Marking milestones in mountain caribou recovery - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Marking milestones in mountain caribou recovery

Mountain caribou by David Moskowitz
An individual mountain caribou from the Klinse-za herd (David Moskowitz)

You are supporting Indigenous leaders as they work to reclaim and restore landscapes and biodiversity in the Peace  

It was a rainy August day in British Columbia’s Peace Region — one representing the next chapter of mountain caribou recovery.  

Standing in the newly expanded Klinse-za Indigenous Protected Area, Councilor Ken Cameron, former chief of Saulteau First Nation, and Tim Burkhart, Y2Y’s B.C. program manager, placed a fallen caribou antler to rest near the base of the sacred Twin Sisters (‘Klinse-za’) Mountains, nestled below a tree holding a prayer flag.

This antler once belonged to a member of the now locally extinct Burnt Pine herd. In 2017, Tim found and borrowed the antler from the land to help tell the story of challenges faced by caribou across B.C. 

The antler that once belonged to a caribou from the extirpated Burnt Pine herd laid to rest near the base of the sacred Klinse-za Mountains (Credit: David Moskowitz)

Much has happened since the caribou partnership agreement was signed in February 2020 — the reason for Tim’s visit to this special place this past summer. West Moberly First Nation, Saulteau First Nation and many others have been working tirelessly to restore mountain caribou habitat in this landscape, culminating in February’s agreement, which covers two million acres (809,372 hectares.) This is the largest conservation agreement in B.C. since the Great Bear Rainforest!  

“To see and feel the landscape supporting mountain caribou recovery was an injection of hope,” says Tim. “What Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations have accomplished is incredibly inspiring.” 

New protections have given ecosystems, mountain caribou and local Indigenous Nations the space to breathe. Now, degraded land is being restored so an abundant diversity of plants and animals can recover and thrive. One day, this will allow First Nations to hunt caribou again — a treaty right put on hold nearly 50 years ago.  

“To see and feel the landscape supporting mountain caribou recovery was an injection of hope. What  Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations have accomplished is incredibly inspiring.” 

Tim Burkhart, Y2Y B.C. program manager

While out on the landscape this summer, Tim saw the roads, coal mines and logging cut blocks that have pushed caribou to the brink; but he also saw lands being reclaimed. He visited an innovative First Nations-owned native plant nursery and a new wetland restoration pilot project. He also joined members of Saulteau First Nations to pack bags full of lichen, a food source for caribou.

“The story of caribou and our work in the Peace is a human story,” says Tim. “First Nations in the region have faced decades of government inaction, loss of culturally important plants and animals, and degradation of the land — yet they have always looked forward, steadfast in their determination to save caribou and safeguard traditions for future generations.”   

During interviews with Indigenous leaders in the Peace, elders were asked if there was hope of caribou returning to the landscape, to which each individual responded, “I know they will.”   

In 2014, the Klinse-za herd had only 16 animals. Today, this herd is almost 100 caribou. In June 2021, the protected area will be expanded to over 509,000 acres (206,000 hectares) further helping these caribou recover over the long term.  

All you have done to stand up for caribou has built great momentum. Your letters expressing thanks for habitat protection were especially noted by First Nations and decision-makers. 

Now, funding from organizations like Y2Y will be critical to push forward.

Your donation will support continued caribou recovery work such as an Indigenous Guardians program, upholding the maternal caribou pen, and restoring the impacts of industrial extraction on the land. 

This has been made possible in part with funding from the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia and the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas.