Caribou Recovery | July 2021 Quarterly Update

Herd planning remains a priority for the Caribou Recovery Team, but the process is going slowly and more time will be needed than originally proposed. The Government of British Columbia is engaging First Nations on caribou herd planning, but how and when stakeholders will be involved is yet to be determined. The Engage BC website will continue to be a means of providing feedback on caribou recovery.  

Partnership Agreement (Canada, BC, West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations) 

The focus of the Partnership Agreement group has been on the impacts of forestry on caribou so far. Monitoring of socio-economic impacts continues and a contractor has been hired to assess the effects to date and to expand analysis beyond the forestry sector. Work related to the expansion of Klin-Se-Za Provincial Park continues, and it has been decided that an easement for the natural gas pipeline to Kitimat will be part of the plan. 

Predator Removal 

Predator removal, targeting mostly wolves and a few cougars, is showing promising results as measured by increasing caribou numbers. There are currently 13 areas where predators are being removed with a possibility of adding a 14th next winter. All BC government permits that allow for predator removal associated with caribou recovery have now expired. As a result, the government has decided to ask the BC public for input into renewing the permits for another five-year period. Public engagement is set to occur in late fall 2021 through the Engage BC website. 

Restoration Work 

Some restoration of linear features (old forestry roads) is occurring in the Quintette area where the habitat is 86% disturbed, mostly by old forestry roads and some exploration lines. Road ripping, tree felling and tree planting has occurred on 32.5 kms of roads so far and monitoring using remote cameras for wildlife and vegetation growth is ongoing. Preliminary results show a 38% reduction of use by large mammals. The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has a caribou habitat restoration fund that includes funding from the federal government. 

The challenges to restoration have been multiple and include a lack of staff expertise, lengthy permit processing and approval times, lack of range and herd plans and slow government-to government processes. 

Conservation Breeding, AKA Captive Breeding 

Dr. Amelie Mathieu, one of the Government of British Columbia’s wildlife veterinarians, is working on a “conservation breeding” plan as part of the caribou recovery program. If approved, this is a long-term initiative of at least 20 years targeting recovery of BC’s most endangered caribou herds in the southeast of the province. A tentative site near Invermere has been identified with the cost of development in the $8 to $10-million range with annual operating costs of close to a million dollars. 

Conservation breeding occurs in a permanent year-round conservation centre in order to supplement the wild population with additional animals through intensive management of health, reproduction, nutrition and pedigree. In contrast, maternal penning is a temporary predator-exclusion enclosure to increase calf survival by decreasing calf predation from mid-March to late July.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation officially opposed captive or conservation breeding in a formal submission on caribou recovery several years ago. The BCWF feels that such an initiative may be too little too late and the only chance for success is if there is an all-in approach embracing other recovery strategies, including predator removal, and habitat protection, recovery and restoration in conjunction with conservation breeding. 

Gerry Paille, Wildlife Allocations Committee Chair