TREATY 8 TERRITORY
West Moberly and Saulteau Nations Lead Innovative Maternity Pen Project in BC's North
TREATY 8 TERRITORY, April 10, 2014 /CNW/ - The northern First Nations communities of West Moberly and Saulteau have partnered with industry and the BC Government to create a unique maternity pen project as an immediate step to slow the critical decline of the Klinse-Za caribou herd. A first in northern BC, the goal of the program is to protect vulnerable pregnant caribou and their newborn calves from predators during this most critical time.
Ten females, all of which were tested to confirm pregnancy, were gathered in late March and enclosed in a protective, screened, four-hectare area within their natural calving range. The now secured caribou will be fed and watched over around the clock by members of the West Moberly and Saulteau communities, and the project team, including wildlife biologists, who have set up a temporary camp near the pen site. This protective area will allow calves to be born, whelped and develop the ability to flee from predators, before they are released back onto the range in July.
Caribou populations in this region of BC are listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act and are blue-listed (threatened) in BC. Caribou numbers in the Klinse-Za herd have dropped to under 20 animals, mostly due to calf mortality rates due to increased predator presence.
"Caribou were once in such abundance in BC's north that our elders referred to them as seeming like "bugs on the landscape" but with the industrialization of the land and an increase in predators, this valuable animal has been declining at an alarming rate," said Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nation. "We thought it was important as a community to show leadership not only through our self-imposed moratorium on caribou hunting and commitment to species at risk plan, but to take immediate action through this project to ensure we don't lose this animal in our region forever."
Saulteau Lands Director, Naomi Owens agrees. "Caribou are not only part of our identity as First Nations, but is also a strong symbol of Canada for all us and an indication of the overall health of our ecosystems. It became evident to us, with numbers dropping at such a rapid rate, that something was critically out of balance. We were compelled to intervene to ensure the next generation of caribou has a fighting chance."
The initiative is relying on technical guidance and operational efforts from partners around the region, particularly West Fraser Mills Ltd. and Wildlife Infometrics Inc. Financial assistance is being provided by Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations of the Province of BC, as well as support from community groups and local industry. The team has committed to a multi-year program to ensure success in the rejuvenation of Klinse-Za herd numbers. Longer-term program goals include the rehabilitation and reestablishment of critical caribou habitat.
"We have an obligation to do whatever we can to reverse the impact to the Klinse-Za herd and we are grateful to have the shared support of many in the region," added Chief Willson. "Our hope is that we see caribou numbers steadily increase with our stewardship.
Background on Klinse-Za Caribou Herd Maternity Pen Project in Northern BC
• Purpose of the project is to protect pregnant caribou cows and calves from various predators in the region during calving season. Cows are at risk while delivering calves and newborns are at risk during the first few weeks of life while they are nursing.
• Ten caribou cows, all of which were tested to confirm pregnancy, were gathered in late March by the project team - including veterinarians - and the group was captured, sedated and transported by helicopter to the pen site. The cows were radio collared and moved by snowmobile to a screened, four hectare, penned clearing area in the natural calving grounds.
• The pen is protected by an additional electric fence along the perimeter and is monitored by the project team who have set up walled camp adjacent to the pen area. Signage has been placed around the pens to ensure noise and access is restricted.
• Caribou cows will be fed lichen from the area as well as supplemented with pellet feed in troughs twice daily during the penning period.
• Caribou cows are expected to give birth in May to calves and group will remain in the pen during the nursing and weaning period to allow calves to gain strength before release back into the range area.
• Caribou have adapted well to the pen area, are active and eating lichen and pellets.
• Both cows and calves expected to be released in July.
• Project funding and in-kind support has been provided by:
◦ West Moberly First Nation and membership
◦ Saulteau First Nation and membership
◦ West Fraser Mills Ltd.
◦ Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Province of BC
◦ Spectra Energy
◦ Walter Energy