In the Telkwa Mountains near Smithers, BC, a small herd of Mountain Caribou persists after nearly disappearing from these ranges only two short decades ago.
With their rich colouring and impressive antlers, Mountain Caribou are striking animals, highly recognizable as the local cousins of the legendary reindeer. They are also among the most endangered animals in Canada, and have been reduced to a fraction of their historic range. Over the last half century, the Telkwa herd’s population has undergone a steep decline, hitting a low of six herd members in the mid 1990s. Recovery efforts have helped increase their numbers to around thirty animals, but this still leaves them at high risk of becoming locally extinct.
Since 1996, HCTF has invested in Telkwa herd monitoring projects to provide data essential to recovery programs. The most recently-funded Telkwa Caribou project is a collaborative effort between biologists and local winter recreationalists to determine the effect that activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, and ATVing could have on the survival of the Telkwa herd.
The Impacts of recreation and wolves on Telkwa caribou recovery project uses satellite technology to collect data that will eventually be used to inform management practices. The project team has fitted herd members with GPS collars that email researchers their locations twice a week. Researchers will use the data collected to track caribou distribution and response to different levels of recreational activity. As the project name suggests, the project will also examine how collared wolves use the Telkwa mountains and interact with caribou.
The recreation portion of the study will incorporate citizen science, asking locals participating in activities such as snowmobiling, backpacking and backcountry skiing to use hand-held GPS units to record the location of their activities. Data collected from these volunteers and the collared caribou will help researchers determine the relationship between herd and human activity. Project leaders hope that involving local user groups in data collection and management techniques will inspire ongoing stewardship by participants. Already, the Smithers Snowmobile Association has created a page on their website providing updates on the location of collared caribou so their members can avoid disturbing them. Ideally, the result of this research will allow for development of a solution that provides protection for the caribou while still allowing opportunities for winter recreation.
You can keep up to date with the latest news on the Telkwa Caribou project by visiting their facebook page