Wild caribou roam the tundra near The Meadowbank Gold Mine located in Nunavut on Wednesday, March 25, 2009. Newly published research shows threatened caribou herds have lost twice as much habitat as they’ve gained over the last twenty years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Wild caribou roam the tundra near The Meadowbank Gold Mine located in Nunavut on Wednesday, March 25, 2009. Newly published research shows threatened caribou herds have lost twice as much habitat as they’ve gained over the last twenty years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Alberta, B.C. caribou lose twice as much habitat from fire and industry as they gain

Some herds, protected by large-scale wolf culls and maternity penning, have made modest gains

Threatened caribou herds in Alberta and British Columbia have lost twice as much habitat as they’ve gained over the last twenty years and the pace of loss is picking up, new research says.

It concludes caribou protection measures such as shooting wolves that prey on them or penning pregnant cows for their protection won’t be enough to save the species.

“Short‐term recovery actions such as predator reductions and translocations will likely just delay caribou extinction,” says the paper, published in the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology.

“It is clear that unless the cumulative impacts of land uses are effectively addressed through planning and management … we will fail to achieve self‐sustaining woodland caribou populations.”

Co-author Robert Serrouya of the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute said he and his colleagues used years of satellite data to determine how the forest on caribou habitat in B.C. and Alberta changed between 2000 and 2018.

Over that time, they found the two provinces had a net loss of at least 33,000 square kilometres of the old-growth forest that caribou need. That’s about five times the size of Banff National Park.

The rate of habitat loss nearly doubled between the first and second decade of the study.

Forest regrowth and remediation of disturbances like cutlines aren’t happening fast enough. The study found only about 5 per cent of the region’s 750,000 kilometres of roads and seismic lines had regenerated.

“The rate of spread of linear features is increasing,” Serrouya said. “The rate of expansion of seismic lines is outpacing the rate of regeneration.”

More than two-thirds of that loss was from wildfire. Forestry and energy development account for most of the rest.

Most wildfires are human-caused, said Serrouya.

“As people spread into the backcountry, as there’s more and more roads, just by the law of averages you’re going to have more forest fires.”

Caribou are considered one of the toughest conservation issues in North America. Both provincial and federal governments have promised to work for their recovery, with mixed results.

A deal signed between Ottawa and Alberta last fall committed the governments to bring in range plans over the next five years but didn’t protect habitat in the interim. The animals have been listed under the Species At Risk Act for years, but numbers have continued to fall.

Meanwhile, Alberta has said it hopes to increase its annual forest harvest by 33 per cent.

Some herds, protected by large-scale wolf culls and maternity penning, have made modest gains. But Serrouya said those aren’t long-term answers.

“Those increases are short-term and won’t be sustained unless the habitat is turned around.”

Serrouya said attitudes toward conservation and economic growth have to change.

“We have to get away from the conversation of caribou versus jobs.”

He said more money could be spent on restoring forests that have been affected by industry or wildfire, much like the federal program now paying oilfield workers to reclaim old wells.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done to restore linear features,” Serrouya said. “Many people could be employed and still involved with the resource economy, but it becomes a restoration economy.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
UPDATE: Black bear tranquillized, being relocated by conservation officers

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Ladysmith resident Bonnie Cook lost the use of most of her basement and her backyard after experiencing a major water leak. (Cole Schisler photo)
Drip by drip: water line leaks lead to big repair bills for Ladysmith homeowners

Nearly all reported leaks occur on old copper lines that have been bent or manipulated

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ superintendent Scott Saywell at a May 6 press event showing off two new electric school buses. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district shows off electric buses

New buses anticipated to reduce 17 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from SD68 buses

An Ater-group Airon Slug identified during YES’s Bio-Blitz. (Yellow Point Ecological Society photo)
Yellow Point Ecological Society’s Bio-Blitz a big success

The Yellow Point Ecological Society held their first-ever Bio-Blitz over the weekend… Continue reading

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Island Health has confirmed COVID-19 exposures at Ecole des Deux Mondes in Campbell River on May 4 and 5, and at Mill Bay Nature School in Mill Bay on April 28, 29, 30 and May 3. (Metro Creative photo)
Two new COVID-19 school exposures confirmed by Island Health

Health authority contacting anyone exposed at Ecole des Deux Mondes, Mill Bay Nature School

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Most Read