B.C.’s Forests Minister Doug Donaldson recently announced that the province will be expanding additional protection areas in the Peace region, but not in the majority of B.C. that lies west of the Rocky Mountains.
As Black Press’s Tom Fletcher reported, protection strategies have been expanded in recent years, including snowmobile restrictions and extensive forest protection zones. Despite those measures, mountain caribou herds in the Kootenays have dwindled, in some cases to extinction.
Donaldson says that analysts are looking around at the herds needing protection outside of the peace region, and that enough protection is already in place.
Local environmental group Wildsight disagrees. Eddie Petryshen, Wildsight’s Conservation Coordinator, says that Caribou habitat protection is absolutely necessary in the B.C. Interior.
“In areas like the Revelstoke-Shuswap, only 40 per cent of core habitat used by caribou is protected under existing protections. The latest science across the spectrum on caribou recovery shows that we need to pull all the levers and pull them hard. You can’t just pull one there and not here,” said Petryshen. “There are predators in caribou country that have never been there before and we need to back that up with habitat protection.”
He adds that there are just 15,000 caribou in B.C., including all of the herds, however just 1,200 remain in the Southern Mountain Caribou Species which spans from Kimberley to Prince George.
“Those numbers are down from 2,500 in the late 90’s,” Petryshen explained. “We need to do more. The immediate cause is predation but the ultimate cause is industrial disturbance which includes land clearing and logging, mining, fragmentation.”
Jake Billingsley of the Save the Last Mountain Caribou From Extinction group explained that this species has been waiting for Endangered Status, which was officially recommended five years ago.
“The Committee On The Endangered Wildlife In Canada, COESWIC, which is the official body making recommended determinations for species under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, recommended in 2014 that the Southern Mountain Caribou be listed as Endangered, yet neither the Harper nor the Trudeau governments have finalized this listing change,” said Billingsley. “Activists are asking Minister McKenna to finalize this change immediately, which she can do even though the Election Writ has dropped.”
Petryshen says that it’s not just about protecting caribou, but other species of animals that depend on old growth forests, which is where caribou thrive.
“There is no legislation protecting old growth forests, but there is protection of caribou,” he said. “It’s about the future health of these forests and species like goshawk, fishers, wolverines, grizzly bears and flying squirrels. Maintaining large tracts of old growth forests is the most effective way to reduce predation risk and provide forage opportunities for caribou.”
Declines in the southern caribou population will continue to happen, Petryshen says, if the Ministry doesn’t put the Kootenays on the map as a priority.
“Caribou are one of the oldest mammals on the planet, they survived the ice age. Now, they are just barely hanging on in these remote areas and those areas need to be protected.”