Toronto (December 13, 2016). Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada has released “The Caribou Story Map”—a web-based interactive tool that provides users with locations of mining claims and information on the potential effects of mining exploration activities on caribou habitat in Ontario’s Far North.

The information available in the map (found here) will be critical to decision-makers in the management of this species at risk, particularly in areas identified as having overlap of conservation and mining interests.

Great potential mineral wealth, including world-class mineral deposits of chromite in the Ring of Fire, has resulted in Ontario’s Far North becoming the fastest growing area of mineral exploration in the province. Resulting threats to caribou in Ontario’s northern regions include cumulative habitat disturbance and loss of access to critical areas for calving or feeding.

“Boreal caribou habitat is being increasingly degraded and industrial activity must be carefully planned and limited if it is not to risk more damage to caribou populations, particularly in the Far North, a current stronghold for this threatened species in Ontario,” explains Dr. Justina Ray, President and Senior Scientist of WCS Canada.

Although the province is committed (through the Caribou Conservation Plan) to track disturbance within caribou ranges in Ontario, such information and how it is used to make decisions about exploration and mineral development is not publicly available.

The Caribou Story map helps provide a “big picture” understanding of the extent and potential impacts of this type of development on caribou populations in the region, and facilitates access of hard-to-reach data to inform and promote more meaningful public engagement on exploration permit applications.

Among the specific features the Story Map provides is a hands-on mapping interface where users can find information about mining claim ownership, the status of exploration permits, and links to the different types of approved exploration activities. In addition, users can monitor where different types of exploration activities are scheduled to occur or where they are already occurring on the landscape relative to boreal caribou ranges.

WCS Canada’s GIS Analyst Meg Southee, who developed this tool, said, “When we first began to track mineral exploration claims in boreal ranges, it became clear how impossible it would be for the average person to get a complete picture of how mineral exploration disturbance may be changing Far North landscapes. This tool changes that by bringing the pertinent information together in one place and we are sharing it with members of the public so they might be engaged in the permitting process.”

Boreal caribou are considered threatened in Canada under both the Federal Species at Risk Act and Ontario’s Endangered Species Act; the Far North of the province serves as a current stronghold for this species, which has lost ground in southern boreal forests across Canada over the past century.  With boreal caribou likely to become endangered if adequate steps are not taken to address threats directly affecting them, this Story Map provides a means for people to learn more about the challenges they face so they can be involved in their conservation.

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Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada was incorporated as a conservation organization in Canada in 2004.  The mission of WCS Canada is to conserve wildlife and wild places by understanding the issues, developing science-based solutions, and working with others to carry out conservation actions across Canada. WCS Canada is distinguished from other environmental organizations through our role in generating science through field and applied research, and by using our results to encourage collaboration among scientific communities, organizations and policy makers to achieve conservation results.