A small herd of mountain caribou was spotted recently up the Kuskanax valley near Nakusp. Photo courtesy Claudia Mang.

A small herd of mountain caribou was spotted recently up the Kuskanax valley near Nakusp. Photo courtesy Claudia Mang.

Caribou plan avoids central issue, environmentalists say

Agreement is just delaying action, they charge

A new federal-provincial agreement designed to protect mountain caribou will do little to save the animals from extinction, even if it did apply to this area, say environmental activists.

“All these agreements are ‘talk-and-log’ processes,” says Valhalla Wilderness Society spokesman Craig Pettitt. “They’re delaying doing any action.”

Pettitt was commenting on a draft conservation agreement released last week under the federal Species at Risk Act. The agreement, designed to support the endangered southern mountain caribou, calls for short, medium and long-term measures to protect the animals.

The five-year plan applies to the Central Group of the animals, herds in the Northern Rockies and Peace regions of the province.

“Recovery actions include range planning, habitat protection and restoration, as well as population management, including maternity penning and access control to sensitive caribou habitat,” states a provincial news release. The agreement also commits to the “development of scenarios” to meet the federal recovery target of 1,000 caribou over the long term for the Central Group.

Once the final agreement is in place, the governments say the intention is to expand the agreement to other southern mountain caribou groups in British Columbia.

But Pettitt says there are already agreements in place to protect local caribou populations. He says B.C.’s Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan, now 10 years old, hasn’t stopped the mountain caribou decline. He says habitat protections under that plan have not been effective in protecting, let alone recovering, mountain caribou.

“The goal of that agreement, for the caribou around here, was to halt the decline of all herds in seven years,” he said. “Well, seven years have gone by and we’re still only one herd out of 13 that may not be declining. All the rest are in huge decline. The Central Selkirk herd in our area has gone from about 90 animals to about 28. The South Selkirk has gone from 49 animals to 11.”

Instead, Pettitt says serious measures are needed if the government wants serious results.

“We have to do something about their habitat first, and that is to get us, the people, out of their habitat so they can move back to their prime critical habitat,” he said.

“We’ve studied these caribou to death. We know what the problem is. We are heavily encroached into their critical habitat, industrially and recreationally. We don’t want to give that up. so we’re forcing caribou to the brink of extinction. “

Environmentalists in the East Kootenay agree.

“So far, what we’ve seen is that B.C.’s strategies to recover our mountain caribou have failed,” John Bergenske, Wildsight’s Conservation Director, said in a news release. “Mountain caribou populations continue to decline, with entire herds disappearing and our southernmost herds barely hanging on with a dozen or so caribou.

“The focus in the few details we’ve seen so far is on the protection of high-elevation habitat,” he added. “But we’re worried that nothing has been said about the lower-elevation habitat in the valleys between the mountains. Mountain caribou need habitat protection across the landscape, not just high-altitude islands of protection.”

Like Valhalla’s Pettitt, Bergenske says Wildsight is sceptical that the governments will be willing to take the strong action that is needed to protect mountain caribou.

“Logging, mining and recreation in the inland temperate rainforest add up to death by a thousand cuts for caribou. If we let mountain caribou slip away because of habitat destruction, it won’t be long until we see our rainforest ecosystems breaking down,” says Bergenske. “British Columbians will have to push their governments hard to save our mountain caribou and our mountain rainforests.”

“We know what has to happen,” adds Pettitt. “We have to identify the critical habitat, get all recreation and industry out of that habitat, give those animals a chance if we want caribou to remain on our landscape.”

Under the draft agreement, the governments also pledge to work with local indigenous populations and other stakeholders to reverse the caribou’s decline.

The draft agreement will be posted for a 30-day comment. A final agreement should be signed by the spring.


Mountain caribou winter in sub-alpine habitat. (File photo)

Mountain caribou winter in sub-alpine habitat. (File photo)