One of the current ongoing projects here at the PA Model Forest is the range planning for woodland caribou in Northern Saskatchewan’s boreal forests.

Planning for the protection of this at-risk species is no small task. Currently, we are out in the field, interviewing Indigenous Elders, land-users, and knowledge keepers to put their traditional ecological knowledge into practice and to build a land-stewardship plan around those people who actually live on the land.

Woodland caribou have been integral to many First Nations, Metis, and Indigenous cultures for millennia. The picture to the left is a pictograph near Pelican Narrows. The ancient image of a caribou (identifiable by the shape and length of the nose) tells us that not only were they present in this landscape long before industry and human activity put them in danger; they were also important enough to the artists to preserve visually as well.

Woodland caribou are what we call an “umbrella species.” By that, we mean that we can use their population numbers and general presence as an indicator of the health of a landscape. When they are doing unwell, we can take it as sure sign that the rest of their localized environment is also doing unwell.

This means that the woodland caribou’s current position on the Species At Risk Act (SARA) does not bode well for the overall health of our boreal forests. Human activity (like towns, skidoos and ATV’s, and industries like mining, logging, hunting, and fishing) as well as increasing numbers of wildfires mean decreasing areas of undisturbed caribou habitat. As vast tracts of their preferred habitat are disturbed, the animals will either move further and further to find untouched food sources and safe places to calve, or they will find themselves unable to reproduce and numbers will continue to dwindle.

We are currently working with the Government of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to build range plans for the management of woodland caribou in Northern Saskatchewan. Right now, we are drafting a Range Plan for Northeastern Saskatchewan, to be put into practice by 2020.

Our primary goal in the drafting of these land-use management plans is to make sure that they are more than just a statistical report. We want plans that feature community-based stewardship of the land; conservation and restoration by the people who live there, for the people that live there.

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