Telkwa range caribou plan still in the works

With the recovery plan in progress, the focus now is on monitoring caribou, humans and wolves, and how they use the Telkwa Mountains.

The provincial Telkwa Caribou Management Plan has a $90,000 budget to monitor caribou, predator and human activity in the Telkwa Mountains for 2014 and 2015.

Funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Province, the plan is still under development and there is no timeline when it will be complete, said Greig Bethel, Public Affairs Officer from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The Telkwa caribou herd had 270 animals in 1965, but dropped to less than 12 caribou in 1996. After a ministry recovery project the herd was up to over 100 in 2004, but has since dropped again to an estimated 35 in June 2014.

Bethel says Ministry staff are still investigating the reasons for the caribou population declines.

“Potential factors include increased human presence in alpine environments, predator populations, an increase in low-elevation early-seral (i.e. newer growth) habitat or the cumulative impacts of one or more of these factors,” Bethel said.

With the recovery plan still being developed, Bethel says their focus now is on monitoring the number of caribou, humans and wolves, and how they use the Telkwa Mountains.

Bethel says caribou are collared with GPS to track movements and make counting easier, and Ministry staff will do aerial surveys this fall and winter to count caribou and check on calf survival.

They also hope to put GPS collars on wolves this winter to learn more about how much time they spend near caribou and using human-created trails.

Bethel says they are monitoring human activity through a combination of voluntary reporting, trail counters, trail cameras, and winter overflights to record snowmobile and ski tracks.

Asked about the proposed legislation for recreation on the Telkwa Mountains, Bethel says it is only one option being considered.

“Staff are evaluating several management options and are proactively meeting with local recreation user groups to find solutions that will aid the caribou recovery strategy and still allow for recreational opportunities.”

They are also evaluating the effectiveness of the current voluntary restrictions, he said.

Asked about a predator control plan, Bethel said there are none being considered at this time.

“The first step is to continue to collect data on levels of adult mortality and the rate of calf recruitment (survival),” he said, adding that

that information will inform future management decisions.

“The ministry will continue to work to increase awareness of the herd and the problems they face, as well as to encourage the public to follow voluntary recreational access restrictions for the benefit of caribou,” Bethel said.

Part of the management plan being developed is a proposed Wildlife Habitat Area for the Telkwa Caribou, which will regulate logging in a 262,000-hectare area.

Of that area, 178,000 hectares are in the Morice Timber Supply Area, and a 40-day public review period for the proposed WHA started last Friday.

The District of Houston will send in their input and Bethel says a letter is being sent to stakeholders, First Nations and local governments inviting comment.

For updates regarding the Telkwa caribou plan and recovery efforts, see the Facebook page called “Telkwa Caribou Recovery.”