With mountain caribou populations in the Selkirks in decline, a Kootenay environmental group is pressing a petition to establish a new provincial park to help protect the endangered animal.
Last Wednesday, the North Columbia Environmental Society hosted Craig Pettit of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, who presented a proposal to develop a new wildlife preserve in the Selkirk Mountains.
Its aim is to protect the dwindling regional mountain caribou population.
Speaking to a group of 18 at the community centre, the Valhalla Wilderness Society circulated a petition to permanently protect 25,000 hectares of land that borders Glacier National Park. The proposed park would link Goat Range Provincial Park in the west to the Bugaboos in the east, and protect the last remnants of interior wetland rainforest. The proposal would also encompass four rivers, including 17 kilometres of the Incomappleux River, and its tributary, Battlebrook Creek.
Called the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park, the group’s goal is to help preserve the livelihoods of 44 mountain caribou that inhabit the region, as well as trout spawning grounds and grizzly bear habitat.
Globally, only 1,356 mountain caribou still exist, with 98 per cent of them living in the B.C. interior. Half of the proposed area has already been protected from logging, but the Valhalla Wilderness Society believes that is not enough. Most of the currently protected territory is in the alpine. Comprised of steep mountain faces and glacial terrain, it is not in the economic interests of logging companies to pursue. This is a political move on the part of the government who is trying to appease both environmentalists and the forestry sector, said Pettit.
The Valhalla Wilderness Society is certain a Class A park is necessary to ensure the survival of the local mountain caribou population, whose diet is comprised of lichen that grows at elevations below the tree-line.
“These old cedar hemlock forests are some of the most endangered in the world,” said Petitt. “In terms of species loss, our biggest problem is habitat destruction, if we destroy habitat, we will lose the species who call it home. This is the situation we are facing with our mountain caribou; the majority of them are declining. In seven years, our goal was to stabilize this population and halt its decline: we’re in year seven — that hasn’t happened.”
In the effort to preserve the Selkirk interior wetland rainforest, the Valhalla Wilderness Society has enlisted scientists from a number of interdisciplinary backgrounds. Together, they have discovered a level of biodiversity among the lichen and mushroom population that they never expected. Among their discoveries are three species of lichen new to British Columbia, another three new to North America, and seven species new to science. One species of mushroom new to science has also been discovered.
To learn more about the proposal, and to sign the petition, contact Jen Greenwood, the director of conservation at the North Columbia Environmental Society.