Course:CONS200/Caribou, Logging, Wolves and Corporate Donors in British Columbia, Canada
|This conservation resource was created by Ira Hudgin; Natalie Maslowski; Riley McDonnell; Karlee Orvis. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.|
Caribou populations in British Columbia are declining and facing endangerment due to habitat alteration caused by logging operations and other human activities. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) exist primarily in British Columbia as woodland caribou. They are further classified into ecotypes and defined by behavior and location, such as the southern mountain caribou, northern mountain caribou, and boreal caribou that are found in unique ranges. All ecotypes of caribou that occupy areas of British Columbia are listed under the Species at Risk Public Registry as either threatened, endangered, or of special concern. Efforts by independent conservation groups, government environment committees, and collaboration between the government and First Nations communities are being set in motion to aid against the endangerment of caribou in British Columbia.
Economic growth and consequent increasing consumption of wood material over the last century in B.C has increased logging activity to meet these demands. The environmental alteration carried out by logging activity in regions such as the Quesnel highlands has had a large ecological effect. This response includes the increase of moose populations while in relation, increasing wolf predation of prey species such as moose and caribou . The increase of wolf predation due to the increase in the availability of moose, has negatively affected the continuity of caribou who compete with moose for similar resources. Other human activities, such as recreational uses of public land that overlap areas of caribou refuge, have driven caribou to other areas where they are susceptible to predation. It is estimated that over the past twenty years caribou populations have dropped by twenty-seven percent.
As industries continue to be given priority over effective conservation of the woodland caribou in British Columbia, the caribou will see a further reduction in habitat, and recovery efforts in the future may require even more extensive measures. Future ecological effects to forest ecosystems brought about by the loss of caribou are not yet clear, however caribou in B.C hold cultural significance to First Nations communities. Both the provincial and federal governments should focus towards preserving biodiversity by taking effective action to improve caribou population numbers.
Changes to Government Policies and Corporate Donors
Since 2005, various large corporations having donated millions to the BC Liberals campaign. Some of the top corporate donors include the forestry company West Fraser, with a donation of $990,320, and Canfor, donating $852,566. When questioned, the top corporate donors deny any specific exchange of favors for their donations, explaining that their donations to these political parties are there to support the party of whom best supports their own philosophies on economic and social affairs. Once the BC Liberals were elected into government, many policy changes occurred which reduced government involvement in the forestry industry, forest management and protection. The liberals produced the Forest and Range Practices Act, which enabled logging companies to regulate their own sustainable practices and logging activity as long as it followed general governmental objectives. These policy changes produced an extensive negative impact on BC forests, one of which were the devastatingly large clear cuts of wildlife forest ecosystems in Wells Grey Park, an important caribou habitat. In 2008, the BC Liberals implemented the Mountain Caribou Recovery Plan as a response to declining caribou populations, and then in 2009 announced that they were enforcing further protection in various habitats from logging and road building. However in 2015, despite mountain caribou's designation under Species At Risk Act (SARA) as endangered, the BC government granted industrial logging permits to corporations such as Canfor to harvest timber in critical caribou recovery areas, effectively reducing caribou habitat. Not only is the government permitting extensive logging in caribou habitat, but also clear cutting matrix areas which are adjacent to critical habitats. The extensive clear cutting and logging by these major forestry companies are contributing extensively to caribou endangerment.
In 2015 as a further response to caribou population decline and possible extinction, the BC government implemented the wolf culling program as a means to help increase caribou populations by reducing caribou predatory species such as wolves, despite research that habitat loss is the main contributing factor to caribou population decline and that wolf culling will not have purposeful long term beneficial effects for caribou populations. These wolf culls can be deemed as unethical, as it is conducted via aerial elimination, and a purely experimental approach to caribou conservation. Wolf culls have no scientific support in their effective positive effects on caribou numbers. It can be perceived that since the cull is experimentally based and heavily supported by the timber industry, “the wolf cull is little more than a transparent attempt by the government to appear to be doing something to save caribou, while avoiding the true heavy-lifting needed to adequately protect and restore caribou habitat". 
