Species In decline: WWF report highlights mountain caribou

World Wildlife Fund’s recent Living Planet Index report highlights sobering statistics on the decline of wildlife species in Canada. Of over 900 species surveyed, half are showing significant population declines. This includes large declines of federally-designated Species at Risk like mountain caribou, who have disappeared from much of their historic range in BC’s interior mountains over the past decades.

The WWF report concludes that the failure to protect wildlife species is a problem from coast to coast to coast. Even species recognized under Canada’s Species at Risk Act suffer delays of many years, even decades, before action plans to protect them are written and implemented. The federal government failed over the past 15 years to protect sufficient critical habitat for mountain caribou while populations dwindled and entire herds disappeared—and is only now about to announce long-awaited actions to protect them.

Mountain caribou in a valley bottom meadow in the Southern Purcells. This herd has seen severe declines and the current population is estimated at 16 animals. Mountain caribou use habitats from mountain tops to valley bottom meadows. Photo: Dave Quinn

According to the WWF report, habitat loss is the greatest threat to species across Canada. Mountain caribou have already lost a great amount of their old-growth forest habitat to logging and other industrial development, while grassland birds have suffered a 69% decline due to both loss of habitat and pesticide use. With so much critical wildlife habitat already gone, we can’t afford to wait any longer to protect what’s left.

“Habitat loss is the greatest threat to species across Canada.”

A better network of protected areas, one of the recommendations of the report, is sorely needed to give our threatened species and ecosystems a fighting chance. For many species, especially larger mammals like mountain caribou, grizzly bears and wolverines, protected areas linked by connectivity corridors are increasingly important on our fragmented landscapes.

Climate change, another key threat in the WWF report, multiplies the impacts—particularly on species like mountain caribou who depend on deep winter snowpacks. Connectivity is crucial for many species to allow them to move with changes to climate, vegetation and food sources. Our interior mountain ecosystems are internationally recognized as providing some of the best remaining climate refugia for North American wildlife as climate change accelerates. For wildlife, having suitable habitat available is key.

If we want wildlife in our future, we must start managing our land and water with wildlife and ecosystems as our top priority. With so many important species in decline, we don’t have any time to waste.

Stand up for mountain caribou: Send a message asking Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to protect all critical caribou habitat now.

The interior temperate rainforest ecosystem is home to a wide variety of endangered and threatened species including the mountain caribou. The Rocky Mountain rainforest of the upper Wood River north of Golden. Photo: Kari Medig

Header image by Art Twomey.