New Maps Highlight Ongoing Habitat Destruction in Threatened Caribou Ranges: Backgrounder

Boreal woodland caribou (‘caribou’1) live across northern Canada and need large, intact forests to survive. The ultimate cause of caribou decline across the country is habitat loss and fragmentation from extensive industrial resource extraction activities. Extensive habitat disturbance in turn increases predation rates for caribou beyond what they can tolerate. To date, these caribou have lost more than half of their historic range in the continent.2 In 2012, the federal Recovery Strategy identified that 37 of 51 populations are not self-sustaining.3Caribou are a cornerstone of many Indigenous Peoples’ culture and history; for thousands of years Indigenous Peoples from across Canada have relied and continue to rely on caribou for sustenance and as a central part of their culture.

Under the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA), the federal government is mandated to identify caribou critical habitat – the habitat that caribou need to survive and recover – in a Recovery Strategy. It did so in 2012. A team of North America’s leading caribou experts established a strong relationship between the extent of habitat disturbance and whether a local population increases, declines or remains stable. From this, the federal government assessed how levels of habitat disturbance affect risk to caribou populations. It directed provinces to manage forests such that there is at least 65% undisturbed habitat in each caribou range, to give caribou at least a 60% chance to be self-sustaining.

Across Canada, provinces have failed to apply this science in effective caribou management strategies. As a result, disturbance levels continue to increase, and caribou in many ranges continue to decline. Below are three examples of ranges where increasing industrial activity since the Recovery Strategy’s release continues to undermine caribou survival and recovery.

Hot Spot Maps – Chinchaga AB, Pipmuacan QC, Brightsand ON

By using the slider on the interactive maps below to slide back and forth, you will see forest fragmentation in 2012 when the Recovery Strategy came out, and how it looked in 2016, four years later. We have selected “hot spots” in each range, where you can see how forestry and other developments continue to expand in caribou ranges. Use the overview maps on the right to select different hotspots to look at. You can also use the check boxes on the bottom left to highlight specific types of additional development.

Habitat disturbance in Chinchaga Caribou Range: 2012–2016 (Hotspot 1)

Chinchaga in 2012

2012-09-17
Chinchaga in 2016

2016-05-15

JuxtaposeJS

Highlight Types of New Disturbance:

 Range Boundary


 Roads
 Cutblocks
 500m Buffer

Projection: Canada Albers Equal Area Conic. Mapping prepared 2017-10-27, cartographer: S. Nichols. For technical details and information on the methodology used to produce these maps, please contact Carolyn Campbell at ccampbell@abwild.ca.

Brightsand (ON)
Hotspot: [1] [2]
Chinchaga (AB)
Hotspot: [1] [2]
Pipmuacan (QC)
Hotspot: [1] [2]

Alberta Profile

Alberta is one of Canada’s few provinces without a specific law to protect its species at risk. Alberta’s archaic Wildlife Act focuses on managing hunting rather than the importance of securing wildlife habitat. Recent caribou management decisions include both positive and negative elements, but overall, new forestry and energy sector surface disturbance continues to destroy caribou critical habitat within many of the province’s already excessively disturbed ranges. A long-term commitment to habitat maintenance and recovery must replace reliance on band-aid wildlife management measures, such as predator culls.

Alberta has monitored female mortality and calf survival in all its caribou populations. In 2013, the peer-reviewed scientific conclusions from this population research showed caribou were declining rapidly across Alberta, with a decline of approximately 50% every 8 years.

On the positive side, Alberta has paused new energy lease auctions within caribou ranges since summer 2015. It has also allowed existing lease holders to voluntarily delay drilling in ranges until early 2019. A government-appointed mediator conducted inclusive consultations on west central ranges in early 2016. In June 2016, Alberta made a high profile commitment to establish significant new protected areas in three northwest caribou ranges; these would be in portions of the range that have no existing industrial forestry tenure.

However, there are no timelines to stop new disturbance or achieve the minimum intact habitat levels to recover caribou. Alberta’s only draft caribou range plan is for the Little Smoky and A La Peche ranges in west central Alberta: it proposes more short-term logging (albeit less than ‘business as usual’), unspecified new oil and gas-related surface disturbance, and is silent on long-term logging. This ongoing habitat loss will lengthen reliance on the regrettable 10 year old massive wolf kill in that region. The draft plan also proposes to confine wild caribou females within a large fenced compound, and then release their yearlings into worsening habitat. A positive element of the draft range plan is an extensive seismic line restoration program, funded largely by the energy industry.

