One of British Columbia’s most threatened wildlife species will get additional protection from predators this spring with the installation of a “maternal pen” on conservation lands owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
With fewer than a dozen individuals remaining of the South Selkirk mountain caribou, urgent interventions are required to give the herd a chance to survive.
The pen will be located high up in the Porcupine Creek drainage, east of Ymir, within the Darkwoods Conservation Area. Construction will occur later this fall. The pen will enclose about 20 acres (eight hectares) of prime caribou habitat. Cows and possibly yearlings are expected to be relocated into the pen in the spring of 2018. Public access to the area is prohibited.
The pen fencing will prevent predators from reaching the caribou at their most vulnerable. Shepherds will keep an eye on the caribou calves until they are about one month old, at which point a section of the enclosure will be opened and the caribou will be free to leave the pen area.
The penning operation is being co-ordinated by members of the Selkirk Caribou International Technical Working Group (SCITWG), in collaboration with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The SCITWG is made up of personnel from Tribal, First Nations, provincial, state, federal and local government agencies.
Maternal penning represents just one aspect of a multi-pronged caribou recovery effort already ongoing for the South Selkirk Caribou population. The idea is to increase the caribou population by improving survival rates and overall health of mothers and calves during the critical spring and early summer period. Maternal penning has helped stabilize the caribou herd near Revelstoke, and has increased the herd in the South Peace.
- The maternal pen will be made of 4.57-metre (15-foot) high, non-woven, geotextile fabric strung between trees to act as a visual and movement barrier for caribou in the pen. Electric fencing will be installed around the exterior of the fence to prevent predators from entering the pen.
- The collared caribou will be tracked throughout the year to assess survival rates. The following March and April, cows and possibly new yearlings will again be captured and relocated to the maternal pen for the next calving season. The maternal penning project will be evaluated annually to make improvements. After three years, its overall effectiveness will be assessed.
- Darkwoods was protected in 2008 by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It contains critical winter habitat for the mountain caribou, which rely on high elevation, old-growth forests for their survival.