Part seven of an ongoing column and story series exploring the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild maternity penning plan.
By Sarah Boyle/Parks Canada
An iconic Canadian species, caribou have been featured on the 25-cent coin since 1937 and can be found in the pocket change of Canadians from coast to coast. In the wild, however, Canada’s Southern Mountain caribou are disappearing at an alarming rate and are listed as a Threatened Species under the Species at Risk Act. As a world leader in conservation, Parks Canada is taking action to try and save this species before it is too late.
Caribou can still be found locally in the Columbia South herd, having a home range that overlaps with portions of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks. Population numbers of the Columbia South herd have plummeted in recent years, from 120 animals in 1994 to only seven as of 2011. In the adjacent North Columbia herd, population numbers have dropped from 209 animals to an estimated 123 in the same timeframe.
Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks are too small to support caribou herds on their own and Parks Canada has been working with partners on the regional landscape for over 15 years to help address the causes of this dramatic decline. Parks Canada is committed to working with provincial governments, First Nations, environmentalists, industry, recreationists and academics towards regional caribou conservation and is exploring options to protect this iconic species.
In Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks, Parks Canada is working with the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Society (RCRW) to help improve mountain caribou calf survival in the regional ecosystem through maternity penning.
The RCRW project will involve securing pregnant females from the North Columbia herd in a pen close to their natural calving site until they have given birth and the calves are at least two weeks old. This protects mother caribou and their calves from predators such as bears, cougars, wolverines, golden eagles and wolves while they are at their most vulnerable, helping to recover the herd to a sustainable size.
Parks Canada is supporting this initiative through a commitment of financial and in-kind resources, providing $20,000 in funding for the first year to assist with purchasing equipment. Future funding efforts will focus on training First Nations shepherds to play a key role in caring for the penned caribou and hazing predators away from the site. The over all goal of the project is to improve the chances of this species’ survival, not only in the national parks but in the greater ecosystem.
Each landscape and caribou herd faces a variety of unique challenges. In order to see positive change, a variety of tools need to be applied in varying combinations, dependent on the circumstance. For example, maternity penning can work well in areas such as Revelstoke where calf survival rates are low, but it is unlikely to address mortality issues in adult caribou and the issues that led to the original decline of mountain caribou.
Since 2004, Parks Canada, the Province of British Columbia and several forestry companies in the Revelstoke area have been working in partnership to regionally map key caribou habitat and implement land management actions that help conserve caribou and this important habitat. Based on these maps and research conducted by Parks Canada, important winter caribou habitat in Mount Revelstoke National Park has been secured through the implementation of a seasonal winter closure on the slopes of Mount Klotz since 2007.
In addition, in 2010, Parks Canada announced $4.5 million in Action on the Ground funding over a five-year period to help develop and implement key management actions to improve the status of Southern Mountain caribou and their habitat in the national parks.
In 2011, Parks Canada released a draft Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks. This strategy is exploring all facets that have led to the continued decline of Southern Mountain caribou and actions that could help to recover them throughout the mountain parks. These actions include identifying important caribou habitat, implementing seasonal trail and area closures and identifying potential long-term recovery actions, including maternity penning and captive breeding where appropriate.
Efforts to stabilize the North Columbia herd at a sustainable 250 animals will help provide natural herd dispersal and create the opportunity for animals from the North Columbia herd to augment the Columbia South herd. These actions combined with the continued collaboration between the RCRW, First Nations, stakeholders and the local community will help to recover regional Southern Mountain caribou populations. There is no better time to act than now.
Sarah Boyle is the Parks Canada liason for the RCRW project. Sarah moved to Revelstoke in 2009 from the East Kootenays to work as an ecologist for Parks Canada. She has a Masters of Science in Environmental Management from Royal Roads University, and has been a registered professional biologist in Alberta since 2002. Sarah has worked internationally in both the United States and South America with not-for profit agencies, has worked in the Alberta oil and gas industry as an environmental adviser and environmental compliance auditor. In 2004 Sarah started her career with Parks Canada in the polar bear capital of the world – Churchill Manitoba, and has since made her way south to snowy, but much warmer, Revelstoke.
The Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project is competing for $100,000 in funding through the Shell Fuelling Change program. To be successful, RCRW needs community members to visit the RCRW page on shellfuellingchange.com, sign up and vote. Vote before the April 30 deadline.