An endangered population of mountain caribou is expected to be the focus of
an announcement today billed as "a conservation initiative of global
significance," and said to involve a large tract of wilderness in southeastern
Environment Minister John Baird and John Lounds, president and CEO of the Nature
Conservancy of Canada, are to attend a joint news conference at the Pan Pacific
Hotel in Vancouver for the announcement, which is thought to involve more than
55,000 hectares of private forest land.
Neither the government nor officials from the Nature Conservancy would comment,
but sources in the Kootenay region said they expect to hear that a huge area of
private forest will be set aside.
Sources said the Nature Conservancy and the federal government have been seeking
"a big chunk of land" to help protect the South Selkirk mountain caribou
population, one of 12 endangered herds in B.C.
The South Selkirk population is found mostly in the mountains south of Nelson
and west of Creston, just above the U.S.-Canada border. The area contains thick
forests, alpine meadows and pristine mountain lakes.
In a study several years ago, the Valhalla Wilderness Society identified a
55,000-hectare section of private forest land in the area as being "the best of
the last wilderness" available anywhere in Southern B.C.
"This must be what they got. The Nature Conservancy was negotiating for it.
That's a big chunk of land and it's very important for mountain caribou," said a
source involved with mountain caribou studies.
B.C. has virtually the world's entire population of mountain caribou, a
subspecies of the more widespread woodland caribou, and numbers have been
Mountain caribou, which are dependent on old-growth forests, have declined by
about 25 per cent since 1992, to 1,900 animals. Historically, there were about
A series of studies in B.C. have identified the fragmentation of habitat as one
of the biggest threats to mountain caribou.
"There appears little time left to act before options for mountain caribou
conservation are ultimately forfeited," the B.C. Forest Practices Board stated
in a 2004 report. "Current science suggests that if older forests continue to be
fragmented and mountain caribou continue to be lost to predators, the final
opportunity to restore mountain caribou populations in the province will soon be
The provincial government has begun an initiative to save mountain caribou,
using a variety of approaches, from halting logging in some areas to killing
predators and moving caribou from one herd to another to enhance breeding
But critics have said the plan - which also put nearly 400,000 hectares of
forest off limits to logging and road building - would fail because the areas
set aside weren't adequately linked, leaving islands of old growth surrounded by
areas with logging and roads.