Caribou

BC drills on protected lands

With the Caribou listed as vulnerable to extinction on the ICUN Red list, (International Union for Conservation of Nature); and BC having signed a Caribou conservation agreement with Ottawa, it is disappointing that a study has uncovered public funds being siphoned off for oil industry drilling—on land needed for Caribou.

Especially when four of thirteen herds of Woodland or Southern Mountain Caribou no longer exist in BC. The thirteen remaining herds are also threatened.

The lands protected under Section 11 of the BC conservation agreement with the Canadian federal government are being drilled. Andriana DiSilvestro, of the University of British Columbia, has shown that over half of approximately 3,000 active oil and gas wells in BC, are on lands needed by the caribou, the CBC reports.

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In the last three years, public funds have been received by companies drilling on caribou land. These monies include a $2.8 million per well research subsidy–the Deep Well Royalty Program.

Caribou threatened

Of the approximately 1.8 million Caribou that were living in Canada in the mid 1990s, only 800,000 are thought to have been left by 2016. Canadian Geographic was told by Chris Johnson, co-chair of COSEWIC, that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife has been concerned about the plight of the Caribou in Canada, for quite some time: “We’ve been ringing the alarm [bell] for years.”

In Alberta, resource extraction industries are also causing loss and fragmentation of critical caribou habitat. In the Maritimes, the Caribou has been extinct since about 1920.

BC drills on protected lands

Climate change

Climate change has also been a torment to Caribou. Mining on Caribou calving grounds, larger swarms of biting flies, and the increasing numbers of ice storms that make food inaccessible to animals, and lead to starvation, have harmed herds. Old-growth forests, the Caribou’s native habitat, are also disappearing. Caribou are called reindeer in Europe, and over 80,000 died of starvation after freezing rain events, in November 2016 in Russia.

In order to avoid predators like wolves, coyotes, lynx, cougars, and bears, who can hunt more easily in new-growth forests, Caribous survive by avoiding them and sticking to old-growth forests. Lichen found on old trees is a plant that can constitute 70 percent of the Caribou diet.

Deer, the favorite food of many predators, is often found in new-growth forests and lures carnivores in. And although deer carry brainworm disease, they are partially resistant. For Caribou, however, it is fatal.  Loss of habitat and other stressors have been seen to reduce birth and calf survival rates in Caribou.

Characteristics

BC drills on protected lands

To dig for food in the snow, Caribou use their front two moon-shaped toes. They have four toes on each hoof, and the back two are considered dewclaws. In the winter the skin between the toes hardens to stave off the cold, while they are thick and fleshy in the summer.

Caribou are up to 60 inches (150 cm) tall, and adults are approximately 65 to 80 inches (160-215 cm). They weigh up to 400 lbs (180 cm), and the largest males can be 700 lbs (315 kg).

In the Arctic, it has been observed, that reindeer (caribou) eye colors can change in winter. In summer they are gold, and blue in winter.

After mating in late September, October or early November, females travel to isolated tundra, peatland, lakeshores, or islands in lakes, to give birth to a single calf about 230 days later. Caribou newborns weigh about 13 lbs (6 kg), and are weaned and become independent, the following autumn. The day after they are born, babies can run over 25 miles per hour, (40 kph).

Females mate once they reach one to three years. Females can live to be 17 years old, while males, on average live to be 13.

Sources

Caribou are vanishing at an alarming rate. Is it too late to save them? Canadian Geographic Enterprises. (2021, September 3, 2021).  https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/caribou-are-vanishing-alarming-rate-it-too-late-save-them

B.C. subsidizes energy drilling on caribou habitat it promised to protect. CBC/Radio-Canada. (2021, October 1). https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/caribou-study-1.6196016

Reindeer. Wikipedia. (2021, September 27). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reindeer

Barren-Ground Caribou. WWF-Canada. (2020); https://wwf.ca/species/caribou/

How will climate change affect Arctic caribou and reindeer? Academic Journal Society. (2017, November 30) https://theconversation.com/how-will-climate-change-affect-arctic-caribou-and-reindeer-86886

Caribou. Alberta Wilderness Association.  (2021, September 2). https://albertawilderness.ca/issues/wildlife/caribou/

Woodland Caribou. Nature Canada. (2021). https://naturecanada.ca/discover-nature/endangered-species/woodland-caribou/

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