… logging in caribou habitat will reduce caribou numbers; and the more logging that occurs, the fewer will be the caribou that remain.BC Ministry of Environment (1981)
Deep-Snow Caribou are among the most studied ungulate in Canada – studied to death you might say. So much is known about their conservation needs – most of it already in place 60 years ago – that the link between habitat loss and caribou decline should come as a surprise to no one.
Unwittingly, these caribou find themselves standing in the way of our society’s cult of more – a cult grounded in the same boom-and-bust mentality that emptied the plains of bison and underwrote the genocide of North America’s indigenous peoples. It’s also the same cult – corporate profit-at-any-cost – that hollowed out small communities once the fur, gold, fish, coal or trees were gone, and continues to hollow them out now that the oldgrowth forests needed by Deep-Snow Caribou for survival are going, going, gone.
Deep-Snow Caribou are canaries in the clearcut. Their fate runs in tandem with the fate of timber-based communities within their range. The current downward trajectory of the one bespeaks unsustainable “resource extraction” – foretelling a downward trajectory in the economic resilience of the other. Indeed, the mills have already closed in many communities and the corporations have walked away, blaming an inadequate supply of the timber they cut too greedily.
The BC government under John Horgan knows all this, and so does the Canadian federal government under Justin Trudeau. Government advisors at every level know that Deep-Snow Caribou herds are blinking out. They know that the ultimate cause is habitat loss – or, closer up, their own environmental policies. They know too that, absent habitat protection, they might as well shoot the caribou and leave the wolves, cougar, bear, moose and deer alone. Above all, they know that deliberate extinction absolutely should not be playing out on their watch. And in Canada of all places.
The Caribou Prophecy
This brings us to the Caribou Prophecy. The Caribou Prophecy prophesies that what happens to Deep-Snow Caribou today will happen to our children tomorrow: that to the extent we fail the one, to that extent we fail the other – and not in some abstract boogeyman way, but literally.
With increasing technological power must come increasing responsibility to use that power wisely. Wise use of technological power does not push species to oblivion, nor does it blight the future of its young people. The gestures of caring now so urgently needed by Deep-Snow Caribou are precisely the gestures of caring now urgently needed by those who are to come after us. Caribou stand closer to the brink, is all.
Deliberate extinction stands in approximately the same relation to the well-being of the living world as genocide stands in relation to the well being of democratic values. To put this in biblical terms, the Caribou Prophecy prophesies that the sins of the parents – carbon emissions in particular – will be visited onto their children to the third or fourth generation. Actually, this is wishful thinking. Climate change seems set to plague humanity to the thirtieth or fortieth generation.
If even the Catholic Church, in the person of Pope Francis, can admit to its sins of indifference toward the living earth – sins going back two thousand years – then certainly Canada’s provincial and federal governments can do the same. Or even if they can’t – politics being what it is – then surely the rest of us can.
It’s what Greta Thunberg would do.
Caribou, like other forms of life, are training ground for caring about the living world that sustains us. It is the responsibility of each succeeding human generation to reaffirm that caring. This is the gift of Deep-Snow Caribou decline. By the very fact of their teetering existence, these animals challenge us to do better. When we take up that challenge, we work for a better future for all.