A study published by the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) late last year made it clear that the province’s massive wolf kill program – a 10,000 km2 aerial gunning and poisoning program – that has been in effect in west central areas of Alberta since late 2005 has had little impact in the efforts to stabilize caribou populations. So why is B.C. following Alberta’s footsteps?
In the past, wolves only hunted caribou when they happened to encounter them. That has become much more common because of roads that provide easy access for predators into caribou habitat. But the fact is, caribou are also incredibly timid and move away from noise and disturbances (like those created by snowmobiles). AWA found it worrisome that the province of Alberta had done a poor job of addressing land use. Especially considering that development and extraction are the major contributors to the creation of human activity that is pushing caribou populations to the brink.
More worrisome is the fact that B.C. is following in its neighbour’s footsteps. Last January the province began its own organized wolf kill in two regions, the Selkirk Mountains and the Southern Peace. An extensive article recently published by The Vancouver Observer stated that in Selkirk the caribou population had declined from 46 in 2009 to 18 in 2014. Southern Peace has about 950 caribou.
The article also mentions a science update by B.C.’s Ministry of Environment that predicts a 75 percent decline in caribou herds over the next 10 years if industrial activity is increased. Making land use concerns even more relevant.
The real enemy is habitat loss, not wolves
There are few animal species as iconically Canadian as the caribou. According to the CBC, the woodland caribou was listed as threatened in 2003 when the Species at Risk Act came into effect. A strategy that was released in late 2012 was designed to achieve self-sustaining caribou populations from coast to coast. But the scientists that wrote the strategy determined protection of 65 percent intact habitat was the bare minimum necessary for caribou to survive and recover. Yet, even if governments protected that minimal 65 percent intact habitat, the experts noted that caribou would only stand a 60 percent chance of surviving.
Unfortunately, habitat disturbance keeps increasing and caribou populations continue to decline. It comes as no surprise that 83 percent of the habitat set aside for caribou in B.C. is at high elevations that happen to be inaccessible or unwanted for resource extraction. The problem is it is also not ideal habitat for the province’s mountain caribou.
Protecting healthy, fully functioning forest habitat is where Canopy and our allies can make a difference. The choices forest product customers make of where to source fibre can have a huge impact in preventing the loss of critical habitat and the further decline of this incredible species. By avoiding fibre from controversial sources – ancient and endangered forests and intact forest landscapes – forest product customers can help ensure there is adequate protection for caribou and other threatened or endangered wildlife.
This is why our team is greening the purchasing practices of more than 750 book publishers, magazines, newspapers, printers, clothing companies and global brands to incentivize sustainable supply chains and a greener economy. This is also why we’re so invested in protecting Quebec’s Broadback Forest, an area that is immensely important for endangered woodland caribou herds.
The Broadback watershed covers more than 21,000 km2, and it is the last frontier of intact Boreal Forest in Quebec. The current standstill on logging in the region and the support of major forest product buyers for conservation are factors that should encourage Quebec’s government to adopt the Cree Nations’ proposal and protect an additional 10,000 km2 of this area. We can only hope that other provinces follow suit before it’s too late, and the iconic woodland caribou can only be found on the quarters in our pockets.
Photo by Heiko Wittenborn