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CCQL 7 Campaign DAY 7: LIFE

Inland from the BC West Coast is the ONLY inland temperate rainforest on Earth. The weather systems from the Pacific collide with the Columbia Mountains that produce this phenomenon. The valleys of lush ancient forests, fed by pristine streams and rivers provide habitat not found anywhere else in BC.

The Mountain caribou are one of these endangered species; they are a variety or ecotype of woodland caribou native to the mountains inland temperate rainforest region. They are distinguished from other caribou by their dependence for winter food on hair lichens (Old-man’s beard) which accumulate on old-growth trees in high-elevation forests. The mountain Caribou’s broad hooves act like snowshoes, enabling them to use the deep winter snows as a platform to reach the lichens draped from old-growth trees.

Mountain caribou have adapted to forests that remain undisturbed for centuries. Some forest stands have escaped fire for hundreds – even thousands of years. Like the bull trout (found in Quesnel Lake and the Mitchell River) mountain caribou are so sensitive to changes in their habitat they are known as “indicators” of health of their ecosystem homes. The continued destruction of their habitat has reduced their numbers dramatically.

Mountain caribou need large unbroken tracts of old growth forests and are virtually always found in landscapes dominated by old growth forests. Their range is from the south Selkirk Mountains spanning the US boarder. About 98 percent of the world’s 2500 Mountain Caribou live in British Columbia, where they are on the provincial Blue List. This means they are considered to be vulnerable or sensitive and require special management to ensure their survival. For conservation and management purposes, wildlife biologists have divided these 2500 animals into 13 herds, called subpopulations, ranging in size from about 20 to 450 animals. Seven of the smaller sub-populations are isolated from others, so that caribou seldom move between them. Such herds are particularly at risk because random events like avalanches, hard winters, or a few years of heavy predation could eliminate most or all of a small herd, with little chance for replacement from other sub-populations.

No one knows how many Mountain Caribou lived in this province historically, but it is clear that some areas where they once lived have been abandoned. One estimate is that about 60 percent of their historic range in British Columbia and the United States no longer supports Mountain Caribou. Land use plans throughout the Mountain Caribou’s range recognize their vulnerability, so there are now guidelines for special resource management where they live. These guidelines mainly affect the rate and type of forest harvesting. The goal is to retain enough old-growth forest to meet the caribou’s needs, while still allowing some logging.

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