Hey everybody, it has been a long time since I have written on this blog. I have been inundated with school work and still trying to get turns in whenever I can, but now that we are in to the holidays I finally have time to write. I want to start using this blog for something different this year, I have written about the sports aspect of skiing in the past but now I want to start discussing the relationship between skiers, our playgrounds and those who call our mountains home. For this first article I want to discuss the rarely seen impacts we are having on the local mountain caribou herds in the backcountry.
Mountain caribou are a very unique species to British Columbia and the Revelstoke-Shuswap area. Their winter habitat is in upper elevations where other ungulates cannot survive in order to avoid predators. They have adapted to travel through the high snow pack in ways that other animals have not, allowing them to graze in old growth forests in the winter time. Over the past 20 years their population in the Revelstoke-Shuswap area has dropped by 50%, there are now less than 200. As backcountry recreationists we are a contributing factor to this population drop. Caribou avoid particularly popular recreation areas. As human activity encroaches on natural mountain caribou habitat the caribou must relocate to less suitable habitat. They relocate to areas with less grazing value and higher risk of being hunted by predators. As the noisey animals we are, we often unknowingly alarm nearby mountain caribou while in the alpine and cause extreme levels of stress on the animal. This stress is caused by noise created by snowmobiles, direct interactions with humans and even human scent. When a caribou is stressed its regulatory systems requires additional energy which would normally be used by other systems including growth, maintenance and reproduction. When we access the backcountry we are also creating access for other predators to hunt the caribou. Although the winter habitat of the mountain caribou and the grey wolves have minimal over lap, the grey wolves are using the compacted snow on roads from snowmobiles and snow cats to access higher elevations to hunt mountain caribou. On January 15th, 2015 the government of British Columbia started a wolf cull, a campaign to destroy wolves by hunting them from helicopters in order to protect mountain caribou herds. This wolf cull means that our backcountry access is leading to the destruction of two species in British Columbia.
This is a sticky situation. The mountain caribou are a very important and fragile part of British Columbia’s biodiversity. As our activity in their habitat continues to grow, we must be conscious of the impact we are having on those who we are sharing the land with.
To learn more about the efforts for the recovery of mountain caribou populations visit the Ministry of Environments website. You can also read about how appropriate backcountry practices suggested by the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club at http://revelstokesnowmobileclub.com/wildlife/