Friday, 15 July 2016 00:27

The Caribou question… no easy answers

Written by Michael Short
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Not that long ago I had the opportunity to take a horseback trip into the Tonquin Valley. To call this place special would be an understatement. There were many highlights on this trip but none more special than paddling along Amethyst Lake one evening doing some fishing — which in it’s own right was quite spectacular. I’m not sure what caused me to look up at the exact moment I did, but as I did, out from a clump of trees a caribou magically appeared. It was one of those rare times — at least in my world — where words can’t describe the feeling you have when you come face to face with such an iconic animal.

The fact caribou carry the “iconic” identifier makes it all the more difficult to figure out how to best go about ensuring these threatened species remain on the Alberta landscape.

The Alberta Government is looking for public input to its Caribou Protection Plan by August 5, 2016. Weighing the needs of this animal against that of industry and society's need to push out into remote areas for recreation or development will no doubt stir the pot. On this one point however, I feel strongly. There is no balancing act here. Alberta needs to make a clear choice — we want caribou — and we are willing to go to great lengths to protect large tracks of traditional rangeland — or not. Half measures have been the status quo for too many years.

Challenges facing the 15 caribou ranges are many, to help put it all into perspective I have called on ecologist, and outdoor author Chris Fisher to help us better understand the decisions that have to be made.

Chris Fisher

Feature Podcast Intervew with Chris Fisher

As a follow-up with Chris, he sees one of the main concerns in the critical caribou zones is that habitat fragmentation through industrial use has reduced caribou habitat (lichen-rich forests) and increased lines of sight and open areas. These have increased forage for deer, moose and elk populations — which in turn has increased wolf predation — and have added additional pressure on the small number of caribou.

Fisher thinks the reclamation of heritage seismic lines is a great idea. The wolf cull is obviously a very contentious issue that nobody is happy with — including the folks doing the culling. The rearing pens concept is simply a last ditch example of Alberta sometimes having to take its medicine to make things better. The highest calf mortality occurs within the first 30 days of life and this latest management plan is an effort desperately trying to address this.

Forest clearing

To it’s credit, industry has made significant overtures when it comes to funding research so that it can better understanding caribou habitat and how industry practices may be affecting population levels.

Unlike my first — and I hope not my last — encounter with the caribou, I’m pretty sure there will be no magical answers to the caribou question. You can get further information about the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources Caribou Management Task Force here.


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