Caribou recovery actions

​Recovery actions address factors that may limit the ability of a species-at-risk to survive and thrive. For caribou, a combination of habitat and population management actions are considered for each herd and implemented as needed. 

These actions will continue to evolve as the Caribou Recovery Program works collaboratively with Indigenous communities, local governments, industry, and interest groups on caribou recovery. The road to recovery is long for many herds and the Caribou Recovery Program welcomes ongoing input from all these groups. 

On this page:

Monitoring and research

The B.C. government relies on monitoring and data analysis before and after the implementation of any caribou recovery action to determine its effectiveness. The Caribou Recovery Program’s activities are also monitored closely to determine whether projects need to be modified to meet caribou recovery goals and other wildlife objectives. 
Research is conducted to address knowledge gaps and help land managers evaluate new and innovative systems, existing projects, pilot projects and research to support caribou recovery in the province.   

Caribou habitat recovery actions

Habitat fragmentation and loss resulting from human-caused disturbances (such as cutblocks, roads and seismic lines) and subsequent increases in primary prey and predator populations are the main factors associated with the decline of caribou in British Columbia. Long-term caribou recovery solutions are needed to address those factors. 

Different habitat recovery actions may be related, but they are not interchangeable. In the short term, habitat recovery actions are most effective in high-value habitat that caribou use regularly. However, habitat management or habitat restoration cannot completely replace habitat protection, which is scientifically proven to safeguard the needs of caribou such as food, water, shelter, and space. In the long term, recovery actions may need to have a broader scope to allow more space for recovered populations and foster increased resilience in a constantly changing environment.

Habitat protection

Habitat protection is the prevention of habitat disturbance through legislation or conservation designations that limit human-caused disturbances. 

Habitat restoration

A growing body of research indicates there is a strong relationship between habitat disturbance and declining caribou populations. The Province has identified habitat restoration as a key management tool to help caribou recover.

Tactical restoration plans help prioritize areas for habitat restoration and determine whether functional restoration or ecological restoration (see definitions below) is the most appropriate approach, or possibly both.

The Province has developed tactical restoration plans for several high-priority caribou herd ranges. These plans focus on habitat restoration in areas (and on specific disturbance features such as roads) that will benefit caribou the most. The Province then develops implementation plans for specific restoration projects. For example, these plans could identify the number and species of trees to plant, methods of restricting public access to an area, and what equipment and machinery would be required to complete the work. 

The Province has developed tactical restoration plans for many caribou ranges in B.C. Use this map to find the location of these ranges.  

Young forests that include shrubs (i.e., early seral forests) provide good habitat for moose, elk, and deer, which are the main prey species for wolves and other predators. Younger forests types, therefore, will attract more prey and their predators, leading to higher caribou mortality. Caribou rely on mature and old-growth forests for food, shelter and comparatively low predator densities, so the loss of such stands has a direct, negative effect on caribou.

Linear disturbance features such as roads, pipelines, and seismic lines (i.e., corridors cleared of vegetation for oil and gas exploration) also lead to declines in caribou populations. Caribou may be reluctant to cross busy roads and other wide, open linear features due to sensory disturbance (e.g., traffic noise), loss of shelter, and the risk of being killed. In these cases, linear features may become barriers to the movement of caribou and further fragment their habitat. 

Smaller linear features such as seismic lines are not barriers to movement, but they do not provide suitable habitat for caribou. Roads, especially those that are plowed in winter, are also used by wolves, since they can move faster and more efficiently along them than in an adjacent forest. This enables wolves to travel more easily into caribou habitat, leading to increased predation on caribou. 

There are two restoration methods used in B.C.:

  • Functional restoration reduces the use of linear features by humans and predators through a range of techniques to block access and make travel difficult
  • Ecological restoration focuses on regrowing vegetation along a linear feature so it resembles its previous state before a disturbance (such as a wildfire or human activity) occurred

Both types of habitat restoration are important for caribou recovery, but they both require considerable resources. Therefore, the Province needs to prioritize which disturbances to restore first and in which caribou ranges.

Northern Mountain caribou

The Pink Mountain caribou range covers 958,000 hectares in the Northern Rocky Mountains in northeast British Columbia. The tactical restoration plan for this area identifies approximately 13,000 kilometres of linear disturbances across the whole range, with 9,372 kilometres considered to be good candidates for restoration treatment activities.

Southern Mountain caribou

The Southern Group subpopulation extends from the west side of the Rocky Mountains near Prince George though southeastern British Columbia, along the Alberta border to the United States. Eighteen herds make up this group: Hart Ranges, Redrock-Prairie Creek, Narrow Lake, George Mountain, North Cariboo, Barkerville, Wells Gray North, Wells Grey South, Groundhog, Columbia North, Columbia South, Central Rockies, Frisby Boulder, Monashee, Central Selkirks, Purcell Central, Purcell South, and South Selkirks. 

The tactical restoration plan for this area identifies about 42,308 kilometres of high-priority and moderate-priority linear features that could be restored. 

  • Contact Joelle Ward for more information about this plan

The Central Group of Southern Mountain caribou is located in northeastern British Columbia. This subpopulation (previously called the South Peace northern caribou) is comprised of the Narraway, Quintette, Burnt Pine, Kennedy Siding, Klinse-za (Moberly and Scott East), and Scott West herds.

