While a group of stuck caribou floating down a river seems bad, the caribou have bigger threats to worry about than ice floes.
A new government funded report describes how the remaining caribou could be facing extinction. It’s not an outlandish idea. According to the Defenders, the world’s already lost two subspecies of caribou.
While losing the caribou to extinction would be another loss of wildlife, not protecting caribou territory fuels imminent environmental crises that affect everyone.
The Caribou Are Threatened
As reported in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, the mountain caribou of the Rocky Mountains “are more at risk than ever.”
The severity of the risk depends on location. The threat to the southern caribou of British Columbia has been upgraded from threatened to endangered. Northern populations of British Columbia have been classified as “special concern,” i.e. not quite severe enough to be threatened or endangered.
As reported in ABC News, the status of mountain caribou of the United States has recently been downgraded from endangered to threatened; environmentalists and conservationists are okay with this status change because threatened populations receive many of the same protections as endangered populations — except some of the “most severe restrictions” may be lifted. The most common caribou complaints are related to protecting private property and recreational restrictions. Interestingly, the caribou is Idaho’s most endangered animal.
Why is the Caribou in Trouble?
The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports how the caribou populations with the lowest numbers need intervention; otherwise, they will go extinct.
Parts of national park lands in British Columbia and Alberta have seen caribou declines reach up to 60 percent over 10 years. And the threats only increase.
Natural threats aside, the caribou’s habitat is changing and that’s a man-made problem. Humans are changing the landscape to make room for big business. Logging, mining, oil and gas and recreational companies are taking over the caribou’s territory.
Wolves are a natural caribou predator, but humans aren’t helping. The changes in caribou territory, from clearing to full on destruction, mean that wolves can reach the caribou easier than ever before. For instance, the wolves use the roads and ski trails that we make. Researchers are still trying to understand what impacts things like land use and climate change will have on wolves and, by extension, the caribou.
Good Thing the Government‘s Protecting the Caribou, Right?
Not really. Although the Canadian government deems the caribou worthy enough to put on a quarter coin, it doesn’t regard the caribou worthy enough to really protect.
The threats to caribou territory are real, yet the government is opting to sell precious caribou habitat to major oil companies.
As reported in ThinkProgress, the Alberta government started auctioning the land off after the report of the caribou facing extinction was released. The government also funded this report.
In Alberta, 4,200 acres in “tar sands” are up for grabs to the highest bidder. Alberta is actually home to “the second-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world,” and it’s second only to Saudi Arabia. The Alberta oil is a lot thicker and gooier than traditional oil.
Extracting the oil requires “non-conventional” methods that have some serious environmental consequences that have nothing to do with the caribou. It’s a much more carbon-intensive process that emits more greenhouse gases than traditional oil extraction. It also creates a “jarring” effect on the land. To Neil Young, oil sands are very similar to the aftermath of Hiroshima. Furthermore, the tar sands oil fuels the disputed Keystone XL pipeline.
Photo Credit: Education Specialist