In northeast B.C., boreal caribou are in dire straits. These animals try to survive in a forest heavily fragmented by gas wells, logging, hydro operations and countless roads. So how do you save B.C.’s most endangered caribou?
In British Columbia, boreal caribou live in the far northeast corner of the province. This rugged area consists of old-growth forest rich in lichens, which the caribou feed on in the winter, and is speckled with lakes, rivers and marshes. However, this seemingly pristine habitat is over-run by industrial development including forestry, mining and oil and gas. According to a federal document, five of the six boreal caribou herds in B.C. are not “self-sustaining”.
In June 2010, the BC government set aside Resource Review Areas (RRAs) on over 500,000 hectares of Boreal Caribou range. In these RRAs, no new gas tenures will be sold for a 5-year review period. In addition, the BC government has created a plan to set aside 3.5 million hectares of land as “protected” habitat that also allows industries to operate under certain guidelines. This plan is currently being considered by the environmental community and First Nations.
CPAWS recognizes that the new provincial recovery plan is a decent start to healing caribou habitat. But more needs to be done to protect the actual areas vital to the caribou. Boreal caribou are listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). A legally-binding recovery strategy will soon make it illegal to destroy their critical habitat.
Oil and gas is well established in northeast British Columbia. Reclaiming lost habitat is a limited option at best. British Columbia doesn't have endangered species laws. However, the province has drafted a recovery strategy for the Boreal Woodland caribou. They now need to put it into action.
CPAWS supports the West Moberly First Nation and their winning lawsuit for caribou habitat – this recent legal action centred around the Burnt Pine Southern Mountain caribou herd with just 11 adults left. The West Moberly argued they weren’t properly consulted over a proposed mine.
The West Moberly lawsuit was pivotal in endangered species protection. Their legal victory in March 2010, upheld in May 2011 on appeal, set a compelling precedent for other First Nations to sue over the protection of a species. When animals and landscapes are compromised, generations of First Nations and local residents feel the loss.
CPAWS works with First Nations and B.C. governments, as well as industry, to fine-tune a new plan for the boreal caribou.
We actively work to increase public support for caribou protection in B.C. and across Canada through the Caribou and You campaign, gathering over 2000 signatures each winter for the past three years. We attend community festivals and fairs to engage with the public on caribou protection face-to-face, where we find the greatest caribou fans in younger generations.
CPAWS is also working to...
CPAWS BC was instrumental in protecting the 6.4 million hectare Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, which includes a series of large protected areas for species like the Woodland Caribou.
We provided information to the Taku River Tlingit on how to do land use planning in an era of climate change – to make sure that caribou habitat will be protected even as our climate changes significantly over the next 100 years. The land use is complete and 13 new parks have been established. The Kawdy herd of caribou now has permanently protected habitat.
CPAWS BC and other environmental groups played an important role in protecting over 2.2 million hectares of mountain caribou habitat in the globally unique Inland Temperate Rainforest. The plan also commits the BC government to developing more sustainable forestry practices in the surrounding forest habitat.
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