Chinchaga Range Profile – Situated on Alberta’s northwest border adjacent to BC, the Chinchaga caribou range was assessed as having 76% habitat disturbance in 2011. It has one of the lowest estimated calf survival rates in Alberta. Since the 2012 federal caribou Recovery Strategy, the Alberta government auctioned 1000 km2 of new energy leases in this range before halting lease sales in August 2015. One Wildland Park covers 5% of this caribou range; otherwise there are no limits to industrial disturbance. In June 2016, the Alberta government promised to extend the existing Wildland Park by 3500 km2 into an adjacent area that has no industrial forestry, to increase protected areas to 24% of this range; however, there have been few follow-up actions to date.

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Participation of Alberta’s indigenous communities and stakeholders is needed to find optimal solutions for range plans. Sustainable economies for communities can be consistent with caribou recovery, including:

  • Significant energy extraction from greatly reduced surface footprint, with longer distance directional drilling, pooled leases and shared infrastructure.
  • Substantial jobs from extensive forest habitat restoration programs across and adjacent to ranges.
  • Reformed regional timber supply allocation and management, to support sustainable forestry that is compatible with recovery of caribou and other sentinel wildlife species.

Quebec Profile

Quebec’s woodland caribou recovery team was formed in 2003 and is comprised of scientific experts, government and industry representatives, outfitters, First Nations and environmental NGOs. In May 2013, the team produced its second 10-year woodland caribou recovery plan (2013-2023). Despite acknowledging receipt of the plan, the government indicated it would not adopt it due to potential socio-economic impacts. In April 2016, Quebec announced it had a “credible, acceptable and reasonable” action plan for woodland caribou habitat conservation. That plan is currently in development and expected to be released in 2018.

Quebec has come under fire in recent months due to a highly controversial announcement that the isolated Val d’Or population (~18 individuals) would be translocated to a zoo in St-Félicien. Furthermore, it was revealed that construction of a new road had been approved through one of the population’s last refuge areas against the recommendation of government scientists. Opposition to the government’s announcement was so fervent that the St-Félicien zoo finally retracted. However, construction of the road in question is still underway. Overall, Quebec’s announcement sets a dangerous precedent suggesting it is an acceptable solution to relocate threatened caribou and thereby ignore the underlying sustainability issue.

Industrial forest management is the primary driver of caribou critical habitat deterioration in Quebec. Additional disturbances include mining, hydroelectric development and recreational tourism. The majority of Quebec’s commercial forest is excessively disturbed and considered unlikely to support self-sustaining caribou populations. Current modeling projections indicate that in many cases, sufficient habitat recovery is unlikely to occur over the next 100 years. The areas most likely to support self-sustaining caribou populations at present include the Broadback river valley, the White Mountains, and the remote North and Lower North Shore regions.

Although cumulative disturbances continue to further erode caribou critical habitat in Quebec, certain places have benefited from interim protection. Negotiations continue towards designating at least one new protected area in the White Mountains. A relatively small portion of the Broadback river valley was granted permanent protection in 2015, although roughly half of it is situated outside the commercial forest. The Quebec government is currently designing a network of ‘suitable vast areas’ for caribou, within which mitigation measures yet to be disclosed will be implemented. These are likely to involve special management of intact residual forests presently slated for future logging.

In terms of other concrete measures, Quebec is investing $7 million over the next 3 years toward population delineation and monitoring, although this also includes migratory and mountain caribou of Quebec. Work has also begun on a pilot study area in the North Shore region where road restoration practices will be tested. Lastly, four technical committees have been formed to develop the governmental action plan as it pertains to habitat management, socioeconomic impacts, population monitoring and population protection. Quebec’s action plan for woodland caribou is eagerly awaited, and a significant step forward is needed if it is to meet the requirements of the federal recovery strategy.

