postponed its caribou recovery plan until 2023. It has implications for biodiversity, Indigenous rights and reconciliation.

Caribou once roamed across half of Canada. Today, this iconic species has disappeared from its southern ranges and is edging closer to the brink of extinction. The protection of caribou goes beyond saving one species. It means protecting the integrity of the boreal forest ecosystem and stifling biodiversity loss. It means recognizing Indigenous rights and the profound role of caribou in Indigenous culture, spirituality and livelihood. Despite the many reasons to protect woodland caribou, the Government of Quebec has postponed their caribou recovery plan until 2023.

Woodland caribou in forest
Photo by Jillian Cooper from Getty Images/Canva

Caribou herds in Quebec are a shadow of their former populations mere decades ago. Of particular concern is the dramatic decline of the George River Herd. In 1990, the herd was over 800,000 caribou strong, but now only 1% of the population remains in Quebec. The Leaf River Herd has also experienced a decline from over 600,000 caribou in 2000 to approximately 190,000 today. Thankfully, the population has stabilized over the past few years. The main culprits of these declines are habitat loss and fragmentation due to industrial logging, fossil fuel exploration and road construction. Caribou are an integral part of the densely woven net of biodiversity living within the boreal forest. We receive too many vital ecosystem services from this biodiverse ecosystem to risk its collapse.

Deforestation in foggy forest
Photo by cnicbc from Getty Images/Canva

With long-standing relationships with and ancient knowledge of the land, Indigenous Peoples of Quebec have lived alongside and in balance with caribou herds for millennia. Caribou is a vital food source for Indigenous Peoples and influences Indigenous languages, stories and traditions.  The state of Quebec’s caribou populations has led to local Indigenous Peoples stepping up to the plate to engage in conservation efforts rooted in traditional Indigenous knowledge. In fact, Indigenous Peoples are championing forest and biodiversity protection around the world. Research shows that Indigenous Peoples are better at protecting forests from deforestation than non-Indigenous protected areas. But, the protection of the remaining caribou populations also requires collaboration and coordination with provincial decision-makers.

Since Indigenous Peoples in Quebec have such a close relationship with caribou, the consequences of the caribou recovery plan postponement will weigh more heavily on Indigenous communities. If the Government of Quebec is committed to reconciliation, it must start with protecting its woodland caribou herds, listening to Indigenous voices, valuing their multi-generational knowledge of the land and allowing Indigenous Peoples to lead conservation efforts.

How can you help?

1. Learn about Indigenous Worldviews in Conservation in our blog by guest writer Chloe Dragon-Smith.

2. Join Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) in asking the Canadian government to do their part to protect caribou populations and habitat. Sign the petition here.

3. Read The Indigenous Circle of Experts Report, 2018, We Rise Together to learn more about Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs).

4. Support, follow and spread the word about Indigenous-led conservation initiatives, such as the Land Needs Guardians campaign by the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.