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Tract of B.C. forest set to be saved for caribou

Source:  Copyright 2008, Globe and Mail
Date:  July 24, 2008
Byline:  Mark Hume
Original URL: Status DEAD

An endangered population of mountain caribou is expected to be the focus of an announcement today billed as "a conservation initiative of global significance," and said to involve a large tract of wilderness in southeastern British Columbia.

Environment Minister John Baird and John Lounds, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, are to attend a joint news conference at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver for the announcement, which is thought to involve more than 55,000 hectares of private forest land.

Neither the government nor officials from the Nature Conservancy would comment, but sources in the Kootenay region said they expect to hear that a huge area of private forest will be set aside.

Sources said the Nature Conservancy and the federal government have been seeking "a big chunk of land" to help protect the South Selkirk mountain caribou population, one of 12 endangered herds in B.C.

The South Selkirk population is found mostly in the mountains south of Nelson and west of Creston, just above the U.S.-Canada border. The area contains thick forests, alpine meadows and pristine mountain lakes.

In a study several years ago, the Valhalla Wilderness Society identified a 55,000-hectare section of private forest land in the area as being "the best of the last wilderness" available anywhere in Southern B.C.

"This must be what they got. The Nature Conservancy was negotiating for it. That's a big chunk of land and it's very important for mountain caribou," said a source involved with mountain caribou studies.

B.C. has virtually the world's entire population of mountain caribou, a subspecies of the more widespread woodland caribou, and numbers have been dropping dramatically.

Mountain caribou, which are dependent on old-growth forests, have declined by about 25 per cent since 1992, to 1,900 animals. Historically, there were about 10,000.

A series of studies in B.C. have identified the fragmentation of habitat as one of the biggest threats to mountain caribou.

"There appears little time left to act before options for mountain caribou conservation are ultimately forfeited," the B.C. Forest Practices Board stated in a 2004 report. "Current science suggests that if older forests continue to be fragmented and mountain caribou continue to be lost to predators, the final opportunity to restore mountain caribou populations in the province will soon be lost."

The provincial government has begun an initiative to save mountain caribou, using a variety of approaches, from halting logging in some areas to killing predators and moving caribou from one herd to another to enhance breeding possibilities.

But critics have said the plan - which also put nearly 400,000 hectares of forest off limits to logging and road building - would fail because the areas set aside weren't adequately linked, leaving islands of old growth surrounded by areas with logging and roads.

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