Pipmuacan Range Profile – The Pipmuacan caribou range overlaps the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean (western portion) and North Shore (eastern portion) regions of Quebec4 near the Pipmuacan hydroelectric reservoir. It is one of the southernmost ranges found within the semi-continuous caribou distribution zone and therefore among the most disturbed. Several hundred kilometres of new roads have been built on the Pipmuacan range since the federal Recovery Strategy was released, and several hundred square kilometres of caribou critical habitat have been logged. In 2013, range disturbance within the two forest management units encompassing the Pipmuacan range was estimated to be roughly 74%,5 most of which is attributed to the permanent road network. Less than 1% of this area is protected, and even the most optimistic scenario indicates that cumulative disturbance rates will remain over 45% in the long term (100 years).6

Landscape mapping combined with aerial surveys conducted by government biologists in 2007 and then in 2012 suggest that caribou may have gradually concentrated near the Pipmuacan reservoir as a result of extensive logging in the surrounding areas. Recent data indicates that calf recruitment is insufficient to compensate for adult mortality, and supports the conclusion that caribou of the Pipmuacan range are declining.7 What is more, this decline is expected to continue well into the future without a substantial commitment by government to increase habitat protection.

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Recently, the Montreal Economic Institute reported that the conservation of woodland caribou in Quebec would cost the forest industry $740 million and 5700 jobs.8 This sensationalist claim is based on superficial rules of thumb, not a rigorous and scientifically defensible economic study. In reality, changes in fibre sourcing and consumer demand have played a key role in the downsizing and increased automation of the forest industry in recent years, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs in the forest sector. Under the circumstances, caribou have become a vulnerable scapegoat for forestry industry lobbyists. While conservation of caribou critical habitat may result in reduced wood supply, practical solutions exist and these must be embraced while there is still time. For example, government subsidies normally directed toward road construction and maintenance could instead be used to train and hire skilled workers for habitat restoration purposes. Furthermore, practicing intensive forestry close to mills could lessen logging pressure in more remote intact areas where boreal caribou are more likely to be concentrated due to existing habitat disturbance. Conducting forest management planning at the population range scale would facilitate this approach by increasing the area within which wood volumes could be sourced.

Ontario Profile

For two decades, Ontario has had management policies in place that apply to boreal woodland caribou. As a listed threatened species9 under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA), they require a provincial Recovery Strategy and government ‘response statement.’ In 2008, the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou in Ontario was finalized, and the government’s response statement, known as Ontario’s Woodland Caribou Conservation Plan (‘CCP’), was released in October 2009.10 Its goals are “to maintain self-sustaining, genetically-connected local populations of Woodland Caribou (forest-dwelling boreal population) where they currently exist, improve security and connections among isolated mainland local populations, and facilitate the return of caribou to strategic areas near their current extent of occurrence.” The key innovation of the CCP was that it prescribed the adoption of a range management approach: caribou ranges would provide the geographic basis for evaluating habitat conditions, identifying caribou habitat, assessing population trends, and quantifying and addressing cumulative effects. Five years later (December 2014), Ontario published the “Range Management Policy in Support of Woodland Caribou and Recovery.” The first Principle of the Range Management Policy is that ranges will be managed such that “the amount of cumulative disturbance remains at or moves towards a level that supports a self-sustaining caribou population.”11Despite the breadth of policy and management guidance developed in Ontario, cumulative disturbance, specifically anthropogenic disturbance, has continued to increase since the federal Recovery Strategy was published in 2012. In the seven caribou ranges that overlap with industrial logging, the estimated anthropogenic disturbance12 was 6,975,000 ha in 2012, and rose to 7,178,400 ha in 201513, an increase of 200,000 ha. During the same period, natural disturbance increased by 13,000 ha.14 Five of the seven caribou ranges that overlap with industrial logging are below the minimum 65% undisturbed threshold identified in the federal Recovery Strategy. Four populations are now considered at moderate-high risk, and unlikely to persist if conditions do not change. In addition, recent population surveys have indicated that most caribou are in decline in Ontario: some moderately, some significantly.15Caribou recovery is further hampered by the fact that forestry activities associated with industrial logging have received a regulatory exemption from Ontario’s ESA. As a result, they are not subject to the recovery requirements defined under this law (i.e., “overall benefit”). This is despite the fact that disturbance associated with industrial logging and associated roads areis one of the key contributors to cumulative disturbance in Ontario’s managed forest. Instead, forest management direction is provided through the 1994 Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA) which is designed to mitigate impacts of logging on wildlife habitat, not support the recovery of species at risk.

