Caribou herd rebounds as Indigenous stewards lead conservation efforts

by Nathan Skolski, University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus
March 28, 2022

Despite recovery efforts from federal and provincial governments, caribou populations across Canada continue to decline, largely due to human activity.

But as a new UBC Okanagan study finds, in central British Columbia there is one herd of mountain caribou, the Klinse-Za, whose numbers are going in the opposite direction—all thanks to a collaborative recovery effort led by West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations.

In partnership with many organizations and governments, the Indigenous-led conservation initiative paired short-term recovery actions such as predator reduction and caribou guardians at maternal pens, with ongoing work to secure landscape-level protection in an effort to create a self-sustaining caribou population.

Their efforts paid off.

Dr. Clayton Lamb, a Liber Ero Fellow, along with Carmen Richter, a biology master’s student, and Dr. Adam T. Ford, Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology, conduct research in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. Their latest study shows Klinse-Za caribou numbers have nearly tripled in under a decade.

“We have an Indigenous-led conservation effort to thank for averting the looming extinction of this herd,” says Dr. Lamb. “The population was declining rapidly—a West Moberly Elder once described the herd as a ‘sea of caribou,’ but by 2013 it had declined to only 38 animals.”

Today, the herd count is more than 110 and numbers continue to rise.

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