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How do you help grow a mining operation and a caribou population at the same time?

On the mountain peaks of northeast British Columbia (BC) live the threatened Northern Caribou. Despite the resource development around them, the caribou roam this remote habitat feeding on the lichen native to the area. We’re working with our client, AngloAmerican, and the BC Government to establish mining practices that balance the caribou’s needs with project opportunities while supporting their recovery.

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Northern Caribou remaining

Northern Caribou sightings are infrequent. Only 17,000 of this ecotype of Canadian Woodland Caribou live throughout Northern BC.

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Threatened caribou herds

Of the 31 Northern Caribou herds in BC, 15 are listed as “Threatened” under the Species at Risk Act.

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Percent survival rate (or less)

Less than half of Northern Caribou calves (30 to 50% on average) survive their first year.

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The woodland caribou is the middle child of North America’s ungulates. Smaller than moose or elk, and less agile than mule or whitetail deer, caribou are prime prey for predators like wolves and grizzly bears.

But, unlike their relatives, caribou can feed on lichen growing on high, windswept alpine peaks, navigating these mountainous habitats away from predators. Though this gives them an advantage, they’re still at risk. Resource access roads to mountain peaks expose the caribou’s sanctuary to predators, and developments cut into prime winter habitat.

Governments are collaborating with the energy and resource community to minimize the impact of progress and help boost the caribou population, which has been declining across Canada. This is where our team of wildlife biologists and reclamation specialists comes in.

Coal mining is resulting in the protection of prime Northern Caribou habitat, thanks to BC’s Northern Caribou Management Plan. For every acre disturbed, four times that area is set aside and protected. We worked with the government and our client, AngloAmerican, to pioneer one of the first habitat swaps, and set the benchmark for the future.

Make a fair trade

This habitat securement is no simple mountaintop swap. To be a meaningful conservation effort, it has to make sense for the caribou. Our biologists created a multilayered approach, setting the gold standard in habitat compensation. After determining the area AngloAmerican’s new Roman Mine would disturb, we used Terrestrial Ecosystem Mapping to define areas within their leasehold that met the basic requirements. The mapping system combines traditional maps with high-resolution satellite imagery to determine elevation, vegetation, water sources, and the terrain’s steepness.

Now we get our boots dirty. With mapping data narrowing the search, our biologists hit the ground to ensure the identified areas actually make sense for caribou. Is it high enough? Is there ample lichen for food? Is it too steep? Can they find water? Are there signs of predators? This hands-on approach further narrows the options.

With the final choices in hand, the caribou themselves verify which are best. Caribou wearing government-issued radio collars provide data showing where they feel at home. Those spots go to the top of the list.

With all this data, AngloAmerican made the most informed decision for their habitat compensation submission to the government. This habitat securement kept their mining operation moving forward, while setting aside more than 4,500 acres (four times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park and five times the size of Central Park in Manhattan) for the caribou to call their own.

We're better together

Our work begins at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. With a long-term commitment to the people and places we serve, we have the unique ability to connect to projects on a personal level and advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

Kendra Bennett
Restoration Specialist
Kendra Bennett
Restoration Specialist

It’s exciting to be part of a project that has the potential to prevent mortality in the Quintette Caribou herd, an at-risk population in British Columbia.… Read More

Colleen Bryden
Principal, Senior Wildlife Biologist
Colleen Bryden
Principal, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Being part of a process that contributes toward addressing caribou concerns in northeast BC has been a challenge and a privilege.… Read More

Joanna Preston
Wildlife Biologist
Joanna Preston
Wildlife Biologist

I enjoyed finding practical solutions that minimized project effects on caribou and were supported by regulators and First Nations.… Read More

Natalie Tashe
Senior Associate
Natalie Tashe
Senior Associate

Our team helped set the standard for how things are done to protect caribou on mine sites in Northeast British Columbia.… Read More

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