The North Okanagan's Splatsin First Nation is sounding the alarm over the plight of the Southern Mountain Caribou.
The iconic species is at risk of extinction, and will struggle to recover without habitat protection and restoration action, according to new research published in Conservation Science and Practice.
Despite caribou recovery plans, the government-sponsored research found the rate of caribou habitat loss has accelerated between 2000 and 2018, and that short-term caribou recovery actions will likely only delay the extinction of the species without additional habitat protection.
“Historically, Southern Mountain Caribou were found throughout Secwépemc territory and were harvested by our people for countless generations,” said Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian of the Enderby-area First Nation.
“Caribou provided us with sustenance, clothing, tools, utensils, snowshoes and other necessities important to our physical and cultural survival. Splatsin has a sacred obligation as caretakers and stewards of our area of caretaker responsibility and has refrained from hunting Southern Mountain Caribou for generations due to decreasing population levels and diminishing habitat. We are working with various partners to reverse this trend.”
It is estimated fewer than 230 Southern Mountain Caribou remain in Secwépemc territory, which stretches from the Columbia River Valley along the Rocky Mountains, west to the Fraser River, and south to the Arrow Lakes.
A handful of herds in the Revelstoke area have less than 10 animals per herd. The Monashee South herd has vanished entirely in the past five years. Forestry is noted as a major contributor to the loss of habitat.
A statement from Splatsin officials said caribou are an indicator species, meaning their well-being is an indication of the health of the surrounding ecosystem. Any further critical habitat loss will prevent the caribou’s security and ability to recover, as they have had to face decades of human-caused land alteration, and more recently, the effects of climate change.
“The land needs to heal to provide a safe place for the caribou to return. Long-term land-use planning and management action is necessary to address these past and future impacts on caribou habitat and Splatsin’s cultural practices,” the statement said.
Where there have been habitat improvements, the trees are still too young to provide the conditions required to grow caribou’s food source – tree lichens.
Christian said Splatsin is working with various partners,including the federal government, to reverse the declining population and other land users to ensure intact caribou habitat remains protected for future generations.
In partnership with their natural resource management company, Yucwmenlúcwu (Caretakers of the Land) LLP, Splatsin is also restoring habitat features on deactivated forestry service roads that overlap with caribou critical habitat.
The public can review and raise any concerns or comment on the Kootenay Lake TSA review that is currently underway and suggest conditions related to undercut disposition to MLA Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development to help protect critical caribou habitat.