AHEAD OF THE HEARD — The Alberta government has released the Boreal Woodland Caribou Range Management Plan to outline their plan for the recovery of the species. It proposes to create a fenced enclosure of 100 square kilometre on the Little Smoky caribou range, to remove predators and competitor species from the fenced off area, and to protect the calving grounds. This would provide the local caribou herd with a safe location to breed, reproduce and thrive with some assurance that their calves wouldn’t be decimated by voracious wolves, coyotes, bears and cougars. It has been estimated that there is an 80 per cent death loss of the annual calf crop by predators. No wonder caribou herds are on the verge of extinction in many locations.
This recovery approach is similar to elk and bison farming operations in Alberta. It’s a proven system for increasing numbers and has been used successfully with other endangered species from foxes to swans to condors. The final intent is always to release captive grown animals back to the wild to help the recovery process. Granted, it’s never been done on a large scale with woodland caribou, but it needs to be pursued for the sake of the species. So, what has been the response of most wildlife protection lobby groups? They are zealously opposed to the woodland caribou recovery program – such an attitude would make extinction of the species almost inevitable.
The opposition comes from the usual cabal of green lobby groups including the Alberta Wilderness Association, the Sierra Club, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and others of similar ilk. Their response to the government initiative is so similar one might suspect collusion between the groups. That would not be the first time; it all seems like busy work for the biologists, managers, campaigners, lawyers and consultants these groups employ. To no one’s surprise they all propose that the answer to caribou recovery is the restoration of their habitat to its original condition – that being old growth boreal forests.
Well, duh, that would be ideal but this is 2017, not 1717, and provincial forests and habitat have been vastly altered. Returning some of it to resemble the original old growth forest caribou habitat could take over 100 years. I would suggest that by then most of the woodland caribou would have gone extinct, mainly due to predation. What irks the green groups is the terminal removal of predators by the government from within the fenced enclosure; they abhor the killing of any wildlife. Some even claim that predators help toughen up caribou calves. That’s an interesting concept, but I doubt it’s shared by the unfortunate caribou being targeted by ever-increasing numbers of predators. Common sense would indicate that 100 live calves are better than 20 live calves in any recovery scheme.
The government plan is quite cognizant of the need to restore caribou habitat and has undertaken an initiative to wind up mineral, energy and forestry leases and permits and to terminate any future access rights to the area in question. But they understand that the wholesale arbitrary termination of existing leases would cause considerable financial disruption to the local economy of the area. That would impact local taxpayers, some of whose hard-earned taxes find their way into the pockets of the opposing green lobby groups through various grants and charitable tax exemptions.
The phased-in government approach is deemed totally inadequate by lobby groups – somehow the government is supposed to close down vast sections of the province and instantly create old growth forests. Theoretically that would save the woodland caribou – unfortunately for the species, in the short and medium term no one has mentioned the green groups’ instant solution to the existing predators in the area. Perhaps green groups need to invite predators in the area to consultative meetings to explain the situation and offer some alternatives to curbing their appetite for fresh caribou meat. Perhaps through roundtable discussions the predators could be convinced to voluntarily relocate to less sensitive areas, with taxpayer compensation of course.
It gets crazier – recently Alpha Wildlife Research Management Ltd. wrote an open letter to the Premier condemning the plan and recommending a $1 million study be done of the caribou problem, with the implication that it be done by the research company. The letter was supported by scientists from Denmark and Australia where the species has never existed. It boggles the mind. Hopefully, for the sake of the caribou, the government will resist the opposition, remain steadfast, and stick to their plan.