MCP Field Notes: Visiting the Kennedy Siding Herd

MCP Field Notes: Visiting the Kennedy Siding Herd

Text by Marcus Reynerson

In late November 2015, Dave and I embarked on a short and spontaneous trip up to central British Columbia to search for mountain caribou in their early winter habitat. Many miles on the road, numerous podcasts, sub-freezing temperatures, and Coconut Cream Pie defined the contours of our journey to photograph Rangifer tarandus. We traveled to the northern extent of mountain caribou range in the Rocky Mountain Trench so we could catch a glimpse of the Kennedy Siding herd – a group of just under 50 animals that reside south of Mackenzie, BC.

 Two bull’s from the Kennedy Siding herd sparing.

Two bull’s from the Kennedy Siding herd sparing.

 A glimpse into fall field conditions for caribou and photographers alike. Photo by Marcus Reynerson.

A glimpse into fall field conditions for caribou and photographers alike. Photo by Marcus Reynerson.

In the heart of country dominated by the logging and pulp industry, Mackenzie was first settled in the mid 1960s after being established by British Columbia Forest Products. The town boasts itself as home to the “world’s largest tree crusher” – a massive mechanical beast, that proved to be inefficient and, by most accounts, inept in its bid to clear land when the massive Williston Reservoir was constructed adjacent to Mackenzie. While the piece of machinery itself – the Le Tourneau G175 – was, indeed, impressive at 175 tons, there was an air of awkward heaviness pervading an industry town existing specifically so people can pull up a forest like old carpet. A little online research led us to this meditative video of tree crushers doing what they do best (crushing trees). This is, perhaps, representative of the general headwind that the slim Kennedy Siding herd is facing as it tries to carve out an existence here.

 Marcus Reynerson following the trail of several caribou through fresh snow.

Marcus Reynerson following the trail of several caribou through fresh snow.

 Marcus Reynerson inspecting where a caribou dug through the shallow fall snow to access forage, in this case terrestrial lichens.

Marcus Reynerson inspecting where a caribou dug through the shallow fall snow to access forage, in this case terrestrial lichens.

 Several members of the Kennedy Siding herd in the thick pine forest characteristic of their late fall-early winter habitat.

Several members of the Kennedy Siding herd in the thick pine forest characteristic of their late fall-early winter habitat.

We were fortunate to visit with Doug Heard, a wildlife biologist from the University of Northern British Columbia, who helped us find the local herd in a large pine flat near Mackenzie. Doug is currently spearheading an experimental feeding program for the Kennedy-Siding herd, to see if this might increase the fitness and survival rates of members of this herd. While the long-term hopes of Caribou survival depend on far greater and more complex conservation issues – industrial logging, oil and gas extraction, winter recreation by humans in caribou habitat, and climate change – shorter-term “stop-gap” tactics are under way to help these animals hang on in the meantime. Doug has had his hands in many of these efforts, including maternity penning, predator control, and feeding regimes. It was a great pleasure and privilege to spend a few days with these animals and observe them. I’m grateful for Doug’s hard work and heart he is bringing to his work with the Kennedy-Siding herd.

 Biologist Doug Herd helping us get oriented for our field trip at his home office in Prince George, BC.

Biologist Doug Herd helping us get oriented for our field trip at his home office in Prince George, BC.

 David Moskowitz braves a fall snow-storm to capture caribou photos. Photo by Marcus Reynerson.

David Moskowitz braves a fall snow-storm to capture caribou photos. Photo by Marcus Reynerson.

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David Moskowitz

David Moskowitz, Winthrop, WA, 98862