The Upper Clearwater Referral Group calls upon the B.C. government to establish a moratorium on industrial logging adjacent to of southern Wells Gray Park until such time as its Mountain Caribou herds show definite signs of recovery. At a minimum, the moratorium area should correspond to lands mapped as ‘critical habitat’ on page 87 of the report, Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population.
The Plight of the Mountain Caribou
In general terms the plight of Wells Gray’s Mountain Caribou can be attributed to a simple chain of cause and effect. Briefly: (1) intense industrial-scale logging immediately outside the park creates great expanses of young sapling forests; (2) young sapling forest provide food for enhanced populations of moose and deer; (3) enhanced populations of moose and deer support enhanced populations of cougar and especially wolves; (4) enhanced populations of cougar and especially wolves sooner or later learn to hunt the park’s Mountain Caribou, especially during calving; (5) the park’s Mountain Caribou numbers decline.
It is in the nature of the wolf to prey upon the deer, including the reindeer and, indeed, the Mountain Caribou. But too many clearcuts crowded close to Wells Gray mean too many wolves and, now, too few caribou. Either we learn to accommodate wilderness values such as the Mountain Caribou by thinking outside the box framed by park borders, or Canada – and the world – is destined soon to lose its most iconic symbol of Canadianmountain wilderness. No amount of poisoning wolves, sterilizing wolves or gunning wolves down from low-flying aircraft can change that. Photo by Mocbuy at wikipedia.
Intense clearcut logging has been going on near southern Wells Gray since the early 70s and, beginning about 2002, has triggered a decline in the park’s Mountain Caribou herds. This decline is still on-going and has reduced the total population by about two-thirds, that is, from about 325 animals to about 120 animals today.
Extensive industrial-scale logging on the Trophy Mountains during the 1980s appears to have triggered, in the late 90s, a retreat from this area by Wells Gray’s Mountain Caribou, which no longer use it as winter habitat – notwithstanding that the decision to add the Trophy Mountains to the park in 1996 was in large part justified on this account.
Since the early 1990s, most logging in the vicinity of southern Wells Gray Park has taken place at middle forested elevations outside the Clearwater Valley. The situation changed, however, in January 2016, when clearcuts began to spread across its western slopes, now covering an area of many hundreds of hectares. More recently still, on the slopes opposite, MoF awarded CANFOR the first of ten proposed cutting permits.
This recent and on-going burst of logging activity within the Clearwater Valley will likely prove disastrous for southern Wells Gray’s caribou herds already stressed and in record low numbers. Why? Because the Upper Clearwater Valley provides locally unsurpassed winter range for deer and moose, hence a favoured winter haunt of cougar and wolves. To create, through logging, large expanses of young sapling forests in this area is in effect to contribute to a perfect predator storm for Wells Gray’s Mountain Caribou.
What is particularly egregious about this recent logging activity is that all of it is taking place in portions of the Clearwater Valley that in 2014 were formally designated as Critical Habitat for Caribou under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). If for this reason alone, these cutblocks should never have been put up to bid by B.C. Timber Sales nor been approved by MoF. Yet they were approved by government officials fully aware of the cumulative impacts of industrial-scale logging on Wells Gray’s Mountain Caribou herds.
There is another reason why stressing southern Wells Gray’s Mountain Caribou at this time is short-sighted. Quite simply, this is because these herds are likely set to undergo a degree of spontaneous recovery. Why? About 90,000 ha of low- and mid-elevation forestlands burned early in the 20th century now support mid-seral forests that will soon begin the long transition to oldgrowth. As this process continues, the Clearwater Valley – most of it already protected in Wells Gray – will become progressively less productive for moose and hence also for the wolves that predate upon them. With less predation and increased access to oldgrowth at valley-elevations, the caribou in adjacent, upland portions of southern Wells Gray could conceivably start to rebuild. Be that as it may, it is fair to say that this situation is unique – that nowhere else within the range of the southern Mountain Caribou is forest structure at this time becoming increasingly favourable to these animals.
At time of writing, CANFOR is preparing to log substantial portions of the Upper Clearwater Valley immediately adjacent to Wells Gray. If this logging proceeds it will, as noted, inevitably cause an increase in predator density and hence further alienate the park’s caribou from a critical portion of their winter range. The destruction of critical caribou habitat here will jeopardize their survival at a time when these animals may otherwise, on the contrary, begin to recover.
In light of on-going industrialization of southern interior British Columbia, it seems inevitable that the vast protected area encompassed by Wells Gray Park and, to the north, Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park, must sooner or later become a final reserve for the southern Mountain Caribou: their last stand – an assertion that helps to place CANFOR’s proposed logging plans – and MoF’s ongoing endorsement of them – into proper perspective.
For all of these reasons the Upper Clearwater Referral Group now calls upon the B.C. government to establish a moratorium on industrial logging adjacent to southern Wells Gray Park until such time as its Mountain Caribou herds show definite signs of recovery. At a minimum, the moratorium area should correspond to lands mapped as ‘critical habitat’ on page 87 of the report, Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population.
Anatomy of a Moratorium. No further industrial logging should be permitted in the Clearwater Valley north of Spahats Creek. The moratorium area covers about 10,000 ha, and is divisible into nine units (A through J), each representing a unique constellation of values (1 through 9). The base of the red arrows mark key viewpoints. (Note: click map to enlarge.)
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