Scientists warn another B.C. caribou herd could disappear as the provincial government approves 78 new logging cutblocks in critical habitat for the Hart Ranges herd, while construction of a pipeline for LNG industry takes out another chunk of boreal forest
Standing near the summit of a clear-cut mountain in B.C.’s interior, overlooking the brown and emerald green Anzac River valley, scientist Dominick DellaSala has a bird’s eye view of why the Hart Ranges caribou herd is at risk of extinction.
Only a fringe of forest remains around the distant mountain peak where the declining herd seeks protection from wolves and other predators in ever-shrinking habitat northeast of Prince George.
“The difference between this and Borneo is that there aren’t any orangutans behind me,” says DellaSala, pointing to extensive clear cuts covering much of the mountain side.
“You’ve got caribou at upper elevations. That’s their habitat out there. And they’re being squished to the top of the tallest mountains because all the habitat’s been taken out down below. The species is migratory, it goes up and down.”
DellaSala, chief scientist and president of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, is touring parts of B.C.’s ancient inland temperate rainforest as part of an Australian-led study documenting the world’s most important unlogged forests.
The rare inland rainforest, with cedar trees more than 1,000 years old, is part of an ecosystem called the interior wet belt that includes the Anzac valley bottom, a hodgepodge of green far below where DellaSala stands with Michelle Connolly, director of the Prince George-based organization Conservation North.
But there will soon be significantly less green in the lower reaches of the Anzac valley, whose old-growth spruce and subalpine fir trees are draped in hair lichen, a crucial winter food for caribou.
Since October, the B.C. government has granted approval to forestry giant Canfor for six new logging cutblocks in the valley, according to Geoff Senichenko, research and mapping coordinator for the Wilderness Committee. The cutblocks total 332 hectares, making them a little smaller than Vancouver’s Stanley Park in size.
Those permits are among 78 logging cutblocks the government approved over the same period in the Hart Ranges herd critical habitat, with 62 of them going to Canfor, Senichenko’s research shows.
“This seals the caribou’s fate,” says Connolly, a forest ecologist.
“Caribou were given a very small amount of habitat,” Connolly says. “It’s not enough … There’s very little chance of that habitat recovering in those cut blocks below the tops of the mountains, and therefore of those areas serving caribou the way they used to.”
The Hart Ranges caribou herd also faces another new threat: the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which will transport fracked gas from the province’s northeast to Kitimat, where it will be liquefied by LNG Canada and shipped overseas. MORE