Lessons from Mountain Caribou Country: A 21st Century Conservation Opportunity

Lessons from Mountain Caribou Country: A 21st Century Conservation Opportunity

Conservation Northwest / Mar 16, 2016 / Work Updates

Marcus Reynerson inspects a shed mountain caribou antler found in high elevation rainforest in the Columbia Mountains of BC.
Text and photos by David Moskowitz

Editor’s Note: David is a biologist, photographer, author, and mountaineering and wildlife tracking instructor. He helps lead our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project as a contractor, and is the author of several renowned books on Northwest wildlife. You can support the Mountain Caribou Initiative on Kickstarter here.

When I decided to spend last July exploring the world of mountain caribou (also called woodland caribou) in northeastern Washington and the interior of British Columbia, I thought I understood the basics of the challenges this beautiful creature is facing in the modern world. Despite this, as I have delved deeper into this story, the complexity of the ecological, economic, and ethical dilemma we humans have created in this remote and beautiful ecosystem is truly staggering. Never before have I attempted to unpack a conservation conundrum as knotty as this one, with so much unknown about the prospects for success even in the best case scenarios.

With an introduction like this, you might suspect this is an easy story to get depressed about. But, the conservation conundrum we face with mountain caribou and their mountain rainforest home also is an amazing opportunity for us as a culture to step into a new way of looking at conservation, one fitting the problems and possibilities of the 21st Century.

A mountain caribou peers out through the forest. Hart Range, British Columbia

We live in a world and a time where borders and boundaries are becoming more permeable or functionally disappearing all together in how conservation issues are manifesting, posing challenges to systems that were defined by these distinctions—the regulations of one nation or another; the protection of an individual species with consideration for the ecosystem they live in only as it pertains to the animal; dealing with human economics and management of natural systems and services as separate tasks; the parsing of the local impacts of a local project without the ever broadening global context of all of our species actions; and ultimately, the separation of human and wild, developed and wilderness.

With the support of a number of forward thinking conservation groups such as Conservation Northwest, over the past nine months (and continuing in the months to come), myself and my team have been working on unpacking the complicated story of mountain caribou, their relationship to the mountains and rainforests they call home, and their relationship with the odd primates that share this planet with them.

Starting this summer, we will be releasing a wide variety of educational resources, magazine stories, photo essays, slideshows and video’s with the intention of both inspiring engagement with the specific challenges of this conservation story but also helping chart a new vision forward for conservation in the 21st century, a vision which I have learned a lot about from Conservation Northwest. One that recognizes community investment and dialogue is central to success. One that is founded on our best understanding of the actual situation on the ground. One that is both aspirational and pragmatic, respectful yet challenging. One that faces the reality of the challenging road ahead of us as a planet with curiosity, optimism and confidence.

Home range of the Southern Selkirks Herd of mountain caribou along the border of Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. This herd, the last to cross back and forth between Canada and the United States, is down to less than 20 animals.

We have a lot of work to do to protect the biodiversity and natural heritage of our region. The ongoing struggle to turn the tide for endangered mountain caribou is a struggle not just for this unique creature but also for a new way of taking on conservation challenges in our quickly evolving times. Stay tuned for images and stories from the field, opportunities to help bring this story to your community and bring the power of your community to bear on this story.

And please consider supporting our project’s ongoing Kickstarter Campaign at http://kck.st/1XibZEW.