What a flight over B.C.’s North Columbia Mountains tells us about the dire state of caribou habitat

Photo: The Seymour River floodplain.

Our plane hovers at 9,000 feet above the massive glaciers of British Columbia’s northern Monashee Mountains. It’s hot and cramped in this small, aluminium sky-box, which is currently being pushed around by rough summer winds. 

For the next three hours, we will fly over the jagged peaks and dense forests of the north Columbia Mountains. The journey will reveal the multi-structured canopies of old-growth forests, illuminating my hope for the conservation of our region’s deep-snow caribou. But it will also reveal the growing network of roads and clearcuts that threatens to extinguish that hope. 

As we fly over Pettipiece Pass, a low-elevation, forested pass with many subalpine lakes, where caribou can often be found, I start to feel the nausea creep in. I nudge Nadine Raynolds, a program manager with the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, next to me and ask if she has any anti-nausea pills left to share. 

Pettipiece Pass

Next, we cruise into the Seymour River watershed, where, a few years ago, BC Timber Sales and Louisiana Pacific/Pacific Woodtech proposed more than 650 hectares of clearcuts. We pass over Kirbyville Lake, an epicentre for the Columbia North caribou herd, which, with an average annual growth rate of 1.94% since 2006, is one of the only herds in B.C. that’s not declining in size; it now contains approximately 209 animals. 

Old cutblocks in the Seymour River valley and the rivers’ meandering floodplain.

We fly back east towards the Columbia reservoir, a once mighty river now tamed with dams to supply power to the Pacific Northwest. Fresh old-growth clearcuts are visible around Pat Creek, in core habitat for the Columbia North herd.  

We fly north and, just as the Nagle Glacier leaves our rearview, the landscape changes. Foster Creek is a low-elevation, intact valley where the lush canopies of old-growth cedar and hemlock blanket the landscape just as they would have centuries ago here in the heart of the Inland Temperate Rainforest. A big group of caribou often spends its winters just to the south of Foster. It may be one of the largest areas of intact, low-elevation old growth stands left here in the North Columbia.  

Fresh old growth cutblocks alongside Pat Creek, in the Columbia North caribou herd’s core habitat.

Just as the anti-nausea meds start to kick in, the cross winds increase and we bump our way east over the Wood Arm. Here, in an area that includes more core caribou habitat and old-growth deferral polygons, the province has approved 220 more hectares of logging permits.  

We pass the Cummins River Valley, a sea of dark green split by a meandering river floodplain. In the 1990s, Wildsight and Ellen Zimmerman helped to protect this Rocky Mountain rainforest, and caribou still winter near its headwaters’ azure blue lakes. Somewhere below us, in the basins between the Cummins and Wood, there are probably still a few young calves just getting their legs under them.

The Cummins River Protected Area.

As we fly up the Argonaut Valley, logging’s stark impact grows ever more obvious. Five kilometres of steep roads crisscross near the confluence of Argonaut Creek. In 2021, due to strong public pushback and the leadership of the Ktunaxa and Splatsin First Nation, we helped defer over 360 hectares of old-growth logging and over 20 kilometers of new roads through caribou habitat in this valley. 

We fly south, crossing into the range of the Columbia South caribou herd. A fresh 40-hectare clearcut looms before us on the south side of Downie Creek. The Columbia South herd was declared extirpated last spring — too much of its Inland Temperate Rainforest habitat was logged, and not enough remained to support a herd. ‘Revy’, the herd’s last surviving female, was moved to the maternity pen near Nakusp.

A clearcut on the south side of Downie Creek, in the now extirpated Columbia South herd’s range.

The Columbia South herd’s story illustrates the delicate balance that caribou require and how quickly their trajectory can change if we are not managing their habitat appropriately for their survival.

As my feet touch the ground just north of the Revelstoke Dam, I can’t help but think about the opportunity this landscape holds — opportunity we let slip through our fingertips with each clearcut. This is a landscape in which caribou still migrate through the same low-elevation forests that their ancestors moved through for millenia — a ritual their descendants will carry on if we can only stop logging the habitat they rely on. 

I can’t help but think that we must give these deep-snow caribou a fighting chance to survive and thrive in the wild forests of the Inland Temperate Rainforest. 

Join us in calling for a moratorium on logging in core caribou habitat. 


Take action

We’re calling on Canada and British Columbia to protect southern mountain caribou habitat in B.C. and save our last deep-snow herds. Use our pre-written letter to add your voice to the movement. Logging has no place in the wild and globally significant forests that these iconic animals rely on.Take action