Valhalla Wilderness Society calls for independent review of caribou in maternity pens
The Valhalla Wilderness Society (VWS) is calling for an independent review of two maternity penning projects for BC’s endangered mountain caribou, after seven caribou died in the pens this summer.
According to a press release from the VWS, “One adult cow and four newborn calves died in a pen near Revelstoke; and in a similar project near Chetwynd, one calf was stillborn and one died of unknown causes. In addition, two cows in the Chetwynd pen may have aborted.”
Efforts to combat the declining population of the endangered animals have also included a wolf cull, a tactic that the VWS believes is ineffective and avoiding the real issue, which is habitat encroachment by the companies ostensibly helping with the penning projects.
“The very companies that are involved in activities that force caribou out of their winter habitat and stress the caribou, instead of not operating in that habitat are putting money into maternal penning. It’s a side issue that allows them to green-wash their activities,” said Craig Pettitt, Director of the VWS.
“The main thing with the caribou is habitat, and there’s too many people with too many demands on that habitat.”
The VWS in the release cited the amount of snowmobiling, cat-skiing, heli-skiing and ski touring as one of the major impacts on the caribou habitat, and that despite “Financial and in-kind contributions to the Revelstoke project by heli-ski and snowcat businesses, and the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club,” four out of the five herds in the Revelstoke area have had significant drops in numbers over the years and are close to being wiped out.
The quality and location of the pens may also be a factor. When in the wild, the caribou near Revelstoke usually birth their calves at high elevations where there remained a metre of snow.
The pen used by the Revelstoke project however, is located at the bottom of a valley where caribou were subjected to one of the province’s hottest summers ever.
Pettitt said that results from the Revelstoke penning project this year were worse than last year, which had no deaths in the pens, but continued by saying that the survival rate for calves was not significantly better than for calves born in the wild.
Anne Sherrod, a spokesperson for the VWS, said that stress on pregnant animals can also affect successful breeding, and forcing them to give birth in crowded pens adds to the stress that negatively impacts the birthing process.
“Why are the B.C. government and caribou biologists increasing stress on caribou by chasing them with helicopters and netting them in the late stage of pregnancy?” Sherrod said.
“The caribou are then tranquilized with drugs with unknown side effects, and transported by helicopter and sled to a pen, where they are held for several months.”
The VWS feels an unbiased and independent review not connected with these projects is necessary to solve the problems behind the declining populations.
“How can the public be sure that decisions are being made in the interest of the caribou, and not on behalf of economic interests wanting to avoid further habitat protection?” Pettitt said in the press release.
“We believe a truly independent panel of academic caribou biologists is needed.”
Earlier this year the province announced plans for a wolf cull in the region, to protect the caribou herd, which is in danger of extinction.
Helicopters were used to carry out much of the hunting.
Recently, U.S. pop singer Miley Cyrus and actress Pamela Anderson called on BC Premier Christy Clark for a better solution that culling wolves.