Trent Ernst, Editor
In an effort to increase the caribou populations, local First Nations released ten caribou cows and nine calves into the mountains above the Pine Pass on Monday, July 7.
About 50 people, representing First Nations, local businesses and the Peace Northern Caribou Committee (PNCC) attended the first release, part of a Klinse-Za maternal penning project coordinated by West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations in partnership with the technical and operational expertise of Wildlife Infometrics Inc. and West Fraser Mills Ltd..
Opening prayers were by Saulteau First Nations Elder Jack Davis and West Moberly First Nations Councillor Laura Webb, before the gathered crowd took their positions to observe and gently usher the ten cows and nine calves out a 4 ha enclosure into the mountains from which they came.
The project was an emergency measure recommended for the Klinse-Za caribou herd in a recovery action plan developed by West Moberly First Nations. Following an extensive amount of planning, efforts were initiated in March of 2014 with the construction of the pen that would house the ten cows, which were transported from the Klinse-Za and Scott herds.
The purpose of the penning was to protect pregnant cows and their young from excessive predation during calving season. By implementing the project, the First Nations partners are taking steps to avert extirpation of the Klinse-Za herd and demonstrating the viability of maternal penning to help bolster other vulnerable caribou populations in the South Peace region of Northeastern BC. A great deal of support was provided to the project by the Province of BC, Environment Canada, Resources North Association, Spectra Energy, Teck Resources Ltd., TransCanada Corp., AngloAmerican and Walter Energy.
The Klinse-Za herd, which was described as “a sea of caribou” before the building of the W.A.C. Bennett dam was built, creating the Williston Reservoir and blocking a key caribou migration route, is down to only 23 caribou.
The Klinse-Za Maternal Penning project is being heralded as a resounding success by everyone that was involved. West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson shared his thoughts on the project, “It is a very sad state of affairs that we are in a place where we have to intervene in order to ensure the survival of these animals. It is very exciting that we are here and able to help. We have taken an endangered herd and added nine new calves. For that we are very grateful. Thank you to all those who have helped. Now hopefully these little ones will make it to adulthood”.
Saulteau First Nations Council added a collective statement regarding the long-term benefits of the initiative, “Considering the cumulative impacts on our land and treaty rights, this project is essential in protecting our ability to practice our way of life. Historically, caribou played a big role in our First Nations health and survival. Our people are working together in unity to protect these caribou so they are no longer an endangered animal. It is our inherent right as First Nations to protect the land for the future generations to come. We are honored to be part of the project and thank everyone for their hard work.”
Plans are already underway for next season’s edition of the project, as Technical Team member Brian Pate elaborates, “We will be monitoring the released caribou over the next year to help assess the ultimate success of the project. Also, with the demonstrated success that we have had thus far, we are embarking on a larger 5-year strategy of maternal penning, predator management and habitat restoration which we hope will work towards building self-sustaining populations of caribou throughout the South Peace.”