Federal Government Takes a Crucial Step Towards Enforcing the Species at Risk Act to Save BC’s Mountain Caribou

Monday, May 7, 2018 – The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada — responding to petitions and court actions by several environmental groups and individuals — has now made a formal determination that Southern Mountain Caribou face “imminent threats to recovery”. The Southern Mountain Caribou includes a central BC group living in the South Peace region, and a southern BC group living in the Interior Wetbelt.

“The Minister’s determination has crucial legal significance,” says Calvin Sandborn of the University of Victoria Environmental Law Clinic, which assisted the Valhalla Wilderness Society in filing a petition. “Under section 80 of the Species at Risk Act, the Minister is now legally required to recommend that Cabinet issue emergency orders to protect the animals. We call on Cabinet to act immediately and issue such emergency orders – to immediately stop the logging, snowmobiling and other activities that are quickly driving these animals to extinction.”

In a summary of reasons for its determination, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) stated that “immediate intervention is required to allow for eventual recovery.” “We’re grateful for that acknowledgement,” says Craig Pettitt, a Director for the Valhalla Wilderness Society (VWS). “While we were waiting for this decision on our petition, both the South Selkirk and South Purcell herds went down to 3 and 4 animals respectively. The South Selkirk herd was the only one that crossed into the U.S.

The ECCC acknowledges that what’s wiping out the mountain caribou is habitat changes (i.e., industrial development and other human activities) which have triggered increased predation. The summary credits “population management” (predator culls) as having a positive effect on some herds, but says that what has been lacking is “the significant habitat protection or restoration measures necessary to improve the likelihood of recovery in the long term.”

VWS states: “A federal report in 2017 listed only 2 of 30 subpopulations of Southern Mountain Caribou as increasing. Almost all others were declining, including in places where predator control has been going on for 10 years or more. VWS appreciates that the ECCC has recognized that the critical action needed is habitat protection and restoration. But restoration takes up to 100 years, so it’s crucial to halt all logging in mountain caribou habitat, including recently but not currently occupied habitat.”