Southern Mountain Caribou. Photo: David Moskotwitz, Mountain Caribou Initiative.

LETTER: Bureaucracies may be the greatest threat to the caribou

Habitat needs immediate, extensive protection and closures

The April 13 Star article https://www.nelsonstar.com/local-news/new-caribou-census-data-shows-dire-situation-across-b-c/, does not fully reveal just how dire the situation is for the Southern Mountain Caribou population of B.C. because the total population number of 3,800 cited in the article includes Southern Mountain Caribou herds in Alberta. The total population count for Southern Mountain Caribou commonly used by wildlife biologists in B.C is only 1,300 – 1,400.

There are a number of other reasons for this discrepancy, and they are part off the core failures of Mountain Caribou policy and recovery efforts. The federal and provincial governments do their own separate population counts, rather than cooperating on one, and they use different herds from differently defined Mountain Caribou ecotypes, thus arriving at total population counts which differ. No wonder the Southern Mountain Caribou are in trouble.

Regardless of this parsing, a perilous population decline from 4,500 to 3,800 in one year is nothing to shrug off. Not only does Mountain Caribou habitat need immediate, extensive protection and closures as called for in the article, for that alone is not enough, it is also essential that immediate, dramatically increased, and sustained funding be provided for monitoring of and recovery work with individual herds.

For the past four years, as a U.S. citizen and former resident of B.C., I have worked and communicated with First Nations, numerous government agencies, and wildlife organizations trying to save the South Selkirk international herd, now down to only three animals. The herd not only ranges in B.C., but are also the very last caribou ranging in the 48 states.

From my perspective, the tragic decline of the South Selkirk herd this past year, is a direct result the lack of adequate commitment and cooperation by B.C. FLNRO, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I often think that bureaucracies are the greatest threat to the survival of all caribou.

Though I am heartbroken, as are many working for the survival of the South Selkirk herd, there are ways forward so that these last three herd members will not just disappear forever, but that will take vastly improved efforts. We will not quit them.

Nelson B.C. is in the northwestern corner of the South Selkirk herd’s range, so their complete loss would be a direct loss to the citizens of Nelson as well.

Jake Billingsley

Llano, Texas

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