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British Columbia Ancient Forests News
Caribou count may be lowest ever
Leaked document puts figure for Wells Gray at 58 animals
The Kamloops Daily News, April 19, 2013
A herd of endangered mountain caribou in Wells Gray may have dropped to its lowest number, but the latest survey data are under wraps according to a scientist who lives near the park.
Trevor Goward said this year’s count — which found only 58 animals from a herd that numbered 400 in recent years — was leaked and the figures won’t be publicly released for weeks.
“It is a disaster,” said Goward. “I guess they’re holding off for various reasons,” he speculated. “It wouldn’t look good for the government.”
In response to a request from The Daily News, a spokesman with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the March data are under analysis and it would be premature to comment on them.
A lichenologist who studies the tree lichens on which the caribou feed, Goward has been lobbying for a moratorium on low-elevation clearcut logging that borders the park in the upper Clearwater Valley.
Clearcuts drive up populations of ungulates such as deer and moose, along with their predators, wolf and cougar, which in turn prey upon the caribou. Caribou are particularly vulnerable; they typically produce one calf every second year.
“It’s got to be this constant eroding of the population by predators,” Goward said. “It’s obvious something is going on. They’re not evolved for high predation.”
For the past five years, the provincial government has focused on a mountain caribou recovery implementation plan in an attempt to rebuild populations. Despite those efforts, the Wells Gray herd has continued to decline, evidence that the plan has failed, Goward contends.
The underlying issue is vanishing old-growth forest, primary caribou habitat. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals has said they would take additional measures to protect old-growth forest, said Ken Wu, founder of the lobby group Ancient Forest Alliance.
“They’re the largest old-growth dependent species in Canada,” Wu said. “This is a large mammal. It’s really one of the iconic species in B.C.” The southern Interior represents the largest concentration of what remains of the species.
The NDP’s forestry plan does not stress old-growth protection, which represents a broken promise by party leader Adrian Dix, Wu said. When Norm Macdonald, NDP forest critic, was in Kamloops on Monday, he characterized old-growth concerns as primarily an Island issue.
“Old growth forests across the province are in danger, especially in areas of the southern Interior,” Wu said. The governing Liberals don’t have a good track record, he added.
“They maintain that they’re managing old-growth forests, which is simply not the case.”
Terry Lake, Liberal candidate for Kamloops-North Thompson and former environment minister, challenged that assertion.
“We have old-growth management areas throughout the province, so I think we are managing that well,” he said, adding there is always a balance between protecting environment and providing economic opportunity.
He believes Canfor has no immediate plans to log in the area and noted that the Upper Clearwater Valley is protected through a management plan established in the late ’90s.
Without seeing the latest data, Lake would not concede that the Wells Gray herd is in serious decline. That bureaucrats would withhold the data is just conjecture, he added.
“The (caribou) recovery plan is not something where you will see results in a couple of years,” Lake said. “You have to look at a 10- to 20-year horizon, and in some cases they may never come back.”
In the case of Wells Gray, it’s the buffer forests that border the park that need to be protected from further logging, environmentalists say. They are also pushing for sustainable forestry on second-growth stands.
The NDP has lost its bearing on the issue, Wu suggested. That’s why their forest plan has been described as indistinguishable from that of the Liberals.
“They have forgotten the history of what they saw in the War in the Woods in the ’90s. If there were ever a time to be bold and keep their promise, the time to do that is now.”
Yet time appears to be running out for mountain caribou. Goward calls the decline “death by a thousand clearcuts.” He’s started an online petition drive through Change.org to pressure politicians.
“We’re watching the demise of something comparable to the decline of the buffalo on the prairies.”