Saving B.C.’s woodland caribou from extinction is clearly not as simple as protecting its habitat, according to the director of the provincial caribou recovery program.
A report released earlier this week says the province’s approach to preserving caribou habitat has failed and the caribou population will disappear if changes are not made soon.
The report shows that caribou have lost twice as much habitat as they have gained over the past 12 years, mainly due to logging, road construction, forest fires and climate change.
Darcy Peel, director of the B.C. Caribou Recovery Program, says that while the study helps to understand exactly where the problems lie, its findings are not surprising.
The solution isn’t as simple as restoring lost habitat, he says, because the province has been doing that in conjunction with other management actions, including predator management, for more than a decade.
He says, for example, that a habitat protection program between 2005 and 2009 that focused on high elevation winter habitat helped create healthy caribou habitat in those areas, but did not protect the adjacent valley bottoms.
This caused a problem because the healthy caribou habitat was surrounded by high populations of moose, elk and deer, which attracted predators such as wolves and cougars, Peel says.
Predator control is also not a sustainable option for saving caribou, he says.
We’ve managed predators in some of these places…but it’s not seen as a long-term solution
So we’re working with these communities that are often dependent on natural resource management jobs, such as forestry, to develop solutions that will mitigate any impact on them while conserving the caribou.
– Mr. Peel
He says the province is looking at other solutions for caribou by learning more about the relationship between predators and prey, exploring breeding for conservation and improving the management of ecotourism industries.
We have very good snowmobile management in the southern part of the province [and] we’re working on that in the northern part,” says Peel, “and we’re working to develop a similar solution for heli-skiing.
For solutions to be effective, however, everyone must do their part to prevent the caribou from disappearing, according to Peel. The forest industry, the mining industry, the recreation industry, and the federal, provincial, municipal and aboriginal governments all need to be part of the solution.
It’s a big problem that we’re struggling with across the country … and no one has done it successfully yet.
With information from Daybreak South