Is it reasonable to sacrifice 2,931 jobs and $367 million of economic activity for the (uncertain) preservation of 96 caribou per year in Quebec? This is just what could happen if the government further restricts logging activities in order to protect this animal, according to an Economic Note published today by the MEI.
Since the addition of the boreal caribou to the threatened species list, the Quebec government has made considerable efforts to protect its habitat, among other things by limiting forestry companies' access to the public forest. But certain governmental organizations and environmentalist groups keep demanding more.
The new boreal caribou recovery plan, which is set to come into effect in 2018, aims to increase and to maintain Quebec's boreal caribou population at 11,000 animals over the total extent of its current range, notably by imposing new restrictions on forestry activities.
If the government goes forward with this plan, thousands of jobs will be lost, at a time when the sector is only just recovering from a crisis. This will especially affect the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, where the forestry sector in 2013 accounted for 10% of total employment and 14% of the region's GDP. The authors of the Note estimate that if the recovery plan is implemented, 2,701 jobs would be lost in the region, and GDP would fall by $339 million. These losses would be less pronounced for the North Shore and other administrative regions.
If the total cost for all regions is spread out over the number of caribou saved per year, the loss would be 31 jobs and $3.8 million for each caribou potentially saved.
"There is certainly a need for conservation measures to protect biodiversity, but they must have concrete positive effects as well as costs that are not out of proportion with the goals. When it comes to the boreal caribou, though, these two criteria do not seem to have been respected," says Alexandre Moreau, co-author of the publication and Public Policy Analyst at the MEI.
In addition to the socioeconomic costs associated with these restrictions, there exists a considerable level of uncertainty regarding the government's ability to properly measure the achievement of the conservation targets. For one thing, the absence of a boreal caribou survey carried out in a systematic manner and the lack of precision in the evaluation methods mean that it is difficult to know the exact state of the populations. For another, it is difficult to explain the causes of population variations, which include the mobility of herds.
For example, between 1999 and 2012, the population more than doubled in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region despite a high level of disturbance, going from 115 to 247 animals, but it was not possible to draw any clear conclusions regarding the causes of this increase.
"Even if we completely ceased all logging in the caribou's range of distribution, it is entirely possible that downward population trends would continue because of factors like climate change, forest fires, insect epidemics, and hunting. In short, forestry activities are but one factor among many others," notes Jasmin Guénette, co-author of the publication and Vice President of the MEI.
To this day, aside from the estimate proposed in this Note, no numerical analysis of costs has been made public, whether by the government or by environmentalist groups. "Decision makers and the general public need to have an idea of the actual impacts of a policy before it is adopted. And in this case, we should make sure that the socioeconomic costs of the boreal caribou recovery plans are not out of proportion before imposing additional restrictions on forestry activities," concludes Mr. Guénette.
The Economic Note entitled "The Economic Costs of the Boreal Caribou Recovery Plan" was prepared by Jasmin Guénette and Alexandre Moreau, respectively Vice President and Public Policy Analyst at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.