If nothing is done to stop the decline of caribou in the Gaspé, the livestock of this iconic species may completely disappeared in a few years. The most recent inventory shows a decline of nearly 60% of the population for 10 years.
Specialist of the species, the biologist Martin-Hugues St-Laurent is categorical: “We are in a situation that is untenable. We can not maintain the status quo, which would be tantamount to admitting that we will lose this population in the next 15 to 25 years, “he explains in an interview at Le Devoir.
The most recent aerial survey of the Gaspésie caribou, conducted in the fall of 2017 by the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP), shows that the situation of the last population of southern woodland caribou St. Lawrence is extremely precarious.
The data, which have just been published, indicate that the herd is currently limited to 75 individuals in the heart of the Gaspé Peninsula, mainly within the boundaries of the Gaspésie National Park. And even if the different inventories show that the population has been changing for more than 30 years, the trend of decline is undeniable, according to Mr. St-Laurent, a scientist who knows this population well. “The population has been eroding for many years,” he says.
In comparison, the MFFP estimated the herd at about 189 caribou in 2007, a figure that has been steadily declining for the last 10 years. Over a decade, the decline is close to 60%, if we compare the inventory of 2017 to that of 2007.
These cervids, classified as endangered under the Species at Risk Act, are particularly affected by the predation of coyotes and black bears, according to the work carried out by Martin-Hugues St -Laurent and his team.
“Forest management has drastically rejuvenated the forests around the Gaspésie National Park in recent decades. All of this has the effect of creating predator-friendly habitats, such as the coyote and the black bear, “says the biologist.
Young caribou are the main victims of this predation facilitated by human activity. This situation is all the more problematic because the fawns are already present in insufficient numbers to ensure the maintenance of the population. According to the most recent data from the MFFP, the proportion of fawns in the population is estimated at 14%, whereas “in 2006, the minimum proportion of fawns targeted to maintain the population of the Gaspésie was set at 17%”.
The report of the 2017 inventory of the Government of Quebec therefore concludes that “additional efforts to control predators should be undertaken to try to increase and stabilize the survival rate of calves and keep new individuals in the population” .
“Along with the control of predators, concrete actions to reduce the attractiveness of habitats supporting predator populations must be implemented,” the authors of the report added.
For Mr. St-Laurent, it is imperative to improve the measures of predator control, but also to reduce the forest activity around the Gaspésie National Park.
It also considers it necessary to take into account the impacts of the “disturbance” suffered by caribou, particularly because of the strong presence of hikers, but also skiers.
These activities would force animals to move further, requiring greater energy expenditure. Some deer also tend to leave the higher altitudes, exposing them to more predation.
“We know very well the situation of the caribou of Gaspésie. We know what must be done to prevent its extinction, “concludes the researcher. What’s more, a “viability analysis” of the species last year highlights that this animal is “a good umbrella species”. In this context, “its conservation is even more important since it could help conserve a variety of other animal and plant species associated with the same types of habitats”.
The problem is that the protection of this species also raises criticisms from certain elected officials in Gaspésie, who denounce the potential economic impacts of the measures taken.
The findings of the MFFP also occur in the context where the next recovery plan for the species must be submitted to the Quebec government in the coming weeks.