With more than half of the caribou herds in British Columbia (BC) listed by COSEWIC (the Council on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) as ‘Threatened’, effective conservation measures for this iconic species are urgently needed. Most of the struggling herds inhabit areas with generally more human disturbance and activity on the landscape. Specifically, industrial development has contributed to caribou declines as their habitat has been altered, displacing the caribou and making them more susceptible to predation.
The Klinse-Za caribou herd in northeastern BC required immediate intervention in order to avoid extirpation in 2013, leading to predator management and protective maternity penning. These actions helped reverse the steep decline, but were recognized as temporary measures, treating the symptom rather than the cause of the problem. In order to achieve a self-sustaining population the herd’s range needed long-lasting management interventions. While forested ecosystems are resilient and capable of naturally regenerating, the process of natural succession takes decades and does not address the near-term impacts to the caribou. Wildlife Infometrics is partnering with two First Nations communities to fast-track the natural succession process and alleviate some of the immediate pressures of the degraded habitat.
In the Klinse-za habitat restoration program, we focus our efforts on restoring linear features (e.g., old roads, seismic lines) using a variety of tools such as tree felling and bending, tree planting, and heavy machinery treatments. The restructuring will quickly limit the ability of predators to easily access high-elevation caribou habitat and minimize caribou-predator interactions. Over time, reforesting the features will return the ecosystem to a more natural state. In conjunction with steep terrain, river washouts, and remote access, this work creates unique and interesting challenges for the habitat restoration team.
As caribou-centric habitat restoration is a relatively new practice, standardized methods and approaches are still in their infancy. To evaluate the effectiveness of our activities and how caribou and other wildlife are responding to them, we have a detailed monitoring program of data collection and analysis. Currently, it features two main components: measuring changes in vegetation in response to restoration of linear features, and tracking wildlife and human road users through a network of trail cameras.