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Mountain caribou herd near Nelson will grow with human help: Wildsight

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In the next few years, wildlife scientists will capture, transport and release 40 mountain caribou in the mountains around Nelson with the goal to ‘recover’ local herd populations to higher levels.

Mountain caribou are truly rare. They are a different species than woodland caribou of Canada’s north. One of the most critically endangered species in North America, they rely entirely on old growth habitat in the world’s only inland temperate rainforest.

“Herd sizes have been in decline since 1995,” said John Bergenske, Kimberley-based Wildsight’s executive director. “Mountain caribou are dangerously close to extinction and are listed as threatened.”

Nelson’s Purcells-South herd is a priority: It’s down to 15 animals. One of the biggest threats to them is Highway 3, which cuts through the heart of their winter habitat between Creston and Nelson.

“The highway is there to stay,” Bergenske said, “so it’s up to individuals to drive more slowly through Kootenay Pass, especially around the summit area.”

The first capture, transport and release of 20 caribou (17 cows, 3 bulls) will be conducted by the British Columbia Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and will take place in the spring of 2013.

The translocation will involve moving the caribou by aircraft or truck from the Skeena to the Kootenay region to supplement this declining herd.

Lots of planning is involved. Herd specialists from the British Columbia government will collaborate with ecologists from the University of Victoria to analyze the risks these transplanted animals will face in their new home.

They will use radio collars to monitor them at both locations, and will keep careful watch on mortalities.

“This translocation is a very hopeful thing for our region,” Bergenske said. “Mountain caribou — and their special habitat — make this place unique in the world. We are passionate about protecting them for future generations.”

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