March 13th 2009
By Aaron Orlando, printed in the Revelstoke Times Review, February 23, 2009
A group of environmental organizations are calling for additional measures they say are necessary to protect mountain caribou. The group made the announcement a day after the B.C. government announced they had taken steps to complete the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan which was first announced in October of 2007.
The Feb. 19 government announcement, which was made by B.C. environment minister Barry Penner, says over two million hectares have now been protected and are off-limits for logging and road building, and that one million hectares of alpine caribou habitat are out of reach of “snow machines” in the Interior.
The government says the goal is “to restore the mountain caribou population to the pre-1995 level of 2,500 animals throughout their existing range in B.C.”
The government also highlighted certain measures being taken under the implementation plan to protect caribou which they included in the following list:
- Protecting 2.2 million hectares of mountain caribou range from logging and road building, capturing 95 per cent of the caribou’s high-suitability winter habitat. This will lead to an increase of approximately 380,000 hectares of protected forest within mountain caribou range.
- Managing human recreational activities in mountain caribou habitat in a manner that ensures critical habitat areas are effectively protected.
- Managing predator populations of wolf and cougar where they are preventing the recovery of mountain caribou populations.
- Managing the primary prey of caribou predators.
- Boosting caribou numbers in threatened herds with animals transplanted from elsewhere to ensure herds achieve critical mass for self-sufficiency.
- Supporting adaptive management and research, and implement effective monitoring plans for habitat, recreation and predator-prey management.
- Instituting a cross-sector progress board to monitor the effectiveness of recovery actions.
The press release sent out the following day was signed by environmental groups Wildsight, Forest Ethics, Mountain Caribou Project, Conservation Northwest, Fraser Headwaters Alliance, BC Nature, Shuswap Environmental Action Society and the Revelstoke-based North Columbia Environmental Society.
They “applaud” the government announcement but say the steps to protect habitat remain incomplete, and go on to list a series of steps they say are necessary to effectively protect mountain caribou.
Calling their list an “IOU” of outstanding commitments the government has yet to fulfill, they are pressing the government to take further steps which they say have been identified as necessary by scientific studies conducted by the government itself, amongst other items. “Protections against mineral exploration development, snowmobiling and heli-skiing in critical habitat are still outstanding – [are] unfinished business the groups say presents an unnecessary risk to the future recovery of the animals,” they say in the release.
Although the government has now legally set aside just short of 2.2 million hectares of land for mountain caribou recovery, “the Ministry of Environment has not fully enacted nor provided enforcement for the snowmobile closures deemed necessary by herd experts to recover the animals.”
They are also concerned that loopholes that could allow some logging still remain.
“The government has drawn the lines and legally designated areas where no logging or road building is to take place, and we applaud them for that, but they need to ensure that snowmobiling and industrial development are outside of those lines,” says Wildsight’s John Bergenske.
Valerie Langer of ForestEthics says snowmobiling is a major concern. “We remain concerned that the B.C. government is allowing snowmobiling in areas recommended for closure by the government’s own science team. The science couldn’t be more clear on this: mountain caribou and snowmobiling don’t mix.”
The environmental group goes on to provide their outstanding ‘IOU’ demands in a list. They are calling on the government to complete the following:
- Act on all the science-based recommendations to close mountain caribou habitat to winter motorized recreation.
- Boost caribou numbers in threatened herds with animals transplanted from elsewhere to ensure herds achieve critical mass for self-sufficiency.
- Ensure that any activities within designated habitat support the recovery goals and require a caribou biologist’s review of any development.
- Ensure that large areas of caribou habitat that were missed, due to mapping errors, are protected.
- Ensure that predator strategies are transparent and that wolves and cougars are not scapegoats for incomplete habitat protection.
North Columbia Environmental Society (NCES) spokesperson Virginia Thompson says the NCES is still committed to working with the government on the mountain caribou recovery program, but is calling for further measures, including many snowmobiling restrictions in the Revelstoke area.
She says that the NCES signed on with the government plan in October 2007 because at that time the plan was following recommendations made by the government scientists who had studied mountain caribou. “At that time, we were basically saying as long as you follow the science recommendations and follow your commitments -- and they had made a lot of commitments in writing and to us too -- they would add things, amendments that we wanted and so on and so on, so what we’ve being doing since then is trying to hold them to their commitments and science team recommendations and that’s been a lot of work.” She says they’ve been actively reviewing government reports and providing feedback and comments on them.
She says the total hectares committed to has been satisfactory. However, Thompson says that since then some of the elements of the protection plan have fallen off the table.
She emphasizes snowmobile and motorized recreation as a key concern for the group. “It’s uneven. They’ve done more in some planning units than others. But in the Revelstoke-Shuswap planning unit, which is ours, they’re very short at the snowmobiling end of things,” she says, adding there is “virtually nothing here” in terms of snowmobile restrictions.
She says the group is still trying to address the concerns and hoping to get further restrictions to protect the Columbia south herd located in the Revelstoke area, which is now down to about 20 animals.
Thompson says the group is calling for local snowmobiling closures recommended by the science team including “full closures” in the Hub, including Mount Grace Mount Anstay, Mount Celista (including access trails) Mount Pettipiece, Caribou Basin, Keystone & Standard Mountains (above 1,300 metres), the Queest areas and the northern 30 per cent of Frisby Ridge.
“That’s what the science team recommended be closed and almost none of that has happened,” she says, adding that the only changes that have occurred is a small closure to a portion of Mount Grace, and a closure to a route to the Bruins Glacier. She says a closure to the southern 60 per cent of Frisby Ridge was an old agreement under a different plan.
Thompson says added logging restrictions called for by the group are not specific to the Revelstoke-Shuswap planning district, but instead called for on a province-wide basis.
The group also wants new mining and river power projects (IPPs) to be seen over by a qualified caribou herd biologist to determine that there is “no risk” for caribou.
Thompson says the environmental group is calling for more monitoring and enforcement of heli-skiing, saying the industry has taken steps to be more open with their data. “We would like more enforcement with all motorized recreation -- with heli-skiing, ... cat-skiing and also with snowmobiling -- there isn’t much money funding for monitoring and enforcement,” she says.
She also said the groups were calling for the government to act on their commitment to transfer animals to more threatened herds.
“There is a progress board that continues to sit and oversee this, so it isn’t all finished,” says Thompson. “It’s still being implemented in the sense of being monitored and there is an adaptive management process, and we are still very much pushing for what we feel is still missing and they are still working with us on that, and so we’re hopeful that we can get a lot of these things within the next year.”
The B.C. government provided the following background information on mountain caribou:
“B.C.’s mountain caribou are globally unique, as they are the world’s southernmost population and the only remaining population that lives in rugged, mountainous terrain. All other similar populations that existed throughout the world are now extirpated. Mountain caribou in B.C. have declined from approximately 2,500 individuals in 1995 to about 1,900 individuals in 12 herds today.
Mountain caribou are currently listed as “threatened” under the federal Species at Risk Act and are “red-listed” (endangered or threatened) in British Columbia.
It is illegal to hunt, trap, wound or kill any endangered species including Mountain Caribou. The maximum fine for a conviction under the B.C. Wildlife Act is now $500,000, up from the previous $150,000 maximum, following amendments introduced by the government last year. Penalties can also include imprisonment for up to three years, up from the previous maximum of eighteen months.”