All of the world’s mountain caribou live in the mountains of southeast British Columbia and parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana. They are considered one of the most endangered mammals in North America.
The globally unique mountain caribou is a variety of woodland caribou that has adapted to the special conditions of BC’s wet, mountainous forests. Mountain caribou “migrate” up and down the mountainsides, from the valley floors in spring and fall to the high forests in winter and summer. In winter when their other food is buried they stand on top of the snow, using their large snowshoe feet, and eat the lichens that grow on old-growth trees. They require unbroken tracts of old-growth forest for food and for security from predators.
Because of this dependency, mountain caribou are considered “indicators” of the ecological integrity of these old-growth forests. Their numbers have been steadily declining, from approximately 2200 in the late 1990s to approximately 1900* today, mostly due to human-caused habitat changes. What may have once been one large mountain caribou population has been fragmented into as many as 18 subpopulations with little or no interaction. Smaller, disconnected populations are more prone to extinction.
Protecting BC’s endangered species and their habitats is good for our society, our economy, and our environment. BC’s “Super, Natural” wildlife is the envy of much of the world, and is the basis for our tourism industry. Studies show that where wildlife habitat is protected, economies are strong and diversified. A clean, healthy environment attracts investment, a well-educated varied work force, and a diverse economic base because it guarantees quality of life, a priceless “second paycheque” in the form of clean air, water, and globally unique wilderness and wildlife values.
Protecting mountain caribou habitat protects the web of life on which we all depend.
*Preliminary 2006 Mountain Caribou survey results and sub-population trends, BC Ministry of Environment 2006