On a deadly trail

Caribou are disappearing at an alarming rate. But some think they know how to save them.

On a deadly trail

Valerie Courtois/Canadian Boreal

For years, First Nations groups and scientists have been warning about the decline of caribou. Now, with some herds wiped out completely and others suffering declines of up to 97 per cent since the 1980s, governments and resource companies are finally taking note.

The threat to caribou was an especially hot topic last month in Winnipeg at the 13th annual North American Caribou Workshop, normally a low-key event dominated by scientists and researchers. First Nations—asked to consult based on their millennia-long relationship with the animal—made up more then half of the participants, and the workshop attracted representatives from the governments of Greenland, Russia, the Canadian Prairies and territories, and major natural resource companies including AbitibiBowater. Avrim Lazar, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, the trade organization that represents forestry companies, says many of those in the industry are starting to plan developments around caribou.

This comes at a vital time for the species that has been labelled as threatened for the past 10 years. Climate change is literally melting their habitat, and resource development efforts continue to push north into the old-growth boreal forests and Arctic tundra that they need to survive. “As goes habitat, so goes caribou,” says James Schaefer, a biology professor at Trent University.

But new research is helping scientists understand the fragility of the animal’s life cycle, and what can be done to maintain it. Schaefer says noise from mining, forestry and other industry changes migration and interrupts breeding cycles. A herd can roam upwards of 100,000 sq. km a year and movement is easily disrupted by minor disturbances like trails and roads. But developments have the opposite effect on moose and white-tailed deer, who thrive in disturbed areas and out-compete caribou for resources.

Schaefer says the only way to save caribou is by setting aside massive tracts of land for conservation. But that doesn’t mean all industrial development has to stop. By monitoring herds in Canada, Schaefer and other scientists have discovered that up to a third of the caribou’s habitat can be encroached on by humans before population numbers start falling.

With this knowledge, companies, governments and First Nations are moving quickly. Agreements have already been signed over the location and profit-sharing of developments in Labrador and the Northwest Territories, and negotiations are under way for land use agreements in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “Our survival has depended on caribou and now the roles have reversed,” says Schaefer. “We need to stop the piecemeal approach [to development]. It will be a change, but we can have the best of both worlds.”




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On a deadly trail

  1. Blah blah blah…snore…Are these the same scientists who said that the sockeye salmon were extinct due to global warming and/or salmon farms? Their solution was to close the salmon farms and introduce draconian carbon reductions. Then of course the sockeye returned with a vengeance and those scientists are now making a whole new set of excuses. So now the claims are the caribou are disappearing. I'm so tired of this, it sounds more like ideology than fact.

  2. Are you for real klem? If you read more than headlines you would have a greater understanding of both the caribou and sockeye situations in Canada. Did you not read in this article that "some herds wiped out completely and other s suffering declines of up to 97%"? Once a herd is wiped out, there is no chance to return with a vengeance. That's not ideology, thats fact. I'm sorry your tired of this, but maybe if you tried to develop a deeper understanding of the situation it wouldn't be so boring to you and you could provide a more insightful comment. And scientists did not say that sockeye were extinct, simply that they were at risk and that the runs were greatly reduced – all of which is true.

  3. Are you for real klem? If you read more than headlines you would have a greater understanding of both the caribou and sockeye situations in Canada. Did you not read in this article that "some herds wiped out completely and other s suffering declines of up to 97%"? Once a herd is wiped out, there is no chance to return with a vengeance. That's not ideology, thats fact. I'm sorry your tired of this, but maybe if you tried to develop a deeper understanding of the situation it wouldn't be so boring to you and you could provide a more insightful comment. And scientists did not say that sockeye were extinct, simply that they were at risk and that the runs were greatly reduced – all of which is true.

  4. So, re-examining data and looking for further causal relationships/data is "a new set of excuses."? Dammit why do I reply to obvious trolling, I can't help it.

  5. So, re-examining data and looking for further causal relationships/data is "a new set of excuses."? Dammit why do I reply to obvious trolling, I can't help it.

  6. "By monitoring herds in Canada, Schaefer and other scientists have discovered that up to a third of the caribou's habitat can be encroached on by humans before population numbers start falling."

    Is this justification for more encroaching, or is this actually true? I would like an expansion/explanation of this sentence…

  7. "By monitoring herds in Canada, Schaefer and other scientists have discovered that up to a third of the caribou's habitat can be encroached on by humans before population numbers start falling."

    Is this justification for more encroaching, or is this actually true? I would like an expansion/explanation of this sentence…

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