British Columbia forest ecosystems suffer many disturbances from logging. This logging affects interaction between predators and prey among different forest habitats. Mountain caribou in British Columbia are one of the most strongly affected species by human disturbance. Thus, now a threatened species. Caribou compete with moose for similar nutritional resources. Due to the increase in logging of timber harvested conifers, shrubs and deciduous trees have more opportunity to increase their distributions. This is a key food resource for moose, and it increases moose population in these disturbed forest ecosystems. This directly relates to wolf populations because wolf prey upon both caribou and moose, therefore with a greater the abundance of moose, wolf predation upon both these species will increase and further threaten caribou populations. Forestry companies which harvest timber and clear cut old-growth forests directly affect caribou populations, which prefer undisturbed old growth forests for food and shelter. Increased logging has enormously changed the landscape composition of numerous caribou recovery areas. This has forced caribou populations into different forest habitats and patches, where wolves prefer to roam increasing their interaction. In these human disturbed ecosystems, not only is caribou habitat change increasing caribou interaction with wolves, but so are the increased distribution and quantity of logging roads and clear cut patches. These changes in forestry landscape offer more efficient travel for wolves between different parts of the land, giving wolves an advantage to hunting the caribou who also inhabit the area. "Under natural conditions," Roessingh says, "wolves prefer other prey, and caribou maintain spatial separation from wolves. But when wolves have access to caribou, they take them opportunistically." Not only are caribou experiencing increased predation by wolves due to their increased accessibility, but increased competition between caribou and moose for shared resources are also contributing to the decrease in caribou populations. 
Actors Involved with Current Caribou Conservation
Federal and Provincial Government Involvement
The Canadian government has gotten involved on a federal level in this conflict with the implementation of the mountain caribou into the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The federal government specifies the need for caribou protection and species recovery, and determines to obtain it by designating protection of critical caribou habitat and incorporating the First Nations directly into conservation methods. This approach is effective because it allows the First Nations to be involved in co-management processes and reduces the economic negative impact of conservation on the government.
The draft of the SARA conservation agreement also indicates the necessary inclusion of stakeholders in conservation decisions and practices. Similarly to the provincial government, the federal government environmental sector involves a significant amount of funding and involvement from conflicting stakeholders and corporations such as the timber industries and tourism industries that may hinder the implementation of habitat protection.
The British Columbia timber industry has arguably the most influence over mountain caribou conservation, due to its direct ties with governing bodies. This prompts responses from the Wilderness Committee that asks if “we [are] having the B.C. government write recovery strategies for species at risk, or are we having logging companies writing recovery strategies for species at risk". The Council of Forest Industries is representative of British Columbia forestry companies as a whole, and are most likely to support the conservation options that do not limit operations, such as wolf culls.
While wolf culls are considered unethical and unnecessary, many environmental groups were consulted before its implementation and they are seen as a last resort to habitat protection. In addition to this wolf cull, 2.2 million hectares of critical caribou habitat were set aside for protection.
Although amounts of habitat are being set aside solely for the protection and revival of British Columbia mountain caribou populations, the timber industry is still seeing positive gains since the wolf culls are still the prevalent conservation method. These wolf culls do not take up valuable timber from the logging industry and may serve to keep the government from the restriction of additional valuable land from the collection of timber resources. Furthermore, the inclusion of the timber industry in the actions of the provincial government provides opportunity to shield their industry and prevent negative legislation against them in the future.
Conservation Alliances and Environmental Groups
The environmental and conservation groups involved, including Valhalla Wilderness Society and Wildsight, have been pushing for greater protection of mountain caribou habitat and reduced predator culls. In 2006, nineteen of these environmental groups were part of a submission to the federal government Species At Risk office that declared the mountain caribou in a state of emergency. Resulting from this desperation of the mountain caribou, the main pursuits of these organizations and groups include restrictions on motor vehicles such as snowmobiles, full protection of old growth forests occupied by the endangered caribou, and regrowth strategies for the lost forests. They have been in courts pressing the government to align with previous habitat protection guidelines, as well as draft new agreements.. As more land is set aside for protection from logging and tourism/recreational activities, the conservation groups will achieve their goals of protecting critical caribou habitats. Their petitions have moved forward significant habitat legislation that would have otherwise not been done. The designation of protected areas and inclusion of mountain caribou with the Species at Risk can be largely attributed to the efforts made by environmental groups. Because both the provincial and federal governments are increasingly taking ideas from environmental groups, their organizations and actions are positively influenced by government actions.
