BC’s Caribou Recovery Plan: do we want caribou as a species to exist?

Citizens need to think hard about both sides of the issue and take the time to fully understand all that is at stake.

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Greg Utzig supports the wolf cull in the Selkirks. “These caribou are unique in the world and they are nearly extinct,” he said. “One avalanche could kill them all. The wolf populations in  BC are rebounding. In this case, the only way to keep the herds alive until their protected habitat grows back is predator control.”

Utzig didn’t think that the wolf cull made caribou recovery probable. “But even if it is possible,” he said, “we need to try.”

The conservation group Wildsight also sees the BC wolf cull as a necessary evil. Other groups, such as Valhalla Wilderness Society, believe that resources that should go toward habitat protection are being diverted into predator control. Up to $575,000 is being spent on the cull.

Valhalla's Anne Sherrod believes there's more at stake than the survival of the mountain caribou: caribou are a flagship species for hundreds of smaller old growth species that would become locally extinct if the caribou wink out. 

According to Candace Batycki, who negotiated caribou habitat in the Selkirks for the organization Forest Ethics: “People need to understand that if caribou herds disappear, the habitat protections are gone, and the timber companies would like nothing more.”  

For this reason, Vallhalla Wilderness Society is pushing the province to provide permanent protection for some of the caribou habitat in the proposed Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park. The 156,000-hectare park would consists of old-growth Inland Temperate Rainforest that is suitable caribou habitat, and includes hundreds of lichen types along with other rare and endangered animal species. About half of the area is already protected for caribou, but some logging and motorized winter recreation are still allowed. A park would permanently and completely protect the caribou habitat— and if the herds should fail the entire ecosystem with its many other rare species would remain.

In the eyes of many conservationists, wolf kills are the most recent form of the province’s vendetta against a highly intelligent and social creature. Raincoast Conservation Foundation reiterates the scientific consensus: caribou populations depend on adequate habitat.

In its view, the province is scapegoating the wolves to hide its own failure to provide adequate habitat. Wolf culls as window-dressing are pointless and cruel. Raincoast Conservation Foundation advocates public action against the wolf culls, to prevent suffering and hold BC accountable to its wildlife euthanasia guidelines.

Is the provincial government the real wolf?

In 2009, caribou recovery was the prime land management objective and effective habitat protection was viewed as the road to recovery. In recent years that focus has shifted away from land management and toward the wolves which are, indeed, the largest direct cause of caribou mortality.

The BC Ministry of the Environment’s 2014 Science Update on the South Peace caribou assumed that logging, mining and energy develop would continue apace in caribou habitat. 

I hoped to speak with provincial members of the Science Team about what they think the caribou need for recovery as a matter of science, outside of the policy arena. But provincial biologists aren’t allowed to speak to the media about wolves and caribou. All questions go through the Public Affairs Office.

Scott McNay, an independent ecologist who serves on the Science Team and participated in the 2014 Science Update with its prediction of a 75% decline of caribou herds in the South Peace, confirmed that the situation is dire.

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