Southern Mountain Caribou protection assessment


Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population

The Southern Mountain Caribou (SMC) is a member of the deer family that requires large, relatively undisturbed area to range. SMC are found in the southern two-thirds of British Columbia (B.C.) and in western Alberta. Most sub-populations have experienced long term declines. Half are estimated at fewer than 50 individuals and four sub-populations have been extirpated. SMC have limited ability to recover from rapid, severe population declines because of their biology. Population decline has been mainly attributed to changes in their habitat from both human and natural sources. Habitat changes have also caused an increase in predators, which is the most immediate cause of declines. Threats to the caribou are closely related and act together to negatively impact SMC and their habitat. However, recovery is still considered to be technically and biologically possible.

SMC are listed as ‘threatened’ under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). The SMC Recovery Strategy was posted in 2014 and led by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). ECCC worked in collaboration with the Parks Canada Agency and the provinces of B.C. and Alberta, which lead recovery on non-federal lands. The SMC Recovery Strategy identifies what is required to stabilize and eventually increase the population. Actions include protections for individuals of the species such as predator management or using maternity pens, as well as regulations to protect their habitat and manage activities on the landscape.

A 2014 assessment of the status of SMC by independent scientists and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) identified that select herds of this species are increasingly at risk of disappearing, including some whose range is close to existing and proposed economic development projects.

The protection assessment process

The federal and provincial governments have committed to preserving biodiversity and protecting and recovering Canada’s species at risk in the national Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Some provinces, including B.C., also have individual agreements with the federal government on SARA.

ECCC is currently working with the Province of British Columbia on a study to review the regulations in place for the protection of SMC to assist recovery. The study will be based on population and habitat objectives as described in the recovery strategy. A final report on the study is expected to be delivered within six months. The purpose of this study is to inform a federal Critical Habitat Protection Assessment under SARA.

Once completed, the protection assessment will improve understanding of what actions need to be taken by governments to protect and recover the species. It will also help in assessing the effects of industrial activities on the survival and recovery of the species. While not a formal part of the protection assessment, available and emerging science on caribou biology, their habitat needs and threats to the species will continue to inform future recovery planning and actions. Before concluding the assessment, ECCC will consult with provincial and local governments, other federal departments, Indigenous peoples and relevant stakeholders, as appropriate.

Map Southern Mountain Caribou local populations (LPUs) and subpopulations distribution.

The Southern Mountain National Ecological Area extends from the interior of British Columbia to the easternmost part of Alberta. In this area, Southern Mountain Caribou are designated into three Groups – Northern, Central, and Southern – which are comprised of local population units. The Southern Group is distributed in clusters from just south of the Canada-U.S. border to the area surrounding Prince George. The local population units include: Hart Ranges, Upper Fraser, Mount Robson, Quesnel Highlands, Wells Gray-Thompson, Revelstoke-Shuswap, Kinbasket, South Monashee, Central Kootenay, Southwest Kootenay, and Southeast Kootenay. The Central Group is distributed from the southern end of Jasper and Banff National Parks to the area surrounding Mackenzie. The Central Group consists of the Pine River, Quintette, Narraway, Redrock/Prarie Creek, A La Peche, and Jasper/Banff local population units. The Northern Group is distributed in a noncontinuous manner from the area west of Williams Lake to as far north as Prophet River. The Northern Group local population units are: Chilcotin, Tweedsmuir, Telkwa, Takla, Wolverine, Chase, and Graham.

Many of these subpopulations have trace occurences of caribou around the periphery of their local population units. The historic distribution of Southern Mountain Caribou covered most of the interior of the province of British Columbia. Additionally, north of the Northern Group begins the range of the Boreal Population/Northern Mountain Population. There are recently extirpated population units in the Southeast Kootenay, Upper Fraser, and Banff areas.

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