April 22nd, 2024

We’re running out the clock on caribou population

By Lethbridge Herald on February 16, 2024.

Running Out the Clock on Caribou

Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

Great billows of smoke were used to hide battleships in wartime. Smokescreens are still employed, but to disguise a lack of meaningful activity, especially with the long-running battle to save caribou in Alberta. You can’t see the smoke, but it’s there in the form of caribou task forces, ostensibly tasked with saving caribou, but having the opposite intent. 

The federal government, the last chance for species at risk, has told the province to produce and deliver on a plan to ensure caribou don’t go the way of the passenger pigeon. A recently released report, years late, shows little or no progress.

 Caribou task forces were formed of concerned conservation groups and Indigenous Peoples plus the usual footdraggers of industry. In particular, the timber and energy industries are the ultimate gate-keepers, trying to run out the clock for caribou, as they maximize economic opportunity. They are abetted by timorous provincial politicians, who hide in plain sight, behind the smokescreen of these committees.

Caribou are running out of time. Or, time is running out of caribou. This species depends on mature to old growth forests. This is where lichens, the caribou’s main food source, are found. Mature forests don’t provide forage for moose and deer—the mainstay for wolves. When timber is harvested habitat shifts to benefit moose and deer and the logging roads, seismic lines, oilpatch roads and pipeline right of ways are perfect travel lanes for wolves. Caribou lose.

The pace of resource extraction in the northern foothills and boreal forest is at a stage where no caribou population seems safe and most are declining. 

Biologists hold little hope if the present trend continues. In the face of this, industry denies, delays, detracts and deflects from any reasonable solution that would keep caribou on the land.

The timber industry says, “Don’t worry, in 80 to 100 years there will be lots of caribou habitat.” This would be like assuring those in the conference room that oxygen isn’t available right now, but will be in a day or two. Perhaps it was a lack of oxygen that prompted the industry response. An energy representative replied that the pace of oil and gas extraction had to continue or else, “Where would the government get the financial resources for caribou habitat restoration?” These are not solutions, but rather hollow and disingenuous excuses.

In the sitcom, The Simpsons, Ned’s parents were beatniks, early precursors to hippies. In the care, raising and nurturing of Ned, they rejected the conventional norms and disciplines of parental authority and direction. 

Ned developed symptoms of bad behaviour, beyond their control. In desperation they took him to a child psychologist. The doctor asked what they had tried to change Ned’s behaviour. Ned’s father, frustrated and desperate for help said, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.” 

This Simpson’s episode is a perfect metaphor for the lack of progress on caribou conservation.

 This smokescreen doesn’t cover caribou, because there are so few left to disguise.

Politicians and the senior bureaucrats have forgotten who their “tribe” is—it is Albertans and not industry. That misplaced loyalty got us to where we are today with caribou. Utah Philips, folk singer, raconteur and anarchist, once said: “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are doing the killing have names and addresses.” Their names and affiliations are writ large on the phoney caribou task forces and, in the background, those who set up these smokescreens to disguise their spineless behaviour. 

Doing nothing is not a course of action. Instead, it is a flight from responsibility and accountability. It may be high time for the federal government to step in, to be the adults in the room. 

The province and its industry allies seem intent on running out the clock on caribou to ensure no appropriate recovery action is taken. Shame on them.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired provincial Fish and Wildlife Biologist and a former Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary.

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Funny how there are gatekeepers from industry on committees relating to our health and environment, but nary a health professional nor an environmentalist on an exploitation commitee – ahem, coal exploitation, irrigation expansion, renewable energy pause …

And ‘timorous’ may not be the word I would use above (maybe ‘captured’? ‘corrupt’? ‘cretinous’?)

On a more positive note: just finished Mr. Fitch’s new book titled ‘Streams of Consequence’. The essays pack a punch, maybe the sort of jolt we need to wake up.


“Premier Danielle Smith’s UCP government has appointed an advisory body with no known water experts. ” — this from an article by Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist and author.

Southern Albertan

If we do not take care of wildlife, forests, i.e. all of the environment, we are not taking care of ourselves. Wildlife, forests, and all of the environment are the canary in the mine….full impact on the future of the human race.


Thank you again Lorne for sharing your passion for our natural world, your expertise, time and efforts and superb communication skills. RESPECT.
Sadly I am feeling that efforts such as that are essentially pointless, beyond perhaps releasing some personal rage and grief. The corporations control our societies. PERIOD. Democracy is essentially a shadow play created by the corporations and enacted by their political puppets.
Truthfully I have no optimism remaining that humankind will forgo self-serving cultures of convenience and consumption, that people will become less self-absorbed. The average acquaintance in my extended family circle circle is far more interested in how soon their Uber Eats will arrive than any conversation regarding caribou herd survival.
I have been blessed to encounter woodland caribou during my work in the Wapiti District, and my travels, hikes, climbs, paddling in northern B.C. and Alberta. I am haunted by the morning when a sole caribou walked out of the fog one morning when I was stopped at the edge of a clearcut. I was looking at boxes of desiccated tree seedlings abandoned by planters. I was disgusted by the checker-board shaped clearcut patterns I was driving by. I am not certain to this day if the caribou was real or a ghost visiting me to share my sadness. Those caribou all seem to be ghosts.
Lorne I am sure, that like myself you have stood on a knoll looking down on a scene of wind swirling native grasslands just across the Alberta / Saskatchewan border, before range grazing management ensured those grasses never again exceeded their cost-effective grazing rates to ever swirl again. Today’s generations have never witnessed that, nor mile after mile of prairie potholes rich with ducks and bitterns. Perhaps Lorne your were delighted as I was at your first discovery, the first time you actually acknowledged it, of fairy candelabra ( Androsace septentrionalis ) among a short grass native prairie. No doubt you have stood, or laid on the ground, in awe looking up at Sprague’s pipits plummet in their courtships. No doubt spent time watching water ouzels walk on the bottom of a fast flowing stream, and dragonfly larvae fart. You and I know that freshwater sponges are a thing. But the truth is that very few people can tell the difference between a starling and a grackle. A couple I know who have raised cattle living on a farm for decades northwest of Lethbridge this year surprised me by asking me what a bird was sitting on the nearby post singing. It was a meadowlark.
I think I know more people who can identify more team members of the Seattle Seahawks or Calgary Flames than can identify a meadowlark. We are a culture of modern day gladiator fans. And I would suggest we have been well groomed to be just that.
Most of our current population have never seen what we have seen simply from our vehicle windows, when we were driving down a highway when we were their age. It does not exist. And never will again. The largest “clear-cut” on earth is the North American prairie native grassland.
The reality is Lorne, Danielle Smith obviously gets more hot and bothered by a ride in the back of a limo with Tucker Carlson than she would be by a caribou sighting.
It IS (insert curse word here) SAD.


