BC Commits to Legislate Protection of 2.2 Million Hectares for World's Only Mountain Caribou



    Major conservation milestone signals momentum for forest and wildlife
    protection in BC; Environmentalists say bar raised for forest protection
    across Canada

    VICTORIA, Oct. 16 /CNW/ - A coalition of ten leading environmental groups
today celebrated a major milestone in their campaign to protect mountain
caribou habitat in the globally unique Inland Temperate Rainforest. Today's
long awaited recovery implementation plan commits the BC government to
protecting, by spring 2008, over 2.2 million hectares of old-growth cedar,
pine and spruce forests, an area more than 2/3rd the size of Vancouver Island
and twice the size of Jamaica. This will include new protections amounting to
over 380,000 hectares, larger than the entirety of Clayoquot Sound, and
upgraded protections over hundreds of thousands more. The plan also commits
government to developing more environmentally friendly forest management
approaches in surrounding forest habitat.
    "These new commitments are critical for the survival of one of North
America's most endangered mammals, and have raised the bar for future forest
protection across Canada," said Candace Batycki of ForestEthics. "Today's
announcement is a victory for the thousands of citizens from BC and beyond who
made their voices heard about the critical role old growth forests play in
endangered species protection and climate change mitigation."
    Mountain caribou, represented on the Canadian quarter since 1937, are an
ecotype of the woodland caribou that are found across Canada and parts of
Alaska. Mountain caribou live in old-growth forests in steep mountain ranges
where they rely on tree lichens for winter food. Mountain caribou numbers have
plummeted from about 2,500 animals in 1997 to 1,900 today, largely due to
logging, road building and flooding from dams. Today's announcement commits
the BC government to restore their numbers to at least 2500 animals.
    Over the past three years of the campaign, which included targeted
advertising, public service announcements and community outreach, messages
were sent to government by celebrities, business leaders and over 16,000
members of the general public, all in a bid to protect the mountain caribou
habitat identified by the government's own science team.
    "Three years ago, the importance of habitat protection wasn't fully
appreciated," said John Bergenske of Wildsight. "Predator control was touted
as the silver bullet for saving caribou. But today, habitat protection is
recognized as the major focus of caribou recovery, and any intended predator
control will be subject to stringent criteria to be developed by the Ministry
of Environment. It's a big win for the wildlife and people of British
Columbia, and indeed for the global community."
    Roy Howard of Fraser Headwaters Alliance said: "While this announcement
represents government's commitment, there is still much painstaking work
necessary to achieve legalization of these promises. This will be especially
challenging in areas like Revelstoke and the North Thompson, where less forest
has been allocated for protection. Our organizations are committed to working
hard in our regions to ensure the strongest possible, legally binding
protections are put in place over the coming months. All eyes are on
implementation."
    Environmentalists credit today's announcement to the increased saliency
of environmental issues.
    "The public is demanding environmental protection like never before,"
said Rob Duncan of the Sierra Club of Canada - BC Chapter. "The public is
ready to make its voice heard, and to hold governments to account. Areas like
the Inland Temperate Rainforest are unique and globally significant, and
people across North America know this region needs greater protection. We're
all committed to making that happen, for endangered species, for clean air and
water, and to mitigate climate change."

    
    The government's mountain caribou recovery implementation plan includes:

    1.  2.2 million hectares protected from logging and road building,
        including new protected areas adding up to over 380,000 ha, and
        upgraded protections over hundreds of thousands more;
    2.  Protection of 95% of the high suitability caribou habitat identified
        by the government's mountain caribou science team;
    3.  A commitment to develop new management approaches in remaining
        habitat that will restore forests to conditions that support a
        healthier predator-prey balance; and
    4.  Development of stewardship agreements for commercial and non-
        commercial snowmobiling, heli-skiing and cat-skiing, and legal access
        closures of areas that science team members deem important for
        caribou.
    

    High-resolution rights-released photos available at www.forestethics.ca





For further information:

For further information: Candace Batycki, ForestEthics: (604) 219-7457;
John Bergenske, Wildsight: (250) 489-9605; Joe Scott, Conservation Northwest:
(360) 319-7056; Roy Howard, Fraser Headwaters Alliance, (250) 968-4490, or
cell (250) 961-9649; Rob Duncan, Sierra Club of Canada - BC Chapter: cell
(250) 889-2058; Joan Snyder, BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists), (250)
226-0012; Virginia Thompson, North Columbia Environmental Society, (250)
837-3840; Chris Steeger, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, (250)
354-0150; Chris Blake, Quesnel River Watershed Alliance, (250) 296-4358; Jim
Cooperman, Shuswap Environmental Action Society, (250) 679-3693, cell (250)
319-4197; www.mountaincaribou.ca

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