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Caribou just outside our bedroom window.

Symbolic Canadian animal headed to extinction, support fails

Sunday, May 17, 2015, 3:08 PM - The Woodland caribou, native to British Columbia, is headed down the path to become the first subpopulation of an endangered species to become extinct, despite protection from the government.

New research took a closer look at five herds in the province that are collapsing due to a variety of reasons including industrial development.

"Currently, we are observing the decline, extirpation and perhaps extinction of several evolutionary significant units of woodland caribou, an iconic and culutural keystone species," said Chris Johnson and Libby Ehlers in a recently published paper. "At current rates of habitat loss and population decline, these caribou, a significant component of Canada's biodiversity, are unlikely to persist."

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The province launched a controversial program last year in hopes of helping the caribou herd: a wolf cull. Animal advocates were at odds with officials about whether or not the cull would help. According to the new study, predation is only playing a secondary role in the disappearance of the animals.

More than 2 million hectares have been set aside to protect the caribou herds but most populations are still down to less than 50 animals.

"We hypothesize that this generation of resource managers and conservation professionals will observe the extinction of this evolutionarily significant faunal group. If realized, this would be the first empirically documented extinction of a mammalian designatable units in Canada," the study said.

Designatable Unit is the name given to any evolutionarily significant subpopulation that requires protection from the provincial government.

[The government] recognizes that habitat restoration and protection are a necessary element of recovering caribou herds," B.C's Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail. "However, we also know that habitat protection is not enough. That's why we're also undertaking wolf-control measures."

The outcome of the wolf culling won't show results for another five years but many experts say additional measures need to be taken now.

"[We] now have scientific evidence that caribou are disappearing because of industrial development in their habitat," Craig Pettitt, director of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, said in a conversation the Globe and Mail. "What needs to be done is we have to halt the destruction of their habitat."

Source: Globe and Mail

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