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Splatsin concerned over dwindling caribou herd in Secwepemcúl̓ecw territory

The Splatsin First Nation near Enderby has raised concern about the future of the southern mountain caribou following a published report.

The southern mountain caribou – an iconic species for the Splatsin – is at risk of extinction, and will struggle to recover without habitat protection and restoration action according to new research published in Conservation Science and Practice.

Released on April 26, the research funded by the federal and provincial governments has identified that despite caribou recovery plans, the rate of caribou habitat loss has accelerated from 2000 to 2018 and that short-term caribou recovery actions will likely only delay the extinction of this species without additional habitat protection.

“Historically, southern mountain caribou were found throughout Secwépemc Territory and were harvested by our people for countless generations,” says Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian of Splatsin.

“Caribou provided us with sustenance, clothing, tools, utensils, snowshoes and other necessities important to our physical and cultural survival. Splatsin has a sacred obligation as caretakers and stewards of our area of caretaker responsibility and has refrained from hunting southern mountain caribou for generations due to decreasing population levels and diminishing habitat. We are working with various partners to reverse this trend.”

It is estimated that fewer than 230 southern mountain caribou remain in Secwépemc Territory which stretches from the Columbia River valley along the Rocky Mountains, west to the Fraser River and south to the Arrow Lakes.

A handful of herds in the Revelstoke area have less than 10 animals per herd. The Monashee South herd has vanished entirely in the past five years.

Forestry is noted as a major contributor to the loss of habitat for this species.

Caribou are an indicator species, meaning that their well-being is an indication of the health of their surrounding ecosystem. Any further critical habitat loss will prevent the caribou’s security and ability to recover, as they have had to face decades of human-caused land alteration, and more recently, the effects of climate change.

The land needs to heal to provide a safe place for the caribou to return. Long-term land-use planning and management action is necessary to address these past and future impacts on caribou habitat and Splatsin’s cultural practices.

Where there have been habitat improvements, the trees are still too young to provide the conditions required to grow caribou’s food source – tree lichen.

Christian noted that Splatsin is working with various partners to reverse the declining population including the federal government, and other land users, to ensure intact caribou habitat remains protected for future generations.

In partnership with their natural resource management company, Yucwmenlúcwu (Caretakers of the Land) LLP, Splatsin is also restoring habitat features on deactivated forestry service roads that overlap with caribou critical habitat.

Currently, the provincial government is working with First Nations on a number of proposed undercut disposition (transfer) planning processes within forest tenure agreements.

This is an internal government process that determines the use of unused and unallocated Allowable Annual Cut in a Timber Supply Area (TSA) or Tree Farm License. Many of these tenures in Secwepemcúl̓ecw (Shuswap) overlap with provincially unprotected caribou habitat.

The public can review and raise any concerns or comment on the Kootenay Lake TSA review that is currently underway and suggest conditions related to undercut disposition to the Honourable Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development to help protect critical caribou habitat.

Splatsin officials also noted that they expect all levels of government to honour the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) while working together to help preserve the caribou.

Article 24 of The Act states “Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals.”

The B.C. government passed the legislation in November 2019 which aims to bring better transparency and accountability to work done between federal and provincial governments and First Nations.

READ MORE: New homes coming to Splatsin land

READ MORE: VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

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Black Press Media Staff

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