Last week we carried a story by Aaron Orlando of the Revelstoke Times-Review about how 10 caribou cows and two yearlings, nine of them pregnant, have been captured and are being held in a large corral near Revelstoke until their calves are born and old enough to avoid predators.
It was a good news story that saw a variety of groups that otherwise are often at loggerheads working together towards a common goal.
This week we carry another news story that tells how two First Nations bands near Chetwynd are conducting a similar caribou capture and release program to reduce predation of young.
The two projects are attempts to reverse the decline in caribou numbers that is occurring across their ranges.
That decline is occurring locally as well. According to a news article last year, the southern Wells Gray caribou herd has declined from 325 animals a decade ago to about 200 today.
There is much debate over what factors are causing that decline. There does seem to be agreement, however, that one of those factors, and an important one, has been predation of newly born caribou.
A pilot project in the Yukon that ran from 2003 until 2005 found that calves delivered in a guarded enclosure had a 95 per cent initial survival rate. This compares to just 33 per cent for calves born in the wild.
After some delay last year, construction of Thompson Rivers University’s new education and research center for Wells Gray Park is going ahead this year.
A caribou capture and release program similar to the ones near Revelstoke and Chetwynd would be something that university researchers at the center could work together on with local forest companies, First Nations and environmentalists.
Such a program would not solve the caribou problem all by itself. It would be a step in the right direction, however. And it might help develop the communication channels needed to find a solution for the more difficult land use issues that will also need to be part of the solution.
There is a precedent of sorts. During the 1950s researchers such as Ralph Ritcey used a large corral in Upper Clearwater to capture and tag moose.
The proposed caribou corral would be larger, be located in a more isolated site, and would hold the animals for a longer time – but the principles are the same.
Reindeer herders in northern Europe and Asia raise thousands of reindeer and protect them from predators.
A capture and release program in support of the southern Wells Gray caribou herd would be a minimal interference in natural processes that could have a maximal beneficial effect.
And it would be an obvious first major project for the TRU Wilderness Center.