things sure do not look they are going to get better any time soon. however, as much as there are those that revel in butchering natural beauty, and who prefer artificial everything, including “intelligence,” the planet, and the universe, will always have the final say. my greatest sadness regards the pain and suffering we inflict to all things, which are not deserving of our nastiness.

Last edited 2 months ago by biff

The vaunted push to increase tourism in Alberta will surely benefit from increased clear-cuts replacing the caribou herds. Who wants to look at wildlife when you could be viewing stumps?
The superior forestry method of thinning, which saves watersheds as well as ungulates, will never be used in a province where the only voices with influence are greedy corporate lobbyists.


Wolves can be an important predator of adult caribou in the winter. Grizzly bears are found on both the summer and winter ranges of the Porcupine caribou. Wolverine are capable of killing a newborn calf or a cow giving birth. They also will take a sick or dying caribou.
A more in-depth study needs to be done other than blaming foot draggers which basically illustrates your contempt for industries of which you gladly partake of each day.


Studies galore completed.


You forgot lightning strikes, buckwheat:

I’m so relieved that our industrial footprint in caribou habitat has absolutely nothing to do with their impending extirpation.



John P Nightingale

Blaming wolves is a pathetic go-to exercise by the uninformed. Same with the grizzly bear and the wolverine. All are predators, no one can claim otherwise. All attack and kill prey species such as caribou, again no one claims otherwise. Generally, as mentioned, they prey on the weak or injured. This is the cycle of the natural world.
Predator control such as shooting wolves is an easy to instigate yet band-aid method – it ignores the real cause of these drastic declines in some, but not all caribou populations. The Porcupine herd has remained steady despite predation. Less mining and more natural protection in this area is considered a major reason for such population stability.
Predation by these top of the pack predators do not decimate an entire population. One herd in northern Canada declined from close to a half million to less than 7,000 today.
Climate change resulting in permafrost melt for example, decreasing food supply, increasing roads across migratory paths, deforestation , over hunting, pollution from mines and yes, disease in some circumstances, are some of the leading causes, not the easy to blame natural predators. More studies are not needed – real action is.
Try linking isolated habitats , reducing forestry in vulnerable caribou habitat, controlling ground pollutants , decrease hunting limits, use real data concerning migration patterns to dictate future road/pipeline access – if absolutely necessary.
No “contempt” from this source to established mines and oil extraction . Accepting the real facts and looking to the future incorporating genuine scientific and Inuit knowledge is key, not the tired mantra of “the only wolf is a dead wolf”.


Last week it was polar bears. Ranting about nothing.


I missed that. What were the polar bears ranting about?


FYI: Sophie apparently the polar bears are running out of their natural food resources, specifically the ice shelves to hunt seals from, due to Arctic waters thawing, so they are upset that Trudeau isn’t chartering buses to relocate them to where the caribou are so they can eat them too; they claim their rights are being abused given all these other predators are being allowed to slaughter the caribou. At least that is how Danielle explained it.

John P Nightingale

You know, sometimes you actually have something reasonable to say. But your cynical responses here do nothing other than confirming that in this case you have not got a clue. If you really understood the state of the Arctic and the plight of some polar bear populations, you might think twice .(But I seriously doubt it)
And BTW, you did not respond to my observations, but I suppose you really do not care , hence the cynical segue into another likely climate casualty.


how are you so thick when it comes to acknowledging that we are plundering and short-circuiting the natural systems that all life forms depend upon? do you actually see it as a better world, this artificially reconstructed one, after it is raped, poisoned and bludgeoned, in the name of greed and ego?

Last edited 1 month ago by biff

Suggest you change your underwear once every two weeks never wash you dishes wear a coat and keep your furnace shut off. Oh and don’t charge your EV so you can sleep at night saving the planet. The planet is just find. It’s the mind numbing cause jumping imbeciles that create a crisis and a cross to die on. What is this about the fourth peak oil scare. You sound old enough to remember the 30’s. If you’re not look it up and get some perspective. Also Palliser said this area wasn’t fit for human habitation. Look up Palliser Triangle. Enlighten yourself from your rants.


Buckwheat I am always impressed with your tenacious grip on the Dunning-Kruger Effect.


your denial is for what – so you can have whatever you wish, always, despite that approach consistently undermining the biodiversity of the planet? do you really see the planet as better today than it was in preceding generations? if you fail to see as much, then i guess your standard is strictly based on “money” and gadgets and consumption, and less to none about the health of the systems which we pass on to future generations of life forms.
I am further confounded by your tendency to use extremes as basis to underscore your position, rather than being able to acknowledge there is a sensible, grey area, middle ground solution to concerns.

Last edited 1 month ago by biff