In final effort to revive herds, 6 remaining caribou to be relocated to rearing pen

Numbers of caribou in B.C. are in decline — with just six remaining in the two most southerly herds. (Getty Images)

Numbers of caribou in B.C. are in decline — with just six remaining in the two most southerly herds. (Getty Images)

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Caribou are about to disappear completely from the contiguous United States — and the B.C. government is to blame.

In a desperate measure to try to save the mountain caribou's most southerly herds, provincial biologists are about to purposely relocate the last remaining animals that range into the states south of B.C.

Large caribou populations still exist in Alaska, Yukon and B.C., though their numbers have been in steady decline. 

The two herds near the province's southern border contain just six mountain caribou between them: two cows in the South Selkirk herd around Nelson, and three bulls and a cow in the South Purcell herd, near Kimberley.

All six will be netted and taken to a rearing pen north of Revelstoke.

"The plan is to capture the remaining six animals this winter," says biologist Leo Degroot, who adds that their numbers can no longer sustain the herds.

"They are functionally extirpated already. Two females on their own have no future. And in the Purcells, three bulls and a cow are functionally extirpated as well." 

'They are basically the walking dead'

The relocation of Canada's most southerly herds of caribou means they'll disappear from their territory in the lower U.S. states completely. The South Selkirk caribou are the last of the species to range into Washington and Idaho.

The Kalispel Tribe in Washington has tried to help revive the herd without any success.

"Culturally, they are such a significant animal historically, and it is definitely not where we want to be. But it's better then letting the population blink out and lose the genetics entirely,' said tribe spokesperson Mike Lithgow.

The relocation of Canada's most southerly herds of caribou means they'll disappear from their territory in the lower U.S. states completely. (Wildlife Infometrics)

After biologists capture the six remaining caribou, they hope to try captive breeding at the Revelstoke pen, which was set up deep in the bush to keep caribou away from predators.

If the plan works, biologists hope to one day restock the two southern herds.

"I'm not surprised the animals are being taken out of the habitat," says Candace Batycki, an advocate with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

"They are basically the walking dead. This is a last-ditch effort. The question we have to ask ourselves is, 'how did it get to this state?'"

Census reveals South Selkirk Mountain Caribou herd on brink of extinction

Photo: Jim Lawrence / Kootenay Reflections Photography

Photo: Jim Lawrence / Kootenay Reflections Photography

Conservationists are devastated by news that a recent census of the endangered South Selkirk mountain caribou herd found that only three females remain. This is down from 11 animals last year. 

While this news is tragic, it isn't a surprise. For decades the logging industry has knowingly decimated critical caribou habitat. Their activities removed an important food source (lichen) and made access (via forest service roads) much easier, especially for predators. In 2014, the BC Liberals announced a wolf cull program, which they claimed would help protect caribou. We knew then and we know now that the cull was simply a way of scapegoating predators while industry continued, business as usual. In fact, it was the forestry industry that suggested the wolf cull in the first place, in hopes that it would avoid a federal caribou recovery plan that would set aside more habitat for protection. To date, approximately 30 wolves have been slaughtered in the South Selkirks alone.

Despite warnings from independent scientists, First Nations and concerned citizens, the provincial government continues to prioritize profit over the protection of endangered species. In recent years, snowmobiling further disturbed mountain caribou in the South Selkirks. During the winter of 2016, snowmobile tracks were observed within a kilometre of the endangered herd. Noise pollution interrupts important winter feeding and sled tracks create easy access for predators. 

We're on track to lose the remaining southern mountain caribou herds, whose total population numbers dropped from 4,500 last year to 3,800 this year. Join us in calling on both the provincial and federal government to take immediate action to stop the logging of old-growth forests, to restore and reconnect habitat and to take concrete, effective steps in preventing disturbance from recreational activity, including snowmobiling and heli-skiing in critical caribou habitat. 

EMAIL DECISION-MAKERS:

Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Hon. Doug Donaldson - doug.donaldson.MLA@leg.bc.ca

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Hon. George Heyman - george.heyman.MLA@leg.bc.ca

Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Catherine McKenna - Catherine.McKenna@parl.gc.ca