For the Record – Race to save B.C. Deep-snow Caribou

Marwa Elgabry – February 19, 2020

BC’s mountain caribou population has been dwindling over the last century, with a consistent decline over the last thirty years. Pettitt said the threatened population has decreased to 1300 caribou.

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B.C.’s Deep-snow Mountain Caribou population has been on decline for years, but an expert said the population is in more danger now than ever before. Craig Pettitt, Chair Director of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, alleged the population has dwindled to a startling 1300 animals.

“We’re right at the cusp of them disappearing. We’ve lost two herds that were on steady decline for the last 30 years; the South Selkirk and the South Purcell herds which sat on the US border, these herds disappeared last year. The central Selkirk herd, which in proximity to where I lived in 1996, was 235 animals. It’s now down to 24 animals.” – Craig Pettitt, chair director of the Valhalla Wilderness Society

Human Activity

Pettitt said that the main threat to the caribou population is habitat loss. He explained that Deep-snow Mountain Caribou need to live in their natural habitats to survive. The problem is, their habitats are often disrupted human activity.

“They require old growth forest, and of course this forest is some of the most lucrative to log in the forest industry. We still have logging plans right up against their habitat protection zones that were established in 2007.” – Craig Pettitt, chair director of the Valhalla Wilderness Society

Pettitt said that clear cut logging is the biggest contributor to the loss of caribou habitat in the southern interior. In central B.C., open pit coal mining and mountain top removal are contributors as well.

Pettitt attributed the caribou population decline to habitat loss caused by human activity. He said that logging and snowmobiling in their natural habitats has forced caribou into areas they cannot survive in.

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Pettitt said that the caribou are also frightened by other human activities, such as skiing and snowmobiling.

“Another aspect of the caribou habitat is that they migrate into the Subalpine Forest in the high country. They prefer gently rolling terrain; well this is the same terrain that snowmobilers love to get up on. They’ll get up there with their high powered, lightweight machines and cruise this terrain at speeds of up to a hundred kilometers an hour. From a distance, these machines with a person sitting on them look like a wolf on steroids to caribou.” – Craig Pettitt, chair director of the Valhalla Wilderness Society

Pettitt added that frightened caribou will move out of their natural habitat and into steeper terrain where snowmobiles cannot reach.

Pettitt alleged that wolf culls are ineffective, as wolves mainly feed on moose. He explained that clear-cutting caribou habitat has opened a pathway for wolves to easily hunt caribou instead.

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Wolf Cull

To protect B.C.’s caribou population, the provincial government has used a number of strategies; one of which being predator control. In an effort to curb the number of caribou being preyed on, wolves have been killed as part of a wolf cull. Pettitt emphasized that culls aren’t getting to the root of the issue, as wolves naturally prey on moose, but began hunting caribou due to human activity in their natural habitats.

“When you clear-cut an area of old growth forest, you convert it into an early feral young species forest, which is more amenable to deer, elk, and moose. These species move into these areas and draw the predators. For moose, the principle predators are wolves, which end up taking care of caribou as a bycatch; however, the wolves are primarily dependent on moose.” – Craig Pettitt, chair director of Valhalla Wilderness Society

Pettitt went on to explain that clear cutting logs requires roads to be built, which wolves end up using to track their prey.

Saving the Caribou

In order to save B.C.’s dwindling caribou population, Pettitt said it’s crucial to stop human activity in their natural habitat.

“We have to get human activity out of the best caribou habitat. Look at what is needed for mountain caribou. What is the best habitat? Get it under protection.” – Craig Pettitt, chair director of Valhalla Wildlife Society

While some caribou habitat has been put under protection, Pettitt said that there are still unprotected areas which were historically occupied by caribou. He alleged that the reason for this is due to timber values in those areas, but believes it’s time to put caribou first and economics second.

Pettitt said that the answer to saving the caribou population is protecting their natural habitats. In order to do so, he said we need to prioritize the population’s recovery over the monetary benefit of clear-cutting in their habitat.

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