For the first time in decades a caribou herd near Revelstoke is growing in numbers, according to the province.
This spring, the province conducted an aerial survey of the Columbia North herd. It’s the largest in the area and numbered 147 in 2017, the last time it was surveyed. This year, the province counted 184 animals.
“These results are promising,” said the Ministry of Forests in a written statement.
Higher numbers indicate recovery methods are working to protect the endangered animal, including maternal pens, wolf culls, conserving habitat and managing other prey species, the province said.
“It’s pretty great to see.”
Caribou numbers around Revelstoke were generally stable until mid-1990s, then populations plummeted. While the Columbia North herd is increasing, it’s an outlier. The Columbia South herd, which is also near Revelstoke, had four animals in 2016. During a survey last year, it still had four.
In 1994, the Columbia South caribou numbered 120.
Another nearby herd, the Frisby-Boulder-Queest herd had 11 animals in 2013. Last year, biologists counted six. In a previous interview from last year, the province said the Columbia South and the Frisby-Boulder-Queest groups are too small to survive on their own.
Caribou in the province have declined from 40,000 in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today.
The province is in the process of developing herd specific management plans, which were originally scheduled to be finished last year for the Revelstoke area. However, COVID-19 has delayed them until 2023, according to the province.
The Columbia North herd is also the new home for the last three remaining U.S. caribou. In 2019, the animals — known as the Gray Ghosts — were translocated to save them from extinction. The move extirpated the species in the lower 48 states.
While the Columbia North herd has grown, a report from the province said it’s still at risk for extinction due to the loss of old growth forest and unsustainable predation.
To reduce the risk for future herd decline, the report said more caribou habitat should be preserved.
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