Mountain caribou: on the brink
Mountain caribou are one of British Columbias most endangered species. Actually a southern ecotype of the woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), mountain caribou are unique in their dependence on arboreal lichens as a winter food source.
Once widespread throughout the BC Interior and into northern Idaho, mountain caribou have seen their populations plummet since 1900. Recent research indicates that declines can be largely attributed to an increase in the provinces moose populations as a result of the preponderance of moose habitat -young forests and cutblocks - across the landscape. The increasing moose population has resulted in a corresponding increase in the number of wolvesa chief predator of caribou.
Mountain caribou also face pressures from overhunting and from the forest industry. Because they depend on high-elevation old growth forests to escape predation and find food during much of the year, widespread logging of these forests can be detrimental to their survival. Even more serious though, are increased levels of predation. As logging roads are extended further into caribou habitat, predators such as wolves are given easier access to the vulnerable heards. Motorized recreation, particularly snowmobiling, can increase this risk by provided well-packed trials for predators to travel rapidly up into caribou habitat. Helicopters also pose a serious threat to mountain caribou, as the animals will expend valueable energy fleeing from the noise and increased skier traffic in high elevation forests.
Today, mountain caribou are restricted to only thirteen sub-populations and a total count of approximately 1850, including the South Selkirk heard which extends into the United States. BCs Conservation Data Centre has added mountain caribou to its red lista dubious honour reserved for the provinces endangered species. Mountain caribou are also considered threatened by the Committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) - the body that determines the federal status of species at risk. As a result of this listing they now fall under the new Species at Risk legislation.
The Fraser Headwaters bioregion overlaps with the range of four of the mountain caribou sub-populations: the Wells Gray South, Central Rockies, North Caribou Mountains, and Hart Range heards. Areas of particular concern include the upper Goat River watershed and the inland rainforest west of McBride, where mountain caribou spend each winter.