First Nations Tribes
The First Nations tribes in the interior of British Columbia, such as the West Moberly and Saulteau tribes, have been stepping up to take extensive action regarding the decline in the mountain caribou populations . The tribes have utilized caribou as a food source for thousands of years, so they have been heavily involved in previously managing herds and are directly affected by their recent decline. The conservation agreement for mountain caribou is currently being revised to include First Nations, which gives them a large, positive influence over conservation efforts. The local tribes are coupling with the government to substantially grow and maintain caribou populations to sustainable levels by increased habitat protection and an idea derived from the First Nations: maternal penning. Maternal penning of female caribou and their calves allows the young to grow large enough to have a better opportunity to withstand predation by wolves and the like . The First Nations are seeing increased involvement into this issue alongside stakeholders, which benefits them and their efforts.
Tourism and Recreation Industries
Industries, such as snowmobiling and Helicat agencies, are seeing mass reductions in their amounts of usable land as it is being increasingly set aside for protected caribou habitat. For an industry that relies on access to trails and the outdoors, this is proving to be troubling. For instance, the British Columbia Snowmobile Federation is only seeing 17% of all snowmobilers involved with the organization, and the loss of one million hectares of valuable and recreational snowmobiling land . Involvement of local snowmobilers is not just a way for the organization to profit, but “it's a way to amplify the voice of snowmobilers when the province is making decisions about land access” . With the limited involvement of snowmobilers in the Snowmobile Federation, the organization will see a reduction in income. In addition, they will most likely see a further reduction in usable recreational land because the noise from the vehicles scares the caribou into areas where they are threatened.
Helicat Canada, a helicopter and snowcat skiing operation, has also seen issues with the provincial government in terms of defining the species protection plan and probable land closures . However, Helicat Canada “[works] closely with the Ministries of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Environment to ensure all operators in our organization are aware of mapped caribou habitat in their areas”, as well as donates money and land to the conservation efforts .
Possible remedial actions
Main Acting Groups
The main acting groups with the most influence are environmental groups, logging companies and the BC government. From an unbiased scientific ecological perspective illustrated by several environmental groups, the answer is simple: full protection of critical habitat and restriction of human activities to allow the caribou populations to be restored. Specifically, they advocate for restrictions on motor vehicles such as snowmobiles, full protection of old growth forests occupied by the endangered caribou, and regrowth strategies for the lost forests . These actions would rectify the issue in theory; however, in practice, economic, social, and political factors restrict their implementation. The economic perspective of corporate logging companies has one agenda: to make money. This requires an ability to harvest as much land for timber as possible. Therefore, they mainly support remedial action that doesn’t restrict their activities, such as the present wolf cull. The contrasting agendas of these actors’ preservation versus intensive use is mediated by the provincial government. The government's primary agenda on a broad scale is to meet everyone’s needs, and maintain public appeal to stay in office. The government makes a lot of promises to many groups of people and needs to make good on as many as possible, which requires significant amounts of money. Zooming in on the mountain caribou issue, the government does have environmental interests and knows allowing logging to further degrade critical habitat will lose the support of the environmentally conscious population. Unfortunately, the large financial donation that logging companies offer easily influences governments, as they rationalize that the money can go toward making good on other promises that are a greater service to the population. This causes governance to be biased and corrupt, making it difficult to make any real progress of environmental issues like the mountain caribou in British Columbia.
Supporting Acting Groups
Supporting actors, such as the recreation community and local First Nations, offer other social and cultural perspectives and concerns. The timber industry is not the only actor that wants to use the land that environmental groups advocate as critical caribou habitat. The snowmobile industry is seeing mass reduction in their amounts of usable land, as it is being increasingly set aside for caribou habitat and they are losing significant amounts of income. They are increasingly seeking involvement in organization that support their land rights. Their concerns outline the perspective that the outdoors should be available for everyone to enjoy through recreational use; however, mountain caribou populations have demised to the point that they are impeding on recreational activities. First Nations utilize the land occupied by mountain caribou for traditional purposes. They also use the caribou as a resource to their tribes, and are allowed to continue to do so since they govern themselves. Despite this, they offer a significant and viable perspective on the issue at hand: sustainable use. Indigenous people have been using the land for its resources in a sustainable manner for thousands of years and have extensive expert knowledge regarding the caribou and possible remedial action  caribou have been an integral part of their lives for thousands of years, and their populations have not degraded to the degree they are now. This symbolizes that the caribou and the First Nations people were in a relative state of equilibrium with each other, so the First Nations are knowledgeable in their management.
