So it’s come to this. The South Columbia and South Purcell populations of mountain caribou are now extirpated. We have seen this coming for decades. A lot of talk, paper, and some minor adjustments to resource extraction have been put out there. But in the end it was too little too late.
One would think that in a rich democracy like Canada, we could save a wild species like mountain caribou. We all carry images of caribou in our pockets every day, on the Canadian quarter. This is a strange juxtaposition, as it is the greed for more money that has caused the decline of caribou in our country.
Allowing road building, logging of old-growth forests, mining, winter recreation in the form of snowmobiling and heli-skiing, and other intrusions into caribou habitat has allowed access by predators. The controversial wolf cull was a last ditch effort to help prevent predation. However, this was addressing a symptom, not the cause of the decline, which was human development and disturbance.
The extirpation of mountain caribou from our region is an indication of the seriousness of our impact on the ecosystems that support us. We should not just give up and say, “Oh well, now we can let industry have at ‘er since those pesky endangered species are gone.” With that attitude, humans will soon become an endangered species as we are part of these ecosystems.
Before Europeans colonized this continent, caribou were the deer throughout most of Canada and the northern U.S. While we cannot bring back the contiguous forests that are required for continent-wide caribou habitat, with time we can certainly preserve and restore old-growth forests here in the southern Interior of B.C. It comes down to what our society values: an iconic lifeform that will be there for future generations, or short-term profit that may or may not be of local benefit.
I am hopeful that we can bring back these amazing creatures to our forests here in the Kootenays. After all, with captive breeding and careful reintroductions, we have returned whooping cranes, Vancouver Island marmots, and California condors to the wild. We should be able to bring mountain caribou home.