Revelstoke is neatly nested in an inland temperate rainforest that runs through the Pacific Northwest, a unique and fragile habitat that flows through United States and British Columbia. This ecosystem, and specifically the Mountain Caribou it houses, feature predominantly in David Moskowitz’s work.
Moskowitz is a widely published wildlife photographer and author. He has contributed to several wildlife studies, that focus on non-invasive methods of studying wildlife. He has a passion for complex environmental ecosystems, having previously published extensively about the wolves of the Pacific Northwest.
The inland rainforest that surrounds Revelstoke is one such complex ecosystem.
“It’s the only one of its kind in the world,” says Moskowitz. “I don’t think many people know that. It is the only home of the Mountain Caribou. It surprises people to learn there are caribou in the woods.”
The Revelstoke area has a herd of these enigmatic undulates about 200 strong, around 17 percent of the 1,200 remaining Mountain Caribou. Do not be deceived, while the number sounds impressive, historically, it would be considered a small herd.
“The main scientifically proven issue affecting these animals is that the destruction of their refuge habitat leads to their decline,” Moskowitz says.
This destruction affects the caribou population in various ways. It can fracture and isolate caribou populations, causing the herds to become effectively stuck in an area.
The dropping caribou numbers are familiar story to Revelstokians. Attempts to save protect the herd in this area include maternity pens, area closures, the relocation of the remaining herds from the Nelson and St Mary’s area to the Revelstoke herd, and talks of captive breeding programs. All of these actions speak to our resolve in saving the species.
The need to protect the caribou is one reason fines for crossing into area closures spiked this year. A reason for this is because humans have huge energy reserves. We can go into an area well fed, with our machines, enjoy ourselves, and leave to replenish ourselves. Caribou in winter have very low energy reserves. They survive on lichen, which is not energy rich, and rely on not having to expend much energy to survive the winter. So when humans come into their area and force them to expend their reserves to run away, it has a domino effect.
The effect includes leaving the caribou vulnerable to predators, whose proximity to the caribou has increased with the loss of rainforest.
Yet, as effective as short term efforts may be, Moskowitz is adamant that the real change needs to be pushed through government and is reliant on the conservation, preservation, reclamation and restitution of the caribou’s ecosystem. This protection needs to be achieved in British Columbia and several US states.
Moskowitz proposes the need to change timber management at government levels. He notes that, for the most part, the timber logging industry has been created in a way that benefits the large companies, rather the communities it impacts.
Moskowitz does not believe in an ‘us and them’ mentality towards those involved in harvesting key natural resources. Instead he urges conservation and more creative and small scale solutions. Ultimately, he believes the protection of sensitive forests, such as caribou’s refuge habitat – the inland rainforest, and improved government regulations in the industry, is the best long term solution.
While one might consider Revelstoke ahead of the curve by having several local mills, but sadly, it is not the case. Much of timber cut around Revelstoke goes is processed into pulp. In fact, Revelstoke could be considered a prime example of unsustainable logging practices in the liquidation of old growth forest.
Moskowitz notes that Downie Timber Ltd is heavily reliant on unsustainable cut rates and removal of old growth forests.
“When the first round of cutting is done in this area, I would suspect their current operations will have to change significantly if they are going to survive,” he says.
Smaller mills, such as Nelson’s Harrop-Procter Forest Products, can process small diameter trees. This allows them to work well with a forestry plan that looks towards forest restoration and watershed protection rather than old growth forest liquidation.
“The caribou is an umbrella species,” explains Moskowitz. “The ecosystem will continue without them, unlike the ecosystem around say, a beaver habitat.”
It is Moskowitz’s fear that, if the caribou do not recover, the entire ecosystem will perish as the checks and balances put in place by humans will be rescinded.
Despite the dire situation, Moskowitz is hopeful.
“Ultimately, human choices and policies are going to be what decides the fate of the caribou and they ecosystem they live in,” he says. “We all want something similar, which is a safe place to raise their children and care for their community in a culturally relevant context. Our challenge is to expand our understanding of who is a part of our community and family and how to honor the cultural contexts of different people and wild creatures.”
Moskowitz’s most recent book, Caribou Rainforest: From Heartbreak to Hope (November 2018, Braided River), is a beautiful non-fiction book filled with incredible photographs of the caribou throughout the pacific northwest. In the book, Moskowitz talks with local experts in a wide variety of topics. These include the failure of governments to regulate industrial resource extraction effectively, honouring the rights of indigenous peoples, and how we can help support this critically endangered habitat.
WildSight and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative are hosting a Moskowitz’s multimedia tour as he visits various places throughout BC. He will be at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre January 19. Doors open at 6:30pm, the event starts at 7:00pm. Entrance is by donation.