A biologist who discovered the mountain caribou herd in the South Purcells has dropped from 16 down to just four says intervention is needed to save the remaining animals. Leo DeGroot, wildlife biologist with the Ministry of Forests, Land, and Natural Resource Operations, spoke with the Arrow Lakes News. He has been working on the management of the South Selkirks for a number of years and was part of the team conducting an aerial survey last week.
When asked for his thoughts on the single-digit populations, DeGroot replied “Without some sort of intervention, it doesn’t look very good. It’s very recent news to us — the Purcell survey was only completed four days ago. We are having lots of discussions but we don’t have any answers yet. Within a couple of years, we might be down to none so it’s urgent.”
Over the past year, the South Selkirk herd, the southernmost remaining herd in North America, has lost nine animals, leaving only three females. Unprotected by any males, they face surviving predators alone and have no reproductive capabilities. The four just counted in the South Purcells are comprised of one cow and three bulls, but the odds of them joining forces to save themselves are slim. They do not interact with one another in any meaningful way. At this rate, DeGroot said they will become extirpated, which is as good as extinct in that area.
“This is a dire situation that speaks to our failure as a province to maintain healthy ecosystems to sustain our wildlife,” says John Bergenske, conservation director for Wildsight, a registered charity operating a number of regional branches as non-profit societies. Wildsight’s mission is to protect biodiversity and encourage sustainable communities in Canada’s Columbia and Rocky Mountain regions.
According to Wildsight, mountain caribou herds have been declining for decades as the impacts of logging, industrial activity and motorized recreation spread over B.C.’s mountains, leaving isolated herds with nowhere left to run. The province’s mountain caribou recovery implementation plan, after more than a decade, has failed to stop the loss of caribou, let alone recover populations. Now, the province has announced a new mountain caribou recovery plan, which contains general principles, but as of yet, no concrete steps to help caribou.
“We need immediate action,” says Bergenske. “If we keep stalling, there just won’t be any caribou left to recover in the southern herds. If the province won’t protect all critical habitat now, then the federal government has to step in.”
Currently the herd closest to Nakusp in the Central Selkirks has a population of 31, up from 29 last year. Four calves were born but two adults died. While the minor baby boom may seem like cause to celebrate, the numbers were closer to 90 just six years ago.