Thank you for your article on the Valhalla Wilderness Society’s (VWS’s) call for an expert review of maternal penning of caribou in B.C. VWS appreciates how transparent Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild (RCRW) has been regarding its project, particularly with regards to the deaths in the pen this year.
Our concern comes from how critically endangered mountain caribou are. VWS calls on the B.C. and federal governments to fulfill their legal obligations towards protecting these endangered animals.
We doubt that killing predators or “protecting” caribou in pens will halt the decline of the caribou, because other factors are also at work in the decline.
The RCRW has publicly acknowledged on the CBC that high mortality of the caribou released from the pen in 2014 could have been due to unusual fluctuations in winter weather. This would have forced them to stay longer down low, in their early winter habitat. VWS believes this likely did happen.
But how would that have killed caribou? If the lower elevation habitat is gone because of clear cuts and logging roads, the caribou can suffer habitat displacement, resulting in poor nutrition and energetic stress, as well as increased predation.
Predators may take some caribou, but most importantly, cows in poor condition by spring may abort their young, or calves may be stillborn, or small and weak. This could contribute to the population decline.
This would not be a good time to chase heavily pregnant cows with helicopters. After giving birth they have extra heavy energy demands because they are providing milk to the calves.
Maternity penning and predator control are costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the efforts are being undermined by clear cuts, roads and motorized winter recreation that are still ongoing.
Wherever there are substantial tracts of old-growth forest in caribou habitat that are not yet protected, they should be preserved right away from any human encroachment, which will serve the caribou as well as other wildlife and flora.
Valhalla Wilderness Society