British Columbia

B.C. conservation officers work to protect caribou during Alberta long weekend

B.C. conservation officers will be patrolling the B.C.-Alberta border in an effort to protect caribou from snowmobilers.

Officers will monitor closed-off areas meant for caribou protection

Blair Lekstrom was appointed by the premier as a "community liaison" after opposition to the caribou recovery plan boiled over in the Peace in 2019. (Getty Images)

B.C. conservation officers are increasing patrols along the B.C.-Alberta border this weekend in advance of Alberta's Family Day holiday.

Extra officers are being stationed in Blue River, B.C., and Valemount. The extra officers are meant to protect the local caribou population, which is threatened by snowmobilers. 

Sgt. Kevin Van Damme with the Conservation Officer Service in Kamloops said there are many Albertan snowmobilers that ride recreationally in the area.

"They're seeking out the high alpine slopes that offer some of the best snowmobiling in the world," said Van Damme.

Van Damme said the many snowmobilers expected this long weekend are putting added pressure on conservation officers and the caribou themselves.

There have been several recent closures that restrict snowmobile access to known caribou hot spots, he said.

Van Damme pointed to recent research that shows caribou stress levels spike when they encounter snowmobiles and humans in general — something that can threaten the animal's life. In the winter, food is not as readily available and the caribou need to conserve energy.

Van Damme said helicopters and motorized patrols will be monitoring all the closures. He said if anyone trespasses into a closed-off area, there is a possibility they will be fined on the spot.

"Depending on how serious it is, or if they're repeat offenders, we may even seize their snowmobiles." 

Since 2009, more than one million hectares of mountain caribou habitat have been closed to snowmobiles and other winter vehicles as part of efforts to restore endangered herds.

The species is considered at risk of extinction, with dramatic declines in population.

With files from Jen Norwell and Andrew Kurjata