Mountain Caribou are a unique ecotype of the woodland caribou and are related to the European Reindeer. These docile vegetarians are listed as endangered with approximately 1900 animals remaining in the world and are native to the Kootenay region.
Interesting caribou facts:
• They have wide hooves that allow them to walk in the deep snow
• Mountain caribou use the deep powder and high elevations and snowpack to reach the vitamin-rich lichen (or Old Man’s Beard) which grows on the branches of old-growth spruce and fir
• Both sexes grow antlers
• The word caribou comes from the Algonquian word xalibu, meaning “pawer” or “Scratcher”.
• Their survival is dependent on a continuous supply of large nearby areas of sustainable summer and winter habitat with little to no vehicle access or human disturbance.
If you sit down for a chat with someone born before 1950, they’ll tell you about the mountain caribou that used to roam the Rocky Mountains. It was not uncommon to spot herds of 60+ caribou in the 50’s and 60’s, and herds of 20-40 were still around to be spotted in the 70’s and 80’s. Nowadays, we are considered lucky to see even one.
Motorized recreation scares and causes caribou to abandon critical habitat for far less productive habitat, increases their daily energy expenditure and encourages predation. It also causes undue stress on the animal in a season in which the animals are already nutritionally challenged. Biologists conclude that the success of any caribou rescue plan depends on controlling the spread of wolves, the caribou’s biggest predator. The presence of snowmobiles and wolves forces caribou into steeper and more dangerous terrain, where they face threats from avalanches, and helicopters dropping tourists to ski the fresh POW of the Kootenays.
The Mountain Caribou Recovery Project (www.mountaincaribou.org) is working hard to keep the caribou from existing only on the 25 cent coin. In areas where the old growth forests have been protected, caribou populations are stable or even increasing in some cases.
“Recovery can only be accomplished by protecting, restoring and reconnecting critical mountain caribou habitat, and by establishing enforceable standards for motorized recreation and commercial recreation tenures. Smaller herds may need to be bolstered with animals transplanted from healthier herds. Finally, predator management, a very controversial activity, should only occur where adequate habitat is protected and then only with full consideration of all impacts (Mountain Caribou Recovery Project).”
The following is derived from Ministry of Environment
“On October 16, 2007, government announced its endorsement of the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan. Included among the Province's commitments to mountain caribou recovery implementation:
• $1,000,000 per year for three years to support implementation and adaptive management;
• Protecting 2.2 million hectares, including 95% of high suitability mountain caribou habitat, from logging and road building;
• Managing recreation to reduce human disturbance in mountain caribou habitat;
• Managing predator and alternate prey populations to reduce predator densities in areas where predation is preventing mountain caribou recovery;
• Increasing caribou subpopulations by transplanting animals from large to small herd areas;
• Ensuring that all components of management proceed through a monitoring-based adaptive management framework; and,
• Instituting a cross-sector progress board in spring 2008 to monitor the effectiveness of recovery efforts.”
What You Can Do
- Become familiar and obey voluntary closures to motorized access and encourage others to do so. These have been created to protect the diversity that we are known globally for, and to protect our backcountry heritage.
- Limit snowmobiling and other motorized winter sports in the backcountry
- Slow down on the roads – caribou could be on the mountain passes including Kootenay Pass and the Blueberry Pulsan.
- Stay away if you see a mountain caribou in the backcountry, and report the sighting to the Whitewater Guest Services Desk
Payton, Brian. Mountain Caribou. Canadian Geographic. June 2003
Mountain Caribou Recovery Project. August 11, 2009. www.mountaincaribou.org
The Mountain Caribou. The Ministry of Environment. August 12, 2009. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/sarco/mc/
Photo 2 courtesy of mountaincaribou.org
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