Science-informed Policy Decisions Lead to the Creation of a Protected Area for a Wide-ranging Species at Risk

Mathieu Leblond
Tyler Rudolph
Dominic Boisjoly
Christian Dussault
Martin-Hugues St-Laurent
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Protected areas are needed to conserve nature and biodiversity worldwide. The province of Québec (Canada) recently established a large wilderness area affording significant habitat protection for boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), a wide-ranging species at risk. We describe a decision support framework combining ecological modeling with socioeconomic constraints that ultimately led to the creation of this protected area. Multiple criteria were used to identify candidate protected areas for boreal caribou. These had to be large in size (>10,000 km2) and located in regions where available high-quality habitat was threatened by development pressures. Candidate areas also had to contribute substantively to the maintenance of functional habitat connectivity, be exempt from major industrial developments and recent fires, and required evidence of recent use by caribou. Five candidate protected areas emerged from this exercise. Key regional stakeholders were consulted, thereby strengthening advocacy for land designation, and boundaries were refined through their input, which helped further reduce socioeconomic conflicts. This process involved difficult compromises, but eventually led to the legal designation on March 4, 2021 of a new protected area for boreal caribou known as the Caribous-Forestiers-de-Manouane-Manicouagan. We show how our science-informed decision support framework was instrumental in the success of this endeavor, and describe the obstacles overcame in the process, so that other jurisdictions may draw from this experience in their efforts to achieve similar conservation goals