03/25/2015 09:48 EDT | Updated 05/25/2015 05:59 EDT

Telkwa caribou threatened by backcountry snowmobilers, skiers

There are only 16 caribou left in the Telkwa Caribou herd in the Bulkley Valley, and biologists are worried an increase in back country activity — such as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing — is threatening the already precarious population.

"A lot of people live in the north because of the outdoor recreation activities and back country opportunities," Conrad Thiessen, a wildlife biologist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, told Daybreak North's Carolina de Ryk.

"We do fixed wing flights to look at how much activity is occurring in the back country, and on a recent flight we saw more tracks then we've seen in recent history in a number of areas where we haven't seen activity before."

Thiessen said more snowmobiles can stress the caribou and may force them to move them to a different habitat, where food is less readily available — or may push them into an avalanche zone.

"When you get a very small herd like the Telkwa herd an avalanche or something catastrophic like that can have a large impact on the population, similar to what happened in Banff where the last remaining of the Banff caribou herd were killed in an avalanche," he said.

The packed snow from the snowmobiles or cross country skis can also bring wolves to the area.

The area has now been closed to snowmobiles and skiers, and it appears people are — for the most part — respecting the closures, Thiessen said.

To hear the full interview with Conrad Thiessen, click the audio labelled: How snowmobilers are hurting caribou.