make a donation

New Southern Mountain Recovery Strategy authors warn success requires all to take urgent action

Throughout the new Southern Mountain Recovery Strategy, released in June 2014, there are repeated calls for urgent and immediate action to save this group of caribou. Equally often the authors note the challenges to success, not only in terms of saving the caribou themselves -- their numbers are low and rapidly declining -- but to meeting the deadlines for completing an action plan by December of 2017, the promised timeline.

Map of Southern Caribou Subpopulations

Source: Southern Mountain Recovery Strategy


While the strategy makes for painful reading -- it provides every possible metric demonstrating the absolute challenges to these caribou’s survival (see box) – perhaps the authors should be commended for being relatively frank about the challenges.

Southern Mountain Caribou, in decline

  • The current overall number of southern mountain caribou is estimated to be approximately 5,800, consistently down from about 30,000 to 40,000 at the turn of the century.

  • Subpopulations have undergone long-term declines in numbers.

  • Four of those subpopulations have been extirpated (i.e. subpopulation reduced to zero caribou) since 2002.

  • Of the 24 Local Population Units (composed of joined subpopulations), ten have fewer than 100 caribou.

  • Many of the herds have too few breeding females

  • Their range has been diminished by more than 40% in BC and 60% in Alberta, and continue to be diminished by new pressures.

The warnings that taking action may be challenging start as early as Preface, where authors note that: 

• Implementation of this strategy is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations, and
• Success in the recovery of southern mountain caribou depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada, the Parks Canada Agency, or any other jurisdiction alone.

An entire section of the recovery strategy in fact, is dedicated to the need for coordination.

The irony is, no sooner had the strategy been released, the Alberta government auctioned off energy development leases in the Narraway Range and has plans to auction off more.  Even closer to home, from an administrative authority perspective, is the development of a lodge in Jasper National Park. In BC the Northern Gateway will traverse directly through caribou habitat also included in this recovery strategy.

These warning are seemingly not out of place.

Nor, given the continued need to remind decision-makers to take caribou protection into consideration, is the call for support by the authors: “All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the southern mountain caribou population and Canadian society as a whole.” (emphasis added by author)

In reading this I was reminded of the importance of every Canadian standing up for what they believe in. If it is Caribou – whether southern mountain or boreal woodland or barren ground or any other herd – those that care need to commit to being engaged for the long haul and across a number of discussions.

The authors at Environment Canada are kind to remind us of it.

Photographer: Wayne Sawchuk