In southeastern British Columbia, mountain caribou are endangered due to decades of industrial activity (specifically logging) that has decimated critical habitat. These caribou rely heavily on arboreal lichen as a food source that grow only in very old forests, most of which have been clear-cut.
Today, mountain caribou face additional threats that contribute to their decline.
· Snowmobiling: Reports suggest stress hormones have been found in caribou up to ten kilometres away from snowmobiling. Reports also suggest caribou will intentionally avoid habitat with heavy snowmobile use, even though the habitat itself is suitable for caribou to thrive in. Predators also take advantage of snowmobile tracks to access caribou habitat where otherwise, the snow would be too deep to travel in. Like seismic lines, snowmobile tracks create predator highways.
· Vehicle collisions: Highway 3 (the Kootenay Pass) cuts through the South Selkirk mountain range and is a critical corridor for mountain caribou. Over the years, numerous caribou have been hit and killed by vehicles, yet the provincial government has failed to reduce the speed-limit on the highway, despite best efforts by conservation groups.
Since 2014, the provincial government and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (formally the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations) have been culling wolves in the Selkirks in a misguided attempt to conserve mountain caribou. Over 30 wolves have been slaughtered by helicopters with sharp-shooters, including mothers and pups. Still, mountain caribou continue to decline.
Provincial governments and government agencies, including the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Urban Development, have been well-aware of the drastic decline in mountain caribou for years. The in-action in protecting the species was a direct result of lobbying efforts by industry (including logging) whose intention was and still is to destroy critical wildlife habitat in the name of economic progress.
Wildlife Defence League’s work in southeastern BC seeks to ensure the protection of endangered mountain caribou and bring an end to the wolf cull, using advocacy, research, education, outreach and direct action. We strongly endorse the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal by Valhalla Wilderness Society and encourage our supporters to learn more about this important initiative.
We are asking the government to:
· Prohibit trapping of wolves within and adjacent to endangered mountain caribou habitat. This will ensure packs are not splintered, which can have the effect of increasing wolf density.
· Enact immediate closure of all snowmobiling within endangered mountain caribou habitat. Snowmobiling has been identified as a contributor to the decline in endangered mountain caribou due to noise pollution and habitat disturbance. Snowmobile tracks create predator highways that animals like wolves and cougars use to access caribou during winter months in high-elevation habitat where otherwise, access would be near impossible.
· Fund a comprehensive impact study on all recreational activity within endangered mountain caribou habitat and its effect on the species, province wide.
· Fund a comprehensive research study on the overall health of the South Selkirk ecosystem to better direct future conservation initiatives. Caribou are known as the canary in the coal mine, meaning they are an indicator of the overall health of an ecosystem.
· Immediately stop the inhumane and unethical wolf cull province wide, including the cessation of the use of a “Judas” wolf. There is absolutely no evidence to indicate that culling wolves assists in recovering endangered caribou across British Columbia. In fact, Alberta has killed more than 1000 wolves for over ten years and the endangered herds have not recovered there. Furthermore, wolves are highly intelligent, social and sentient beings who live in dynamic family groups. Shooting these animals from helicopters is an outdated practice and is immensely traumatizing to individuals who manage to escape. The cull fails to acknowledge the critical roll this keystone predator plays in maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem.
· Reduce the speed-limit on the Kootenay Pass from 100kph to 80kph with strict enforcement via radar and camera traps. While it is challenging to confirm how many caribou have been killed by vehicle collisions, biologists suspect that numerous animals over the years have been struck, wandered into the bush and have either died or been killed by predators due to their inability to escape because of injuries.
· Not to issue new logging permits within the South Selkirk mountain range. The majority old-growth forest within the territory has been logged and biologists estimate it will take 50-100 years for enough necessary habitat to regrow to support a sustainable mountain caribou herd. Currently, important habitat is being logged but provincial agencies refuse to restrict it.
· Fund Indigenous-led maternal penning programs across the province to help reestablish endangered caribou populations.