This story first appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of the Revelstoke Times Review (paywall).
Revelstoke Times Review editor’s note: Starting this week and continuing through February and March, the Times Review will publish an approximately 10-part series of columns by stakeholders and stories by our staff about the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project (RCRW). Our goal is to raise awareness about the project and the group’s efforts to raise funds through the Shell Fuelling Change program. Read below about how you can utilize social media to help them secure funding.
By Cory Legebokow, Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Project Manager
Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild (RCRW) is a cross section of local stakeholders that are working together to help recover mountain caribou through a maternity penning project near Revelstoke. Maternity penning, also known as captive rearing, is a proven method to increase mountain caribou calf survival by keeping newborn calves and their moms in a safe environment during the first few weeks of the calves lives. The RCRW initiative is indicative of the Revelstoke way of doing things; ensuring that solutions are local in nature and represent the interests of the community as a whole.
Mountain caribou are an ecotype of woodland caribou that are specialized to thrive in the snowy alpine mountains Revelstoke is famous for. They feed on tree lichens utilizing our deep winter snowpack for easy access. Mountain caribou are globally unique, as they’re the world’s southernmost caribou population.
Unfortunately they are in peril. Mountain caribou numbers in the Revelstoke area have decreased by almost 70 per cent since the mid-1990s and are listed as threatened by the federal government, and endangered by the provincial government. Even though mountain caribou pregnancy rates for the region are consistently high, the number of calves surviving to 10 months of age has declined due to predation. As such, calf numbers are too low to sustain the population. This is likely to cause the loss of these majestic animals if further action isn’t taken now.
As a result, local representatives of federal and provincial levels of government, First Nations, industry, tourism/recreation users, environmental organizations, and academia are working together to facilitate maternity penning of local caribou to increase calf survival and boost caribou numbers. A site for the pen has been chosen and last spring local fire protection crews spent over 100 man days preparing the site.
RCRW’s top three short term goals are to:
-complete construction of the maternity pen this summer, with all necessary surveillance and security requirements;
-complete all protocols for critical issues (including predators near the pen, animal care, monitoring, reporting and communications) and have all logistical requirements met;
-relocate 10 pregnant caribou females to the maternity pen in mid March 2014.
It’s important to stress that the strictest animal care protocols will be followed. The caribou will be monitored 24/7 by First Nations shepherds, will be fed a healthy diet, and will receive only the best care from an expert provincial veterinarian. Subject to success in 2014, subsequent years will see expansion of the project to include up to 20 pregnant females each year for three to five years (possibly up to 10 years) such that calf survival rates can contribute to a self sustaining population.
Other mountain caribou recovery options have already been implemented in the Revelstoke area including:
-The permanent protection of over 140,000 hectares of mature and old growth forest from forest harvesting;
-The closure of high value mountain caribou habitat to snowmobiling;
-A moratorium on new commercial backcountry recreation tenures such as heli-skiing;
-The adoption of Best Management Practices by the heli-ski industry that are designed to avoid mountain caribou and minimize disturbance;
-The indirect reduction of predators by reducing their primary prey (moose) through increased hunter quotas in specific areas critical to mountain caribou.
The cost for such a project is very high. In the first year RCRW needs almost a half million dollars to get the project off the ground. Subsequent years are estimated to cost around $300,000 per year. RCRW currently has financial support from the provincial and federal governments in addition to the Columbia Basin Trust, but more is needed.
We have funding applications submitted to many potential sources including the Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, and several others. Currently we’re competing for $100,000 through a social media contest sponsored by Shell Canada. Please visitwww.fuellingchange.com for competition details and how you can help make a difference. The competition runs until April 30 and I encourage everyone to go check it out and help make the RCRW program a success.
You can follow us on Twitter (@RCRWSociety), or see our Facebook page or website (RCRW.ca) for more information and updates on the project as it progresses.
Stay tuned for more detail through subsequent articles in the Revelstoke Times Review from the wide variety of stakeholders who are part of RCRW and who also have a keen interest in mountain caribou recovery in the mountains around Revelstoke.