"Bleak" future for caribou in northeast B.C.

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Erica Fisher

Erica is a reporter for Moose FM and energeticcity.ca in Fort St. John, B.C. She grew up in Victoria, B.C. and received her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

"We've had some efforts to try and transplant caribou that haven't been really successful, we've had efforts to try and reduce some of the predator numbers that haven't been really successful," he says. "Once these populations get in a situation where they kind of need this intensive management, it's really difficult to do it."

The Peace Region in particular is seeing its caribou numbers getting small, with both the herds near Moberly Lake and Tumbler Ridge declining, and the Burnt Pine herd down to one last female. Seip says that there are two main reasons for the decline in our area – increased industrial activity and predation – but also that the two go hand in hand.

"That increase in predation seems to be related to the change in the landscape," he explains. "Putting roads and corridors and lots of cut blocks just allows wolf populations to increase and move across the landscape more easily, and the end result is they end up killing more caribou."

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He adds that the industrial activity also ends up boxing the caribou herds into smaller areas, making it easier for predators like wolves and bears to kill them.

Chief Harley Davis of the Saulteau First Nation says his community has seen the impact of increased activity by oil and gas, coal and wind industries in their land 100 kilometres southwest of Fort St. John. He calls the future for the species in our region "bleak" and "scary".

"Historically caribou were abundant in this area, and our people hunted and relied on them for food, clothing, shelter and for medicinal and ceremonial purposes," he explains. "I think it's fairly safe to say I don't think we're going to see any caribou around here within the next 10 years or so."

He argues much of the problem began when the WAC Bennett dam was built, as it cut off a major caribou migratory route. While both the federal and provincial governments are working on strategies to help the caribou population, Davis says they aren't reaching the real problem.

"First Nations are frustrated with both processes because they are not addressing the underlying issues which we believe to be the high pace of industrial pressures on the land base impacting on critical caribou habitat," he says. "No one's standing up for them. They're on their own and they're up against huge, huge obstacles and there's no guarantee of them being around in the next five to 10 years."

He says he'd like to see more involvement of First Nations and use of traditional knowledge in the studies being conducted.

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Seip says that while there are still "really intensive techniques" that can be tried, like raising caribou in captivity or predator control, he agrees that it may be too late.

"It's kind of a shocking thing to think that animals that historically lived there, coexisted with wolves and other predators and First Nations people for thousands of years potentially are going to disappear in just a few decades," he admits."Once you've modified the habitat to the point it's difficult for the caribou to avoid predation, it's very difficult to have them recover. I think the Chief is right that it's going to be very challenging, if not impossible, to try and keep some of these herds there."

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