Helping Caribou Thrive in Northern B.C.

Brian Pate is looking forward to catching up on his sleep. A Forest Planner at West Fraser’s Chetwynd Forest Industries mill, Brian burned up many nights and weekends this spring in a race against time. It was his responsibility to complete the construction of a maternity pen to protect vulnerable pregnant Klinse-Za caribou herd mothers and their newborn calves from predators in West Fraser’s operating region in Chetwynd, B.C.

Caribou numbers in the Klinse-Za herd have dropped to under 20 animals. A multi-stakeholder project team including the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, the Government of B.C. and industry partners Spectra Energy, Walter Energy, TransCanada, Teck and West Fraser have been working together on solutions to improve the survival of Klinse-Za caribou.

“Predators have killed 90% of all the calves in recent years. Without action, we were concerned that the Klinse-Za herd might not survive the next two years.  Our aim with this maternity project is to reverse this trend and double the herd size in those same two years.” says Brian. “For me, this has been a unique opportunity to work collaboratively with First Nations, government and other industry folks proactively in a hands-on project.”

As a technical expert in this multi-stakeholder project, Brian is a key member of the team and he has invested long hours in permitting for the project, sourcing appropriate experts, working and consulting with First Nations and liaising with government to get the project moving forward. Brian was also responsible for the design and construction of the 4 hectare caribou maternal pen in time for calving season in May.

Caribou eating in the maternal pen, Chetwynd, B.C.In late March, four helicopters supported a 22 person team to capture the pregnant caribou, aiming to minimize stress on and safely transport the animals. 10 pregnant females were enclosed in a protective, screened area within their natural calving range. The animals have been successfully switched from their traditional lichen diet to a nutrient-rich pellet ration to support the gestation of healthier, larger calves to help give them a better chance for survival.

The First Nation communities in the region are also funding a predator control program to try and bring more balance to the predator/prey dynamic within the herd area.

Now secured in the pen for the next few months, the caribou mothers will be fed and watched over around the clock by members of the West Moberly and Saulteau communities and the project team, including wildlife biologists, who have set up a temporary camp near the pen site. This protective area will allow calves to be born, whelped and develop the ability to flee from predators before they are released back onto the range in July.