Two tactical restoration plans have been developed for this subpopulation. Between the two plans, 10,335 kilometres of linear disturbances have been identified as candidates for restoration treatments. 

  1. Quintette Tactical Restoration Plan
    1. Phase 1 (PDF, 15MB)
    2. Phase 2 (PDF, 53.4MB)
  2. South Peace Northern Caribou Tactical Restoration Plan (PDF, 37.8MB)

The Northern Group subpopulation is located in the west-central and north-central portions of British Columbia and includes nine caribou herds: Graham, Chase, Wolverine, Takla, Telkwa, Tweedsmuir-Entiako, Rainbows, Itcha-IIgachuz, and Charlotte Alplands. 

Four tactical restoration plans have been developed for the Northern Group subpopulation:

  1. The Northern Group plan encompasses all Northern Group herds except the Graham herd and identifies 26,720 kilometres of high-priority and moderate-priority linear features that could be restored
    • Contact Joelle Ward for more information about this plan
  2. Previously part of the South Peace northern caribou group, the Graham herd is located in northeastern British Columbia. About 1,916 kilometres of linear disturbances were identified within this range
  3. The Telkwa herd is located in northwestern British Columbia. Based on initial disturbance mapping, a total of 188 kilometres of linear disturbances have been identified across five restoration areas
  4. The Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou herd is located in west-central British Columbia. About 580 kilometres of linear features were located in three priority areas identified by the Province

 

Habitat management

Habitat management can include establishing targets to limit the amount of early seral (young) forests to avoid attracting ungulates like deer and moose, while conserving mature and old growth forests preferred by caribou. These seral targets are often combined with beneficial management practices used by resource sectors to reduce potentially harmful impacts to caribou and caribou habitat (e.g., retaining trees where lichen is growing). Other habitat management options include policy and legislative tools that provide rules of conduct for resource activities.

Caribou population recovery actions

At the same time that habitat loss or habitat fragmentation is being addressed, population recovery actions can halt or reverse herd declines to keep their populations at levels where recovery might be possible. If habitat loss or habitat fragmentation is the primary factor behind a herd’s population decline, recovery actions alone cannot lead to the herd’s long-term recovery. Most often, multiple recovery actions must be applied simultaneously to maximize the herd’s recovery potential.

Maternal penning

Maternal penning involves capturing adult females in late winter and transporting them to an enclosed pen within their range to give birth. In the pen, they are protected from predators until the calves are three to four months old. Penned caribou are fed a combination of natural food and pelleted rations that may also improve nutrition and growth of the young calves. The cows and calves are released back into the wild in July. 

Two maternal penning projects have been implemented in B.C., with a third pen under development:

  1. Klinse-Za maternity pen, operated by the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations and Wildlife Infometrics (2013-2022)
  2. Revelstoke maternity pen, Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Society (RCRW) (2014-2018)
  3. Nakusp maternity pen, Arrow Lakes Caribou Society (starting 2022)

Predator reduction

Predator reduction is the targeted removal of localized predator populations (such as wolves) to aid caribou recovery. This method is considered for specific caribou herds when predation has been identified as a barrier to effective recovery.

Predator management is guided by:

Predator reduction decisions:

The B.C. government is reducing predator populations in selected areas to support caribou recovery:

Read the fact sheets about predator management in B.C.:

Primary prey stabilization

In areas where predator reduction measures have been used to protect caribou, other ungulate populations (e.g. deer, moose, elk, which are primary prey for those predators) could increase quickly. This could in turn attract more predators to the area, resulting in unsustainable predation pressure on caribou. However, “primary prey stabilization” can be achieved by allowing licensed hunts to go ahead for those other ungulates to help keep their populations stable.

The Caribou Recovery Program is exploring options for managing habitat to make certain areas less attractive to moose, deer and elk, which will help prevent their predators moving into those areas and killing caribou.

Tourism and recreation management

Recreation management involves reducing disturbances caused by recreational activities (e.g., snowmobile riding), by controlling or limiting public access to specified areas of caribou habitat. Backcountry recreation has the potential to adversely affect caribou populations through:

  • Direct disturbance, increased stress and increased metabolic requirements
  • Displacement of caribou from their preferred habitats
  • Increased risk of caribou avalanche fatalities due to the animals being displaced and moving into avalanche-prone areas
  • Increased predation (snowmobile tracks, for example, provide wolves greater access to caribou because they allow wolves to move faster and more easily into caribou habitat)

Motor vehicle prohibitions are implemented in key caribou habitat.

Access maps of snowmobile closures within mountain caribou recovery areas.

Guidelines for Heli-supported Adventure Tourism in Wildlife Habitat (PDF, 1.6MB)

Supplemental feeding

Supplemental feeding is the practice of providing food to caribou at specific times of the year at designated feeding locations to supplement food available in the wild and to promote population health and growth.

For example, supplemental feed has been provided to the Kennedy Siding caribou herd from 2014 to 2022 in partnership with the McLeod Lake Indian Band.

Wild-wild translocation/ augmentation

Caribou may be moved from a viable herd to augment a small herd or to re-establish an extirpated herd (i.e., a herd that no longer exists in a particular region).

Conservation breeding

Conservation breeding produces healthy young animals that are reared by captive adults. They are then released from the conservation facility to support the recovery of wild herd(s). 

The B.C. government is working closely with Parks Canada staff on their conservation breeding program for caribou in western Canada, with a conservation breeding facility proposed for Jasper National Park.

Caribou glossary