A report released last year outlining the state of decline of the woodland caribou herds of northern Quebec brought attention to the dire situation. In response to the situation, the Cree Regional Authority (CRA) released a plan April 10 detailing a new method aimed at preserving some of the last untouched forest ecosystems of North America for future generations.

During the release of the plan Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said, “Forty years ago the Quebec government put the Broadback River on notice for its destruction by way of hydro-development. Today the Crees request the river to be put on notice for its protection.”

Despite being protected from hydroelectric development as a part of the Paix des Braves agreement in 2002, the Broadback watershed has been facing increasing encroachment by the raw resource extraction industry, mainly lumber operations, over the last few years. The Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan is being seen as the way forward towards a more prosperous and eco-friendly development plan for the area.

The plan consists of two levels of protection from industrial development. In total, there will be 20,000 square kilometres of protected land under the plan with the area divided in two sections. The first section will be designated as a core protection area, which will include a park and a nature reserve preventing all industrial development in the 9,335 square kilometres of the first level. The second stage of the plan consists of the surrounding area, which will be maintained as a special management buffer zone, which will be used to balance the interaction between people and nature. In the buffer zone industrial activities will be permitted, but will operate under a broadly considered management strategy.

Environmental groups, such as Nature Quebec and the Canada Boreal Initiative (CBI), have lauded the efforts of the CRA and the leadership of the Grand Council of the Cree (GCC) for embarking on this innovative conservation plan. “CBI has supported the Crees in developing these protected area proposals for many years,” said Suzann Méthot, CBI’s Regional Director in Quebec. “We recognize the great value of the Broadback-Lake Evans area for the Aboriginal way of life, as well as its importance as habitat for the threatened woodland caribou.”

The report on the dwindling caribou populations was released in September 2012. But the situation for the large fauna being in danger has long been known with reports being published as early as 2002 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada with subsequent updates released in the following years.

The most recent report branded the three major caribou herds in the region – the Assinica, Nottaway and Temiscamie herds – as being Not Self Sustaining. In order to preserve these caribou herds, the report outlined four points to facilitate population recovery. This includes, “avoiding further development within areas known or presumed to be occupied by woodland caribou; targeting net reductions in overall cumulative range disturbance; encouraging an immediate halt to the subsistence harvest of woodland caribou; and forming strategic alliances to ensure the proactive recovery of the James Bay metapopulation.”

The cooperation between the CRA and the Quebec government in preserving the Broadback watershed is also aiding the province to meet its international obligations. In 2011, Quebec signed onto the 10-year plan proposed by the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity.

The Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan will help Quebec in achieving the criteria set out by the plan. Méthot added, “The Cree proposal is consistent with Quebec’s commitments to protect at least 50% of the northern territory. The Crees’ initiative offers the Quebec government with a great opportunity to address their commitments in the boreal region.”

The purpose of the plan is to keep the momentum moving forward from the proposals on conservation set up by the Plan Nord and help usher in a future where both the region’s population and ecosystem can flourish side by side.