A new scientific paper, Habitat loss accelerates for the endangered woodland caribou in western Canada, released by some of North America’s preeminent caribou researchers is highlighting the importance of addressing the ultimate cause of caribou declines: habitat loss.

According to the authors: “Our findings support the idea that short-term recovery actions such as predator reductions and translocations will likely just delay caribou extinction in the absence of well-considered habitat management.”

The researchers point to logging and road building as the major source of habitat loss for mountain caribou which occupy Southern and Central BC, while wildfires play a primary role for Boreal and Northern Caribou.

Over a 12 year period, caribou herds across BC and Alberta lost twice as much habitat as they gained. Gains were found in areas with young forests that had been previously logged or in some way disturbed, but are now growing trees and vegetation taller than 5 metres. These conditions make the terrain less suitable for moose and white tailed deer. Once the deer and moose leave, their predators do as well and the landscape becomes safer for caribou.

Caribou are an indicator species — the “canary in the coal mine” of ecosystem health. In Southern and Central BC, our deep snow caribou depend on the health of BC’s Inland Temperate Rainforest.

“The decline of mountain caribou has mirrored the destruction of the Inland Temperate Rainforest ecosystem,” says Petryshen. “These deep snow caribou herds were once widespread in our Columbia Mountains; their decline is an indication that we are facing an ecosystem in crisis.”

In places like the mountains north of Revelstoke where 150 caribou still roam, only 40 percent of the North Columbia herds’ habitat is protected.

“This research should be a wake-up call to the BC provincial government who continue to rely on short term band-aids while permitting the destruction of old growth and caribou habitat,” says Petryshen.

The paper concludes fittingly: “Given the magnitude of ongoing habitat change, unless the cumulative impacts of land-uses are effectively addressed through planning and management actions, we will fail to achieve self-sustaining woodland caribou populations across much of North America.”

Wildsight is urging the provincial and federal governments to take immediate action to protect caribou and the Inland Temperate Rainforest from any more destruction.

Research Paper:
Habitat loss accelerates for the endangered woodland caribou in western Canada.

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