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

Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks drew a large crowd to the Abbotsford Centre in 2019. Canucks management hopes the crowds return for the planned AHL team this fall, and early returns are positive. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Canucks: ‘Incredible’ early interest for Abbotsford AHL tickets

Team has had a strong response to both e-mail information and priority ticket lists

Red dot shows location where fisherman was rescued by boater on Friday, May 7, 2021. Other fisher still missing presumed drowned after boat swamped on Fraser River near Vedder/Sumas confluence. Rescued man swam to shore after boat sank, while friend is still classified as missing as of May 10. (City of Chilliwack map)
Fisherman still missing after boat flipped on the Fraser River

One man made it out, other still missing, after anchor got snagged in the Fraser near Chilliwack

Corina Rochon has been working the front lines of the pandemic in the intensive care unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. She is also an instructor in the nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley.
Pandemic the most challenging of Abbotsford nurse’s 16-year career

Corina Rochon works front lines at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

Dario Lopez comes to the Cascades from Madrid, Spain where he played in very competitive junior leagues. (Dan Kinvig/UFV Athletics)
UFV Cascades sign Spanish basketball talent

High-scoring forward Dario Lopez joins team for 2021-22 season

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read