On Sept. 19, 2017 at the District of Houston council meeting, representatives of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (MOFLNRO) presented to the council recommendations they are proposing for recreation restrictions in the Telkwa range to offset the caribou decline.
Jocelyn Campbell, ecosystems section head for ministry and Laura Grant, ecosystems technician, have been closely working with the Houston Snowmobiling Club and other recreation clubs that utilize the Telkwa Range to present suitable and fair recommendations for users and the caribou.
Grizzly Plateau will be accessible to users of motorized vehicles between Nov. 1 to Apr. 30 or by permit, what is known as the “meat cache” north of Grizzly Plateau will be accessible between Dec. 15 to Apr. 1, Starr Basin will be accessible by permit only, and the area the encloses around the “meat cache” and Grizzly Plateau and extends to Hunters Basin will be closed to access.
Those not using a motorized vehicle will have more access to these areas, however some restrictions still apply, and the layout of each area is slightly different compared to the illustration provided for the motorized vehicle restriction proposal.
Grant explained that this year only 18 caribou were accounted for in the Telkwa Range, whereas in 1966 that number was as high as 255.
“In the late 1990s only eight caribou were counted for, at this time the Provincial Government of Canada took action and trans-located about 30 animals,” said Grant.
Grant said the number of caribou increased to 150 animals in 2006.
“Only 11 years later only that number has decreased to 18, and we are concerned that this species is at continual risk of extirpation,” said Grant.
According to Grant, there are a few factors causing the decline of the caribou.
“The primary driver of decline is a shift in the predator-prey dynamics of the caribou resulting from landscape change,” said Grant. “An increase in the abundance of young forests results in excellent habitat for moose, deer, and elk. This subsequently results in an increase in predator population and a decrease in caribou.”
In addition, Grant said the same research showed that caribou actively avoid areas of high road and cut log densities.
“Typically they use that high elevation habitat because they are avoiding that valley bottom disturbance,” said Grant. “Unfortunately recreation overlaps with this remaining high elevation habitat [in the Telkwa Range.”
It is the hope of Grant and Campbell that these recreational restriction management plan and the habitat management plan that is currently being enforced will increase the caribou population.
Counsellor Jonathan Van Barneveld asked, “Which act specifically are you utilizing to keep people off Crown land [in the Telkwa Range]?”
“We can not legally prevent people from walking on Crown land without making it an ecological reserve, which would be very difficult,” said Grant. “The non-motorized portion of our proposal will be enforced through education and trail-head engagement.”
“Non-motorized folks who ignore the the restricted zones and take a dog with them can be charged under the wildlife act for harassment on wildlife,” said Campbell.
Counsellor Rick Lundrigan asked, “Part of the problem is wolves, what are you doing to address that problem? Are you calling wolves? If so, is there going to be motorized vehicles in there doing a wolf call?”
“There are two areas of the province where the government actively controls the predators, I sit on the provincial carrier team, and there are active discussions on where to control the predators in the province, however, before we embark on any kind of predator control or dive into that controversial conversation, we have to make sure that address all the other causes of decline,” said Campbell.
Campbell added that it is a cabinet decision to move forward with predator control, that is not within the MOFLNRO jurisdiction.
She added that her guess is that culling of wolves would be done by helicopter.
Counsellor Van Barneveld asked, “In regards to the enforcement piece, what additional tools are you implementing withing the communities?”
Campbell said that there are no other tools, but they have talked with the conservation officers who are now putting additional resources to offset the caribou decline.
“We have a commitment from the local office to support enforcement during the first year,” said Campbell. “And we continue the trail head engagement process we did last year, meeting with trails users and increasing awareness on the caribou and Telkwa recreation.”
“When will we notice a rebound in the population?” asked counsellor Tim Anderson.
Grant responded that this is just one of the components to the decline, “and that there is no real way of monitoring if this specific part [recreation] has a positive influence on the caribou, but in the case we see the herd continue to decline, there is a definition of extirpation that would essential mean that this proposal is no longer necessary.”
When asked by counsellor Van Barneveld what the definition of “extirpation” is, Grant and Campbell responded that there it is a lengthy list and definition which they can provide to council, but includes, “zero signs of animals over five consecutive surveys.”
“Is there a minimal level of viable herd?” asked counsellor Van Barneveld.
“Not according to federal legislation,” said Campbell.
For more information on the recreational regulations and restrictions, contact Laura Grant at Laura.Grant@gov.bc.ca or Jocelyn Campbell at Jocelyn.Campbell@gov.bc.ca