Quick Action Needed to Protect Threatened Mountain Caribou
VICTORIA – Decisive government leadership and prompt action are needed to address serious threats to the survival of BC’s mountain caribou, the Forest Practices Board reported today. The board has prepared a series of recommendations to promote mountain caribou recovery and will be monitoring government’s response to these recommendations in the coming weeks.
The board’s special report, entitled BC’s Mountain Caribou: Last Chance for Conservation?, focuses on the impact of forest practices and a complex of associated factors on the viability of BC’s mountain caribou population. British Columbia is home to virtually all of the world’s mountain caribou, but the population has been declining in recent years, dropping 17 per cent between 1996 and 2002.
Over the past few decades, logging, fires and road building have led to fragmentation of old-growth forest, disrupting critical caribou habitat and increasing vulnerability to predators such as wolves and cougars. Other factors such as historic over-hunting, increased backcountry recreation and climate change have also contributed to reduced mountain caribou population levels.
“The substantial and continuing decline in the mountain caribou population is serious and requires urgent government attention,” said board chair Bruce Fraser. “This is a complex problem that requires a timely, co-ordinated and integrated approach to be effective in both protecting mountain caribou habitat and in dealing with immediate causes of mortality, such as predation.
“Government will need to make difficult decisions in the short and medium term on issues such as habitat conservation, predator/prey management and recreational access to demonstrate a serious commitment to mountain caribou recovery.”
Although an overall provincial mountain caribou recovery strategy was published in 2002, the board found that actions to benefit mountain caribou on the ground remain largely unco-ordinated. The recovery strategy has relied mainly on community stakeholder groups to develop local plans for recovery but no local action plans have been completed to date. It is important to note that locally developed recovery plans will not be binding on forest managers and resource agencies unless translated into law and regulations that will mandate implementation.
The recommendations from the board were developed in discussions with government agencies, industry representatives and environmental organizations and reflect the on-the-ground strategies currently underway to conserve mountain caribou. The board is encouraged by recent indications from government which point towards better coordination and research efforts, a new collaboration with industry and recreation interests to accommodate mountain caribou conservation and increased resources for recovery efforts. These initiatives have the potential to lead to an effective long-term mountain caribou recovery program. The board will monitor these developments closely through its ongoing program of independent audits and investigations.
“The established multi-stakeholder recovery action groups deserve expanded support from government, given the urgency of the decline in mountain caribou populations,” said Fraser. “Government must decide what value to place on protecting mountain caribou, in balance with other land use priorities such as forestry and commercial and public recreation, based on objective estimates of the social and economic costs of recovery.
“The board encourages government to provide clear leadership on mountain caribou conservation by bringing forward new initiatives in this area as soon as possible. The decline in mountain caribou is likely to become irreversible in the next few years without strong government co-ordination of the combined actions of scientists, agencies, forest and recreation industries and environmental groups.”
In a letter to government ministers, Fraser makes a number of recommendations in two key areas: immediate investments in recovery action plans, research and on the ground actions to implement more effective conservation efforts; and stronger provincial co-ordination to ensure that government’s intent for mountain caribou conservation is understood and implemented by all resource agencies and forest managers dealing with mountain caribou herds.
The Forest Practices Board is an independent public watchdog that reports to the public about compliance with the Forest Practices Code and the achievement of its intent. The board’s mandate has been retained under the new Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA). The board’s main roles under FRPA are:
- Auditing forest practices of government and licence holders on public lands.
- Auditing government enforcement of FRPA.
- Investigating public complaints.
- Undertaking special investigations of forestry issues.
- Participating in administrative appeals.
- Providing reports on board activities, findings and recommendations.
Forest Practices Board
Phone: 250 356-1586 / 1 800 994-5899
September 29, 2004