DATE: January 18, 2019
SNIP: “A sad day when the remaining caribou in the southern interior fit in a stock trailer with room to spare,” posted Jim Ross, who raises hogs and has lived in the Kootenays for most of his life.
Thirty years earlier, Ross had chanced upon 40 to 50 caribou from the South Selkirk herd in a clearing near Kootenay Pass, a sight so arresting that he nearly drove into a ditch and then pulled off the highway to watch in awe, he told The Narwhal.
Now the unwitting Ross had become a witness to the same herd’s extirpation, or local extinction, as two more B.C. caribou herds join northern spotted owls on the list of wildlife populations recently extirpated from the province.
“It just saddens the hell of me,” Ross said in an interview. “I have two daughters who are 19 and 21 and they’re never going to see a caribou. It’s just not going to happen for them unless they see it in an enclosure.”
The loss of the two Kootenay-area herds erases the southern boundary of B.C.’s caribou populations, redrawing the line closer to Nakusp, and also makes history through the disappearance of the transboundary South Selkirk herd, the last herd in the contiguous United States.
Human disturbances, including clear-cut logging, mining and oil and gas development, have given natural predators like wolves easy access to caribou whose habitat has been destroyed or fragmented right across the country, with disastrous consequences for once-robust herds.
Thirty of B.C.’s 54 caribou herds are at risk of local extinction, and 14 of those herds have fewer than 25 animals.
Ross said even though he is not a biologist or a caribou expert he has a strong association with caribou and “it’s hard to see” their demise.
Yet he said he’s had to admit that he’s “as much of the problem as anybody else,” noting that he drives over the Kootenay Pass that bisects caribou habitat.
“I’m talking to you on a phone that runs on electricity,” Ross said. “I heat my house with propane but it could be natural gas which is what the line is that runs through there [caribou habitat]. My house is built from wood. Minerals and the results of mining are everywhere in my house in all kinds of my devices.”
“That saddens me too on some level.”