The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society hopes a new caribou maternity pen will soon get the go ahead from the provincial government. (File)

‘If we do nothing, the herd will certainly be extirpated’: Caribou maternity pen proposed in Nakusp

The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society is waiting for a response from the province

A non-profit organization has proposed a maternity pen near Nakusp, B.C. to help caribou recovery.

The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society was recently formed to provide a local voice in decisions regarding caribou recovery for the Central Selkirk herd, which is near Nakusp.

Since the Southern Selkirk herd, which spanned the Canada and U.S. border was extirpated earlier this year, the Central Selkirk herd is the only one that remains south of Highway 1.

“We don’t want the population declines to continue marching north,” said Hugh Watt, co-chair of the society.

Caribou distribution in B.C. (Ministry of Forests)

According to a report on the Central Selkirk herd from the provincial government, the herd’s population was 148 in 1994. By 2017, it was reduced to 29.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Soon-to-be-extinct caribou moved north of Revelstoke

The report continues that the decline in caribou populations is ultimately attributed to direct and indirect effects of human activities and climate change.

“Compared to other ungulates, caribou are particularly vulnerable to increasing predation because they have low reproductive rates,” reads the report.

It continues that to avoid predation, caribou generally tend to stay in low productive habitats, which other ungulates avoid. The impacts of human activities and climate have changed caribou herd dynamics and have increased predation, in particular from wolves.

(Ministry of Forests)

The report notes that for the Central Selkirk herd, increasing predation is the main driver of the population’s decline.

According to the B.C. government, caribou in the province have declined from 40,000 in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today.

Watt said that while building a maternity pen is “drastic” there is little choice.

“If we do nothing, the herd will certainly be extirpated.”

With a maternity pen, pregnant cows are captured in March, which is calving season. The cows are taken to an enclosed pen for giving birth, safe from predators. In July, the mom and calf are released.

Calves are particularly prone to predation, said Watt.

He continued that the proposed pen would draw on knowledge gained through the five year project north of Revelstoke. The Revelstoke Maternal Penning Project ran from 2014 to 2018. While the project has yet to release a final report, according to their website, they did improve calf survival rates.

READ MORE: Caribou maternity pen project nears its end by Revelstoke

The average penned calf survival rate for the past five years was 44 per cent, compared to an estimated wild survival rate that ranged from 20 to 36 per cent.

Watt said the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society hopes the new maternity pen will soon get the go-ahead from the provincial government. Black Press reached out to the Ministry of Forests and was told that the province is just starting discussions on the project and a decision is yet to be made.

If approved, Watt hopes some of the funding for the pen will come from the province.

Revelstoke Mayor Gary Sulz addresses the audience in a well-attended open house in Revelstoke last spring on the province’s draft caribou recovery plans. (File photo)

In January, the three remaining caribou of the South Selkirk herd that spanned the Canadian and U.S. border were near Revelstoke. According to Bart George, biologist for the Kalispel Tribe in the U.S., the three caribou are doing well.

READ MORE: U.S. protects already extinct caribou herd

In 2017, the Kalispel Tribe had raised $225,000 towards a maternity pen in the U.S. However, the herd was extirpated before it could ever be used.

Regardless, the 19-acre pen will be dissembled and moved to Nakusp, with the hope it will eventually be useful.

In 2009, the B.C. government set aside large chunks of land for caribou at just over 2 million hectares, 11 per cent of which was in the Revelstoke-Shuswap area. However, some critics have pointed out that the 2 million hectares includes pre-existing parks and more habitat is needed.

Regardless, Watt said with a significant amount of protected habitat, it would be nice to have some caribou on it.

“And not continue to watch as caribou dwindle and go.”


 

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Caribou distribution in B.C. (Ministry of Forests)

(Ministry of Forests)

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