Brightsand Range Profile Located just north of Thunder Bay, the Brightsand caribou range is considered “unlikely” to persist, based on cumulative disturbance which has now exceeded 45%.16 In the 3 years that Ontario undertook calf recruitment surveys (2011-2013), recruitment ranged from 18.2 to 25.5 calves per 100 cows. Environment Canada (2008) suggests that a level of 29.8 calves per 100 cows is needed to support a stable or increasing population. The most recent range report also stated that long-term trends suggest that range recession has occurred within the Brightsand range, as some previously occupied areas in the southern portion of the range are no longer occupied by caribou. As an average across the Brightsand range, young forests are within the amount expected under natural conditions, however, there is a significant variation in spatial distribution – the bulk of mature and old growth forests are located in the northern parts of the range, and the bulk of the younger forests are located in the southern parts of the range.

Increasing disturbance trend in the Brightsand caribou range. Disturbance has continued to increase while the forest industry has had a regulatory exemption from Ontario’s Endangered Species Act; disturbance now exceeds 45%.

In 2015, anthropogenic disturbance on the Brightsand range = 808,082 ha, and natural disturbance = 195,274 ha.

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Myth Busters

Myth: There is inadequate science to plan for caribou recovery

Fact: Scientific research has yielded clear and consistent results across the country. The continuum of risk established by Environment Canada in 2008 has been refined by recent science, but no new science has served to refute it.

Myth: The science is too rigid

Fact: The Recovery Strategy allows for regional variation in managing habitat, as long as it is supported by
science.17

Myth: Caribou plans will deprive indigenous and other local communities of jobs and development opportunities

Fact: Indigenous communities, other local communities and all citizens deserve meaningful consultation and information about managing the important lands that support caribou. Indigenous and local communities should participate in choosing the best socio-economic actions that guarantee caribou range requirements to protect caribou critical habitat. Planning range access with indigenous communities, industry, hunters and trappers that is compatible with caribou recovery is urgently needed. Recent studies have shown that the primary driver of job losses in Canada’s forestry sector is mechanization and the downturn in newsprint, not habitat conservation.

Myth: The real problem facing caribou is climate change

Fact: Caribou habitat loss driven by excessive clearcut logging and energy surface disturbance has been documented for decades. Climate change adds to pressures on northern forest ecosystems, and only increases the reasons why we need better management. Caribou habitat recovery can help forests be more resilient to climate change, by reducing fragmentation and slowing down loss of older forests and wetlands.

Myth: It’s not habitat, the problem is too many wolves and other predators

Fact: The root cause of increased caribou predation by wolves and other predators is fragmented and degraded habitat in caribou ranges. Cutblocks, roads, and poorly reclaimed seismic lines and well pads support increases in deer, moose and wolf populations, create more predator access to caribou and diminish caribou’s ability to avoid overlap with predators they’ve co-existed with for thousands of years.

Myth: It’s good enough for companies to follow ‘best practice’ or mitigation measure guidelines

Fact: Caribou populations are declining almost everywhere that project-level operating guidelines are the main habitat management tool.

Tradition versus technology: Northerners debate use of drones in caribou hunting

BY THE CANADIAN PRESS

Tradition versus technology: Northerners debate use of drones in caribou hunting

Posted Jul 7, 2019 7:00 am PDT

 

Wild caribou roam the tundra near the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut on Wednesday, March 25, 2009. Tradition and technology are clashing on the tundra, where Indigenous groups are debating the use of drones to help hunt caribou. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

YELLOWKNIFE — Tradition and technology are clashing on the tundra where Indigenous groups are debating the use of drones to hunt caribou.

The issue arose during public consultations on new wildlife regulations in the Northwest Territories, where First Nations and Metis depend on caribou for food.

Drones are not widely used to hunt, but the N.W.T. government says they have been utilized to find caribou and sometimes to herd them to a hunter. That’s caused fears of increased pressure on populations that are already struggling.

The Bathurst herd, nearly half a million strong in the 1980s, has dwindled to 8,500. The Bluenose-East herd has declined almost 50 per cent in the last three years to about 19,000 animals.

“We heard significant concern about the use of drones for hunting and broad support for a ban on their use,” Joslyn Oosenbrug, an Environment Department spokeswoman, said in an email.

“A ban on drones will help address conservation concerns for some species and help prevent new conservation concerns for others.”

The territory has proposed banning drones for hunting except for Indigenous harvesters.

