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.

Just Posted

Black Press Media file photo
POLL: Did you complete your 2021 census form on time?

Have you completed your 2021 census form yet? READ MORE: 2021 census… Continue reading

THC boardmember Melody McLorie and municipal councillor Coun. Duncan McMaster celebrated the start of construction on a 14-unit affordable housing development at 700 Sharp Road in February, 2021. (Westerly file photo)
Tofino Housing Corporation asks for portion of town’s MRDT funds

Tofino’s hotels and resorts collect a 3 per cent Municipal and Regional District Tax from visitors

B.C. Centre for Disease Control data showing new cases by local health area for the week of May 2-8. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island COVID-19 local case counts the lowest they’ve been all year

On some areas of Island, more than 60 per cent of adults have received a vaccine dose

Black Press Media file photo
Tofino sets municipal tax rates

Tofino’s residential property values are rising while businesses are declining.

A nurse gets a swab ready to perform a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Island’s daily COVID-19 case count drops below 10 for just the second time in 2021

Province reports 8 new COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island Wednesday

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Most Read