The government is proposing a new management plan to protect the Telkwa caribou herd.
There were an estimated 25 Telkwa caribou in June 2014, according to a summary from Caribou Ecological Consulting in Smithers.
“The Telkwa herd is on the verge of local extinction,” said Jocelyn Campbell, a biologist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
Campbell and Josh Pressey, District Manager of the Ministry, gave a presentation at a Houston council meeting Oct. 7 discussing proposed protections.
Campbell said a Federal Recovery Strategy was released June 2014 after the northern caribou species was blue listed in BC, listed on the Species at Risk Act, and considered threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
The goal of the strategy is to stop the decline in caribou populations and increase the size of caribou herds to at least 100 animals, Campbell said.
In 1965, the Telkwa herd had over 270 caribou, but dropped to less than 12 caribou by 1996.
“We don’t really know why. Some people think that’s in response to hunting pressure, and caribou actually being killed from helicopters,” Campbell said.
In an attempt to recover the herd, the Ministry of Environment relocated 32 caribou to the Telkwa Mountains, and in 2004 they estimated the herd had grown to approximately 100.
“Then we stopped monitoring them because it was a big success. We recovered this population and stopped looking, and then lo and behold in 2010 we measured them again and there were fewer then 20 animals,” Campbell said.
In May 2013 the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation invested $85,900 for a project to preserve declining Telkwa caribou. In-kind support was provided by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
A survey in December 2013 found 16 caribou with a healthy population of four calves, and surveys from this year show “high survivorship over the last year,” Campbell said.
The Ministry of Forests is working on a management plan with five pillars to recover and protect the Telkwa herd.
First is to engage and educate communities, governments and recreation groups.
Second is to annually monitor caribou populations, moose and wolves, trends of distribution, habitat condition and recreation use. Information will be gathered using trail and critter cameras and helicopter surveys, and Campbell says it will inform future management actions.
Third is recreation management, as recreation can contribute to population decline in caribou herds, packing trails and making it easier for wolves to travel and hunt caribou in high elevation areas.
Campbell says surveys show that current voluntary restrictions on recreation are not effective.
The Ministry is reviewing restrictions and considering laws to manage recreation, Campbell said, adding that they are working with recreation groups to find a solution that protects caribou while ensuring “that undue pressure isn’t put on those groups.”
The fourth pillar to protect caribou is taking management actions if needed. This includes things like protecting caribou in a pen during the vulnerable time of giving birth.
Campbell said that action is currently ill-advised because of high calf survival in the Telkwa herd.
The fifth pillar is habitat management.
A Wildlife Habitat Area (WHA) is proposed for the Telkwa Mountains that covers 262,000 hectares, with 178,000 hectares in the Morice TSA, Campbell said.
This would top the current largest WHA in BC, which is 98,429 hectares protecting Northern Caribou in the Chilcotin and Quesnel Forest Districts.
Within the proposed Telkwa Mountains WHA is a large no harvest zone in the alpine which Campbell says is critical caribou habitat.
She says there are also zones for seral stage management, where they recommend at least 60 percent of the forest be kept over 80 years old, and less then 28 percent be under 40 years.
That’s because they want to keep older forests that provide ideal habitat for caribou and limit younger forests that are ideal for moose, which is good for wolves which prey on caribou, Campbell said.
The Ministry is putting their management plan up for public review for 40 days starting Friday, Oct. 24.