By Gary Krestinsky, Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club president
Part eight of an ongoing column and story series exploring the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild maternity penning plan. This story first appeared in the Revelstoke Times Review.
The Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club has passed a resolution to support the Caribou Rearing Project that is currently being initiated in the North Columbia area of Revelstoke.
The Societies Act Constitution of our club states:
“The objectives for which the Society is formed are to conserve and urge the wise use of our natural resources, which include stable soil, unpolluted water, perpetual forests, vegetation, fish, wildlife, scenic and recreational reservations; to improve and restore fish, game, and its habitat; to study local resources and cooperate with authorities in securing conservation plans and measures for betterment to the benefit of all the community; to support sound conservation; to oppose anti-conservation legislation; to promote good sportsmanship afield, and to conduct ourselves so as to be an example of good and safe sportsmanship; to respect the property rights of others; to pass on to our heirs the joys and privileges of a better outdoors.”
It is therefore part of our club’s mandate to not stand by and watch a species go extinct; the club views this project as a pro-active methodology to increase the local caribou population, and has therefore bought into it.
Prior to the above resolution being passed, our club had the opportunity to hear presentations made, at different times, by Kevin Bollefer, a forester as well as a biologist working for RCFC, Cory Legebokow of the MOE, and Rob Serrouya, a biologist specializing in caribou management. These three people are spearheading the caribou rearing project in conjunction with several other agencies and specialists. Their presentations varied in content but in general informed the club of the past history of caribou management, current management trends, and what they see as future management options, inclusive of the penning project.
Since the 1960’s a tremendous amount of money and manpower has been directed toward caribou management. And since the 1960’s, the caribou herds in the Columbias have made a significant drop in population; from an estimated 650 caribou then to about 150 at the present time. There is no one factor that accounts for this population declination; loss of habitat through construction of the dams, roadbuilding, logging, heliski companies, snowmobiling, and predation have combined to contribute to the depopulation of the caribou.
While there have been direct/indirect attempts by government, industry, and commercial recreationists to mitigate the loss of habitat, little has been done to directly impact predation. The MOE for the past few years has been increasing the opportunity to harvest various ungulates, particularly moose, predicated on the theory that by reducing the species wolves feed on, the wolves will eventually move out of the area to find other sources of food. It is not politically correct, in BC, to harvest wolves in order to protect the endangered species caribou. Therefore, to this day, the caribou are declining, or at best, in some of the small herds, staying stable at low numbers.
The local initiative for caribou rearing in pens therefore was proposed. There has been success in caribou penning in the north: cows are darted in early spring from helicopters, they are ultra-sound scanned to ensure pregnancy, loaded into nets, then flown to the pen where they give birth. New-born calves are fed a nutritious diet and protected from predators in a 12’ high fenced area 24 hours a day by “shepherds”. Once the calves reach the critical age and physical strength a few months later, they are better equipped to move and evade predators; and they are released from the pen with the cows. All calves are collared to monitor survival rate. In 3 years the collars drop off and are retrieved.
Ten pregnant cows will be selected for the project. Some of the key factors that led to our support are:
1. If the government will not support direct predator management, then the herds must be supplemented in order for the population to increase. Transplants of caribou in some areas have not appeared to have had success; so transplants are not a very viable option. The penning option, though there are some risks, has been demonstrated to work.
2. Previous penning projects have shown that penning, with the protection given in the early stages of the calves lives, improves survival from 25% in the wild to 75% in the pens.
3. The superior nutrition the cows and calves receive enhances their strength and growth to enable chances of survival being greater upon release.
4. If the expected results are achieved, the penning project could proceed and eventually build up the caribou to the point that the imbalance of caribou/prey is restored to a normal level and the reduction of the predator food species, ie moose, will be halted.
5. Our club will be contributing labor, time, and material to the limit of our club resources, and all of our members can benefit from this learning experience.
6. If this penning project is not undertaken, there is substantial risk that caribou in the North Columbia will go extinct.
A side benefit of the project is the variety of clubs/organizations that will be working together to make the project successful. While there are differences and different objectives that sometimes are not compatible, this project will present an opportunity for agencies to work together and hopefully develop better working relationships for future works in the community.
The Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project is competing for $100,000 in funding through the Shell Fuelling Change program. To be successful, RCRW needs community members to visit the RCRW page on shellfuellingchange.com, sign up and vote. Visit ‘Improving Mountain Caribou Calf Survival – Maternity Penning’ and vote before the April 30 deadline.