Mountain Caribou by Any Other Name

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The Federal government and the BC provincial government classify mountain caribou differently. Taken together, their two classification systems have caused endless confusion. Unfortunately, most of your readers will likely never get their heads around the intricacies involved, but it‘s critically important that you do.

Starting at the “population” level, the feds classify mountain caribou into two populations, which they refer to as “northern” and “southern” (xxx first attachment). The northern Mountain Caribou extend southwards only to about xxx N, whereas the southern Mountain Caribou continue southwards to the Kootenays.

The Southern Mountain Caribou population is divided into three “subpopulations” (xxx second attachment), which the feds call the Northern Southern Mountain Caribou, the Central Southern Mountain Caribou, and the Southern Southern Mountain Caribou.

In this classification, the Hart herd belongs to the Southern Southern Mountain Caribou subpopulation, and so do the Kinbasket and South Monashee herds. These caribou live in regions where winter snows are too deep to paw through, forcing them to rely on arboreal lichens (which in turn need old forests); hence “deep-snow mountain caribou” or “deep-snow caribou”. By contrast, the Narraway and the Quintette herds belong to the Central Southern Mountain Caribou which, like the Northern Southern Mountain Caribou live in regions where the winter snow is sufficiently shallow to allow them to paw for ground vegetation, mostly ground-dwelling lichens. Accordingly, I like to refer to these two subpopulations as “shallow-snow mountain caribou.” Among these three subpopulations, the southern southern caribou is the odd one out, as it alone is entirely dependent on oldgrowth forests for winter food. From this you can see that the Narwhal story mixes apples and oranges when it says “Those herds, found mainly along the province’s eastern border, include the Quintette, Kinbasket, Narraway and South Monashee populations.” Again, two of these are deep-snow caribou, and two are shallow-snow caribou.

The federal system subdivides further, as you can see in (xxx the second attachment). Thus, the Southern Southern Mountain Caribou contains 11 “Local Population Units, i.e., 14-24 in (xxx the second attachment). Most of these LPUs contain (in the BC provincial system) one or more “herds,” noted in bright yellow. In many cases the names of these herds are equivalent to “subpopulations” the BC provincial classification system. Given, however, the different use of the term “subpopulation” in the federal and provincial systems, I prefer to call them “herds.” For your convenience, I’m resending (fig. 3) my summary of the 18 herds currently recognized by the BC government, together with their past and current population estimates.

Figure 3. (A) Hart Ranges; (B) George Mtn (extirpated); (C) Narrow Lake; (D) North Cariboo Mtn; (E) Barkerville; (F) Quesnel Highlands; (G) Wells Gray South; (H) Groundhog; (I) Columbia North; (J) Central Rockies/Kinbasket (extirpated); (K) Columbia South (functionally extirpated: 4); (L) Frisby-Boulder (extirpated); (M) Monashee (extirpated); (N) Duncan (extirpated); (O) Central Selkirks/Nakusp [25 fide Anne xxx]; (P) Purcells-Central (extirpated); (Q) Purcells-South (extirpated); and (R) South Selkirks (extirpated).

In her May 2019 imminent threat assessment, McKenna identified five Local Population Units as being in imminent threat of extirpation, i.e., Central Kootenay (= Nakusp and Duncan), Southwest Kootenay (= South Selkirks), Southeast Kootenay (= Purcells Central and Purcells South), Kinbasket (= Central Rockies), South Monashee (= Monashee). This comes to seven herds.

Returning to the question of how many Deep-snow caribou herds were determined to be at risk of extinction, the number is seven, as listed in the fourth and final attachment (YES in column E). Of these six no longer exist, some having become extirpated during the two years it took for McKenna made her determination, and some since then. Notice that some herds that should have been included were “missed”. Overall, an appallingly shoddy application of Section 80.

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