Eleven caribou calves born inside a secure maternity pen at Mt. Rochfort near Hudson’s Hope were recently released into the wild alongside their mothers. With these new additions, the at-risk Klinse-Za caribou herd is now estimated to be at about 116 animals—up from a low point of 36 in 2013.
With the release of the cows and calves, the eighth year of the maternity pen project for caribou starts to wind down. But the work to help this herd recover continues. Securing the young at-risk calves from predators is just part of the herd’s recovery.
Our Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program Peace Region board is funding the maternity pen, and ongoing efforts to restore caribou habitat through road deactivation and habitat restoration. Both projects are led by the Nîkanêse Wah tzee Stewardship Society, a non-profit initiative between the West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations in collaboration with Wildlife Infometrics that manage the projects.
On the maternity pen side, 13 cows were captured in early spring, tagged, sampled, and brought into the 15-hectare pen. The pen is a familiar place for most of the cows, 12 had been in it before and seven were born in it. Guardians from the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations monitor the pen around the clock from the moment the caribou enter it until they were released, along with their calves, in mid-August. The youngest of the calves was eight weeks old at the time of the release, and less susceptible to predators such as bears, wolves, and wolverines.
Habitat restoration is equally important and, when the caribou leave the pen, the goal is to give them access to the best possible habitat to increase their chance of survival. Several years ago, the FWCP funded a project to deactivate 2.3 km of an old industrial road near the previous maternity pen location, which reduced access to caribou habitat by both humans and predators. This work yielded exceptional results and was expanded.
Last year restoration activities were completed on four sites which resulted in 3,183 ha of habitat restored in the Klinse-Za herd range. Since the restoration work started, more than 100,000 seedlings have been planted and 35 km of linear corridors restored. At a watershed-scale, restoration efforts have resulted in 13% of the previously disturbed habitat (26,906 ha) being restored. And it does not end there. This year the Nîkanêse Wah tzee Stewardship Society has identified three new road networks and anticipates deactivating and restoring up to 23 km of roads.
Why is the FWCP funding caribou recovery? Well, we’re a partnership between BC Hydro, the Province of B.C., Fisheries and Oceans Canada, First Nations, and public stakeholders, and we fund projects that conserve and enhance fish and wildlife in watersheds impacted by BC Hydro
dams. In our Peace Region, caribou is one of our priority species – an important species to Indigenous Nations across the region - and two of our priorities are to fund Indigenous-led caribou maternal penning projects and restore habitat for caribou.
Woodland caribou are listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act and are far from being—and forgive the pun—out of the woods yet, but the efforts of the Nîkanêse Wah tzee Stewardship Society and the many funding partners, including FWCP, are showing some signs of success with this particular herd.
Chelsea Coady is the Peace Region manager for the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program. Have a question? Email her at email@example.com.