Thursday, March 20, 2014

Will the BC mountain caribou be extinct in our lifetime?

© By Othmar Vohringer

That might very well be the case if drastic conservation measures are not enacted quickly. The emphasis here is on “quickly”, which is a bit of an oxymoron in politics. The southern mountain caribou populations are in rapid decline despite an extensive provincial recovery plan. Why? The caribou recovery plan is complex and contains important short and long term measures that need to be addressed and implemented if we hope to save the mountain caribou herd.

There are many contributing factors to the steady decline of mountain caribou populations that need to be urgently addressed. Obvious factors are logging of old growth forests, mining and snowmobiling in sensitive caribou habitat. If that wasn’t enough, caribou herds face voracious predation by overpopulation of cougars and particularly wolves. This is a problem that can be fixed right now and with little expense to the taxpayers and would help the caribou enormously to sustain their numbers.

Even more simply and effectively is the government’s own wolf management plan which is essentially culling. Culling however, is controversial to many city people (potential voters) and therefor is not being fully implemented nor promoted.

The science is very clear on what needs to happen right now to save the mountain caribou. It takes time to regrow the forests and restore the habitat to the point where the caribou population can thrive and prosper. However, even these measures are of little use if the wolf and cougar population continues to grow with no controls. The latest survey, conducted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, suggests that only 1’5033 mountain caribou are left in BC. In 2007 the population count was 1’900, when the government announced a recovery goal to increase the herd to 2,500 by 2027. At the rate the caribou population loss occurs now there won’t be any caribou left within a few years from now.

Even the extensive captive caribou breeding program with animals transported from Alberta will fail if the wolves kill the caribou faster than they can be re-introduced back into the wild. A year ago, in addition to captive breeding, the government transplanted caribou from a “healthier” herd but that plan failed miserably: all the animals were killed by predators. The experts say that it would take approximately 20 years of intensive captive breeding and habitat restoration to bring our caribou herd back to its former glory but this is impossible as long as the wolf populations remain at such high numbers. Rather than trying to appease animal rights and anti-hunters, or worry about votes, it would be welcomed if the government would listen to wildlife experts and enforce the caribou recovery and wolf management plan. This not the time to worry about the opinions of the anti-wolf cull lobby and the misinformed. We need to implement the wolf management plan now or stand to lose the woodland caribou for ever.

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