A coalition of Revelstoke stakeholders interested in establishing a caribou maternity pen project are scheduled to present their case to Revelstoke city council on May 22.
The Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild (RCRW) group wants to build a maternity pen and place 10 female caribou from the Columbia North herd inside as they gestate, give birth and raise their calves through the critical first six weeks of their lives.
The idea is to protect the vulnerable calves from predators such as wolves, bears and wolverines.
Cory Legebokow is the Habitat Officer with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. He’s the project manager working alongside of a coalition of stakeholders on the maternity penning project. “There’s been a keen interest in caribou recovery for quite a long time by all of the stakeholders,” Legebokow said. “It’s really just a natural fit that we team together on this and try and make a difference.”
RCRW, and the city’s environmental advisory committee are asking the city to be the applicant for project funding, which is expected to cost $250,000–$300,000 in 2013, and $200,000 each year for years two and three. A staff report from City of Revelstoke economic development director Alan Mason said administrative costs to the city would “not be very large” – primarily staff time to apply for and manage funds.
Legebokow said RCRW was seeking funding and in-kind donations from many organizations, such as the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the Columbia Basin Trust, Parks Canada and provincial caribou recovery programs.
The approximately 10-acre pen would be located on the west side Lake Revelstoke, near existing caribou calving grounds. Pregnant females would spend about 3.5 months in the pens, which would be guarded by a full-time herdsman.
The proposal is to build the pen in the fall of 2012 and introduce the first 10 females in April of 2013. The animals will be tracked with radio collars after release.
RCRW describes the project as an experiment to test the benefits of the pens, as well as an attempt to increase the growth rate of the Columbia North caribou herd.
Several projects aimed at reducing caribou predation rates are ongoing in B.C. In the Williams Lake area, wolves were culled and sterilized in an attempt to boost caribou numbers.
Another two projects in the Revelstoke and Prince George areas took aim at moose. Hunting reduced their density with the goal of reducing the number of wolves in the areas, leading in a reduction of caribou predation by wolves.
“None of these studies have presented final results yet the decline of the Columbia North herd has been less severe and appears to have stabilized since this treatment began,” writes the RCRW in their proposal. “However, the population has not begun to recover.”
The report says predation of very young calves by wolverines and bears may be a factor.
They cite a maternal penning experiment in the Yukon that increased survival rates for penned calves. Three-months after release, 74 per cent had survived, compared to just 15 per cent of free range calves.
The RCRW doesn’t see the maternity pens as a panacea for mountain caribou recovery. “Maternity penning alone cannot recover populations from critically low numbers,” the RCRW states in their report. Caribou populations of 20 or fewer have few breeding cows, so it would take years to build numbers to a stable level.
Legebokow said moose population control and the maternal penning project are just two of many local caribou recovery initiatives. “We’ve done many other things to date, including the protection of old growth areas, and closure of areas to snowmobiling and best management practices for the heli-ski industry and no more [recreation] tenures within caribou habitat,” Legebokow said.
The RCRW consists of several local stakeholder groups. Include the Revelstoke Community Forestry Corporation, the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, the North Columbia Environmental Society, Columbia Mountains Caribou Research Project and the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
There have been disagreements amongst these stakeholders in the past, most notably Revelstoke Snowmobile Club objections to further snowmobile area closures in 2011. But Legebokow said despite some disagreements, cooperation amongst stakeholders has been good. “We’ve always worked together effectively. This is just really a reflection of that,” he said.
Will they pull it off by fall of this year? “It certainly is a tight timeline,” Legebokow said. “We’ll have to wait and see how things unfold as far as funding goes.”
Maternal penning differs from captive breeding. In late 2011, Parks Canada and the B.C. Government partnered with the Calgary Zoo on a captive breeding program in Alberta. In that program, the caribou live and breed in captivity and their offspring are eventually reintroduced into the wild to augment existing herds.