In October 2007 the BC government committed to protect mountain caribou, an endangered species that lives in the mountains of southeastern BC. The situation for the mountain caribou is urgent: The population dropped by almost 25% in just a decade.
Specifically, government committed to protect habitat from logging and road building, and to ensure that the protections were effective by managing commercial and public recreation in caribou habitat. Government also committed to transplant caribou from healthy populations into smaller herds that are at immediate risk.
On the advice of the Mountain Caribou Science Team, government also committed to address predation of caribou where it was shown to threaten successful caribou recovery. Where a combination of recovery actions has been taken, herds have stabilized or increased.
In February 2009 government finalized new habitat protections totaling 2 ¼ million hectares (more than 5 ½ million acres) including 75 thousand hectares of new forest protections that was scheduled for logging, plus previously existing protected habitat in parks or reserves.
This is a significant positive step not only for caribou but dozens of other old-growth forest dependent species. We congratulate government on completion of this phase of the recovery planning process.
Unfortunately government’s own science team notes that much of this habitat is less than fully protected for caribou due to other uses, specifically snowmobiling and commercial backcountry recreation (primarily helicopter-assisted recreation), and activities such as mineral exploration. Government committed to effectively protect habitat. Although some significant steps have been taken, the work to secure critical caribou habitat remains incomplete.
Augmentation of smaller herds with animals from healthy populations is critical if further significant range contraction (and extinction in the USA) is to be prevented. Government has recently trapped and fitted 20 caribou with radio tracking collars from the Level Kawdy "donor herd" in NE BC. Biologists intend to move the animals into the South Purcell mountains in March, 2012 and are currently building holding pens in preparation. The intent is to move another 20 animals in 2013. So herd augmentation is on track.
The Science Team also emphasized the need for short term predator control work, particularly where herds are small and in danger of extinction. Clearly predator control is a very controversial activity. The Mountain Caribou Project has supported the Science Team's opinion with the specific stipulation that habitat must be effectively protected first and full consideration of all impacts considered. Predator control decisions must be made on a herd by herd basis and it must only occur where it is clear that it is required to meet recovery goals.