Mountain caribou researcher Rob Serrouya addresses a crowd at a talk regarding the Revelstoke maternity pen project last week.

Pilot success good sign for caribou conservation efforts

Revelstoke got glimpse of success in mountain caribou conservation efforts at talk by the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Society

Revelstoke caught a glimpse of success in mountain caribou conservation efforts on October 28th, at the public talk and open house put on by the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Society (RCRW), and its supporters.

The Society ran a maternity pen pilot project in March of this year, following over a decade of area research and population stabilization efforts. With the population of the Columbia North herd stabilized at 120, the goal of the pilot project was to determine if penning is a feasible way to increase calf survival, leading to population growth.

The group secured nine pregnant cows, one adult cow thought to be pregnant, and two yearling caribou with their mother; and placed them in 6.4 hectare pen north of Revelstoke. The animals were held until July 23, when the caribou were released, including the nine healthy calves born inside the pen.

According to RCRW researcher, Rob Serrouya, this kind of success demonstrates an opportunity to “boost calf survival without the need to do direct predator management;” as well as recover an endangered species by boosting population parameters to achieve growth in the herd.

Although increasing caribou calf survival is RCRWs main goal, another huge success from the pilot project was the social aspect of having various stakeholders with different values and interests contributing to the recovery of caribou populations. This project rallied the support of organizations such as Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation, Downie Timber, Beaumont Timber, Selkirk Tangiers, Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, North Columbia Environmental Society, First Nations, Parks Canada, all levels of government, and many more.

In the five years and over 250 projects he’s been involved with, Columbia Basin Trust’s Project Manager, Rick Allen, has never seen this level of involvement from such a diverse group of stakeholders; a strength that makes this project all the more likely to succeed.

The project comes with its own set of challenges. There is risk involved. Moving animals is invasive, as humans are coming into contact with a species that otherwise wouldn’t experience this kind of interaction. However, Serrouya believes that since calf predation is highest during the first few weeks of life, then the risk may be worth it to ultimately help increase populations.

The animals are secured without being immobilized or heavily sedated, and transported to the pen by helicopter. Human contact is minimized but in some cases necessary.

RCRW is in the process of securing funds to put the maternity penning project into full production mode, with hopes of securing 18 to 20 cows for its next attempt, and continuing the project for five years.

Caribou populations have declined dramatically over the last 20 years due to the changes in landscape caused by a warming climate increasing fire frequency, and logging activities clearing land; making way for the growth of successive vegetation as well as moose and deer populations that feed on this new growth. These new neighbors bring along their predators in the form of wolves and cougars, who now have a new food source in the caribou.

 

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