B.C. expands plan to protect remaining mountain caribou
VICTORIA – Environmentalists and opposition critics gave a cautious thumbs-up Tuesday to the B.C. government’s latest plan to protect the remaining mountain caribou herds scattered through the high country of eastern B.C.
The plan aims to increase the area protected from logging and road building by 380,000 hectares, to a total of 2.2 million hectares from the Kootenays up to the Hart Ranges east of Prince George. Combined with a selective cull of predators that have moved into the caribou habitat, the plan’s target is to rebuild the population from the current 1,900 animals back to its 1995 level of 2,500.
Logging and roadbuilding have allowed deer and moose to migrate into areas of deep snow and lichen-covered trees that support the caribou, and cougars and wolves have followed. The protected areas, a total area equivalent to two thirds of Vancouver Island, will also restrict snowmobiles as well as helicopter and snow-cat skiing trips into the habitat.
Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell said the program will result in fewer than 10 predators a year being killed, because biologists have found that a few single animals, usually cougars, specialize in preying on caribou. Hunting limits for moose and deer will also be increased in areas near mountain caribou habitat in an effort to direct predators away.
Representatives of environmental groups Wildsight and ForestEthics joined in the announcement at the B.C. legislature, along with John Allen, president of the Council of Forest Industries and Les Austin, general manager of the B.C. Snowmobile Federation.
NDP environment critic Shane Simpson praised the government’s shift in emphasis to habitat protection, adding that this was the option urged by people in affected communities, including those who work in the forest industry.
“It’s only a beginning, though,” Simpson said. “If we’re serious about protecting biodiversity, then it means having to look across the province. There are 1,300 species at risk in this province in some way, shape or form. We need a strategy that begins to address all of them.”
NDP forests critic Bob Simpson said the industry in the Kootenay region is already short of available timber, and extending protected areas is going to make that worse. What’s missing from the plan is a method of helping communities that will suffer as a result, he said.
The management plan includes transplanting caribou from larger herds to smaller ones, and using “maternity pens” for the southernmost herds to protect calves from predators.
Mountain caribou are a variant of the animal that travels in large herds in the arctic. They have evolved large hoofs to support them in deep snow, and feed on lichen growing on trees in the winter.