The boreal’s endangered caribou

Forests

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The boreal forest is a critical refuge for caribou. Yet the amount of protected critical habitat for caribou is close to zero.

“It is dire…they’re going extinct and it is happening now,” says Eric Palm of the University of Montana. Over the past 20 years, caribou populations have decreased by 27%

Logging in the Canadian boreal forest for timber negatively impacts critical caribou habitat, creating an ongoing threat to this iconic species. 

In the boreal forest, logging  causes an increase in the growth of deciduous trees and shrubs. This attracts greater numbers of moose that rely on these types of vegetation as a key food source

An increase in moose populations harms caribou for several reasons. First, the caribou and moose compete for natural resources. Also, wolves prey on moose, so an increase in moose populations leads to an increase in wolf populations. Caribou normally maintain spatial separation from wolves, but the increased wolf population combined with the greater number of logging roads, give wolves a more efficient way of traveling through forested lands. This allows wolves to hunt caribou opportunistically, even though they normally prefer other prey. Furthermore, timber companies that harvest old-growth trees force the caribou, who prefer undisturbed areas, into areas with higher wolf populations, and thus are directly responsible for their increased interactions.

In 2015, a wolf culling program was implemented by the British Columbian government in an attempt to help declining caribou populations. Most research has shown that caribou population decline is most heavily caused by habitat loss. Unfortunately,  the government ignored land preservation practices in favor of an experimental theory to cull wolf populations that the timber companies backed — although it lacked scientific support. Not only does the wolf culling program lack supporting evidence, but it is also highly unethical when hunters take down defenseless wolves from aircraft. On the other hand, the government has set aside almost zero protected habitat  that would ensure the caribou’s long-term survival. 

It’s important to protect the boreal forest for many reasons, but for caribou, it’s the only way to preserve their species. We need to stop letting timber companies take the reins on forest policy and use science rather than money to make decisions.

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Authors

Sammy Herdman

Save The Boreal Forest Campaign, Associate, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Sammy runs the Save the Boreal Forest campaign for Environment America, calling on American corporations to stop degrading forests that are critical for the climate, biodiversity and people. Sammy grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but now lives in Denver. She enjoys snowboarding, camping and reading.

Anna Larson

Environment America Intern

Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

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