Some Indigenous groups argue the ban should go further. The board that co-manages wildlife between Great Slave and Great Bear lakes wants a ban on drones to apply universally.

“The Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board would prefer that drones not be used for harvesting purposes,” said board biologist Aimee Guile in an email.

The Northwest Territory Metis Association also wants to see drones banned for everyone.

Others argue that banning drones for Aboriginals would violate treaty rights.

An N.W.T. report into consultations on the proposed ban says both the Inuvialuit Game Council and the Wildlife Management Advisory Council stated that rights holders should be exempt from the proposed ban, “because of the potential infringement to Aboriginal harvesters exercising their rights.”

The Tli Cho government, which has jurisdiction in communities west of Great Slave Lake, also wants Indigenous harvesters exempted.

“It’s a matter of leaving it with us,” said spokesman Michael Birlea. “We want to be able to make our own decisions rather than somebody else.”

Tli Cho residents are uneasy with the technology.

“(Tli Cho leaders) also acknowledged the discomfort heard from many of their citizens,” the consultation report said. “Many citizens expressed that all harvesters should be prohibited from using drones.”

Members of the Fort Chipewyan Metis local in Alberta hunt in the N.W.T. and are concerned about the impact drones could have on the health of caribou herds and on Metis culture.

“Drones could undermine the transmission of traditional knowledge to younger hunters about how to hunt and what to look for,” the local said in its submission.

It suggested that restrictions on drones should come from Indigenous governments, not the territory.

Others have made similar points.

Summarizing what the government heard during consultations, Oosenbrug said: “Using drones is bad because it is another loss of the Indigenous culture of NWT people as it does not represent a traditional way of hunting.

“(It) shows a lack of respect for Indigenous culture and the wildlife, and it should be considered cheating.”

The N.W.T.’s new wildlife regulations came into effect July 1, but the territory chose to defer a decision on drones until there are further talks.

More discussion is planned for the fall, said Oosenbrug.

“(The wildlife council) looks forward to continued discussions with the (territory) on the potential conservation issues for wildlife and implications to harvesters with Indigenous rights,” said council resource co-ordinator Jodie Maring in an email.

Indigenous hunters have already accepted restrictions on the number of animals they can take. In some areas, no hunting is allowed at all.

B.C. approves 314 cutblocks in caribou critical habitat while negotiating conservation plans

https://www.wildernesscommittee.org/news/bc-approves-314-cutblocks-caribou-critical-habitat-while-negotiating-conservation-plans?fbclid=IwAR3D0B2j-NNhYnw7fc4_Lf3Ydq59jBlKt3mthedEAjwr-oUo1pFJMF9NVhY

Thursday, March 14, 2019

 

Charlotte Dawe

VANCOUVER – B.C. has greenlighted the logging of 314 new cutblocks in the critical habitat of southern mountain caribou across the province in the past four months alone.

The shocking discovery made by the Wilderness Committee is prompting the organization, along with Greenpeace Canada, to call on Catherine McKenna, federal minister of environment and climate change, to issue an emergency order to halt logging of southern mountain caribou critical habitat while negotiations for conservation plans are underway.

“If the province logs what little is left of caribou critical habitat then all this planning will be for nothing,” said Charlotte Dawe, conservation and policy campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. “We need the federal government to step in and protect habitat before it’s all gone.”

Four months ago, negotiations were well underway between the federal and provincial governments and First Nations to create an effective caribou conservation plan. But while in negotiations the B.C. government continued approving cutblocks in critical habitat.

“It’s as if B.C. is holding a clear out sale for logging companies to ‘get it while you can!’ It’s the great caribou con from our very own B.C. government,” said Dawe.

“On the one hand B.C. says it’s protecting caribou while on the other, they’re handing out permits to log habitat as fast as they can. How much more evidence does the federal government need to prove that B.C. is failing to protect caribou?”

McKenna, announced last summer that southern mountain caribou are facing imminent threats to their recovery noting, “immediate intervention is required to allow for eventual recovery.” The announcement came after the functional extinction of two caribou herds in B.C.

The evidence is piling up against the B.C. government’s claim that they are effectively protecting caribou throughout the province.

“If the B.C. government was serious about protecting and recovering caribou throughout the province then they should have rejected these cutblocks,” said Eduardo Sousa, Senior Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. “Instead, by approving these blocks, they are negotiating conservation agreements in some of these very same areas in bad faith. It’s appalling and we can’t trust them now.”