Collaborative Management Recommendations
The First Nations have a deep understanding of their lands and territories, and can offer insights to address the mountain caribou in British Columbia. Only recently has their expertise been recognized and have they been consulted with on conservation methods. When indigenous communities are incorporated, the results are outstanding. For instance, the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations tribes have established the most successful caribou recovery project in North America by combining traditional knowledge with scientific methods. The project increased the population of the Klinse-za herd from 16 to 70 individuals in four years. That scale of recovery is unique to their efforts. It is recommended that co-management of mountain caribou is practiced with the government and local First Nations tribes in order to achieve successful remedial action
Each acting group needs to take action to implement sustainable practices, particularly those practiced by the First Nations. First and foremost, the barriers that corporate logging donors present need to be diminished in order to make any significant progress on this issue. The government should restrict the ability of the logging industry to conduct destructive activities through limiting policies. Once corporate influence is at least reduced other acting groups should start to act. The new provincial NDP government must prioritize environmental concerns like the mountain caribou populations over corporate funding, and not allow the logging industry to influence policy of British Columbia land use. Additionally, the government needs to embrace First Nations involvement, restore broken relationships, and fight for a common cause with a co-management agreement with them and the First Nations. First Nations should embrace repairing their relationship with the government and take leadership positions to offer remedial solutions to mountain caribou decline. The government should move further away from experimental, and fairly ineffective, wolf culls and more towards critical habitat protection. Environmental groups should continue their work advocating for habitat protection policies, and would be more effective doing so with the reduced influence from the logging industry in the government and politics. The tourism and recreation industries should actively support habitat protection policies and understand that reduced deforestation activities resulting from habitat protection will allow for increased recreational activities. Additionally, the public needs to actively support environmental values and policy to influence government to perpetuate conservation of the mountain caribou in the most effective way: habitat protection. If these recommendations are implemented, the long term restoration of British Columbia mountain caribou populations will be accomplished.
Continued logging operations reducing critical caribou habitat, recreational use of land by means of snowmobiling, and subsequent wolf predation are exacerbating the decline of woodland caribou populations in British Columbia. Political intervention is needed as the energy, mining, and logging industries are the primary extractors of old growth forests, which are key to supporting woodland caribou. From 2005 to 2015, the B.C. Liberals received millions of dollars in donations from natural resource corporations, as well as the NDP. With heavyweight corporations lobbying to select governments, the party receiving the donations now has increased resources to promote their campaign and increase chances of being elected to power. If a government party is more economically oriented and establishes a platform that prioritizes industrial demands over ecological issues, then this party is likely to receive more donations as wealthy natural resource firms seek to reduce potential operation limitations. The ecological changes from logging operations has increased moose and wolf populations and which has shown to have a negative effect on woodland caribou survival in British Columbia.
Reasoning for Proposal
Removal of caribou sensitive habitat in British Columbia is due to a highly active natural resource industry with political influence that has prevented necessary logging restrictions. Ineffective, unethical counter measures such as the wolf cull were mobilized as an effort to increase caribou numbers; however, the long term effectiveness of this action is uncertain. Policy decisions involving remedial action should be independent from the economic interests of the natural resource industries and should instead seek to incorporate moral and community driven means of action. Policy decisions should be backed by scientific evidence as well as traditional ecological knowledge through involvement with indigenous groups. Adopting this philosophy on policy creation would help develop a more effective caribou population restoration plan, unhindered from the influence of natural resource corporations, allowing the establishment of necessary limitations.
In order to reduce wolf predation and habitat loss of woodland caribou, a restoration plan needs to be created as soon as possible to avoid further loss of the caribou population and potentially increased expenditures in the future. The British Columbia government should then follow these actions in order to create a more sustainable environment for caribou in B.C:
- Increase strict regulations on logging in proximity to sensitive caribou habitats such as old growth forests;
- Form a donation limit and announcement of lobbyists;
- Integrate the co-management of appropriate ecological areas with First Nations communities;
- Increase grant and subsidy provisions for research and non government organizations that are involved with caribou population restoration;
- Reduce unnecessary paper waste created by businesses to cut local demand for wood products.
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