Monday 29 July 2019

A small town's economy. Endangered caribou. Which do we protect?

British Columbia faces extreme protections to help the caribou, which would decimate the economies of towns like Revelstoke – prompting a ‘moral crisis’
Mon 15 Jul 2019 06.00 BSTLast modified on Mon 15 Jul 2019 06.48 BST
On 15 April, with less than a week’s notice, 700 people squeezed into a community center in Revelstoke, British Columbia, for a last-minute meeting with Canadian government officials. Snowmobilers, skiers, loggers, activists, berry-pickers and business owners were all drawn there to discuss the threat of a widespread closure to the mountains that are the lifeblood of this community.
At stake: three herds of caribou. Or, potentially, the entire town.
British Columbia is rushing to put plans in place to manage the endangered woodland caribou before the Canadian federal government loses patience and invokes the most extreme protections across herd ranges, which would likely involve year-round blanket closures to the mountains to protect caribou habitat. Such mass closures would decimate the economies of neighboring small towns, like Revelstoke, that depend on those same mountains for tourism and resource extraction, like logging.
This debate leaves residents with a troubling question: how much are they expected to sacrifice to save a dying species?
A recently released UN report reveals that the planet is on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. Caribou have long been a symbol of the north, once roaming in vast herds and numbering at least 40,000 in BC alone. Known as “grey ghosts” for their elusive nature, they are in danger of becoming literal ghosts: in May 2018, the federal government declared that the remaining southern mountain population of woodland caribou in the country’s western reaches faced an “imminent threat” to survival. The South Selkirk caribou herd that roamed the US border disappeared earlier this year, taking with it the last caribou from the lower 48. And many of the herds left in Canada have too few animals for a likely chance at long-term survival.

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