Almost a year ago the Wilderness Committee revealed 83 cutblocks were approved in the critical habitat of B.C.’s eight most at-risk herds. Logging rates have increased since the finding; in the past four months, 134 new cutblocks have been approved in the same critical habitats.

There are two southern mountain caribou local populations where logging approvals are the highest in core critical habitat — the Telkwa and Chilcotin populations. Both have 13 cutblocks each set to be logged.

–30–

Attached are two maps of approved cutblocks in southern mountain caribou habitat from Oct. 19, 2018, to Feb. 28, 2019:
Map of 314 approved cutblocks in critical habitat across B.C.
Zoomed-in map of Telkwas and Chilcotin local populations with approved cutblocks in critical habitat.

The Arctic has lost 2.6 million reindeer over the past 20 years

The Arctic is changing — fast. That’s bad news for reindeer and caribou.

Archive Photos/Getty Images

Warning: This story may be upsetting to children who believe in Santa Claus.

Reindeer are perhaps best recognized by their magnificent antlers, the largest of any deer species in proportion to their bodies. They’re also notable for their epic thousand-mile journeys every year in search of food, in herds of 100,000 or more.

And they’re supremely important to the Arctic ecosystem as a source of food and livelihood for local people, and because of their power to reshape vegetation by grazing.

But the populations of reindeer, a.k.a. caribou, near the North Pole have been declining dramatically in recent years. Since the mid-1990s, the size of reindeer and caribou herds has declined by 56 percent.

That’s a drop from an estimated 4.7 million animals to 2.1 million, a loss of 2.6 million.

“Five herds,” out of 22 monitored “in the Alaska-Canada region, have declined more than 90 percent and show no sign of recovery,” according to the latest Arctic Report Card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, out Tuesday. “Some herds have all-time record low populations since reliable record keeping began.”

Herds have lost hundreds of thousands of individuals, as measured by aerial photography of herds and counts in areas where caribou give birth. And their declines affect not just the landscape but the people who depend on it. The report explains that the declining number of animals are “a threat to the food security and culture of indigenous people who have depended on the herds.“

Arctic Report Card/NOAA

Big swings in population size aren’t a shock

Reindeer and caribou are the same animal. They are members of the species Rangifer tarandusThe Rangifer tarandus that live in North America are called caribou, and the ones in Europe and Siberia are called reindeer. Mostly they are wild creatures, but sometimes they are domesticated to pull sleds and carriages.

Ecologist Don Russell, the lead author of the report subsection on caribou, says it’s normal for herd sizes to fluctuate greatly. It’s part of a natural cycle: Herds can go from numbers in the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands in just a few decades, and then rebound.

“The fact that these herds are declining shouldn’t be a shock — they do it all the time,” Russell said by phone from the Yukon territory in Canada. “But they’re at such low levels, you start to be concerned. … If we return in 10 years and [their numbers] have gone down further, that would be unprecedented.”

The question now, he says, is “are their numbers so low they can’t recover?”

Climate change means the future of caribou, like that of so many other creatures, is uncertain

The herds have been declining in recent decades due to a complicated mix of factors including hunting, disease, diminished food availability, and climate change, the report explains.

On one hand, you’d think that with climate change, the Arctic would become a more favorable environment for these grazing animals. Longer, warmer summers mean more vegetation for them to nosh on. And according to the Arctic Report Card, the Arctic did grow greener between 1982 and 2017.

But it seems the warmer Arctic summers are also taking a toll on the reindeer. “Warmer summers also have adverse effects through increased drought, flies and parasites, and perhaps heat stress leading to increased susceptibility to pathogens and other stressors,” the report notes. Higher summer temperatures and wintertime freezing rain (as opposed to snow) seem to be correlated with adult caribou mortality.

Warmer summers have also meant that diseases, long locked in the Arctic permafrost, may thaw and spread among herds, though scientists aren’t completely sure how much of an impact this is having.

And warmer winters can hurt them too. When it rains in the Arctic, as opposed to snow, it can freeze over into ice. That makes it harder for the caribou to walk, and to eat. In 2013, 61,000 (61,000!) reindeer died of starvation in Russia due to excess ice. Currently, a lack of snow in Sweden is impeding reindeer migrations there.

As the climate warms, and as freezing rain replaces snow in the far north, this threat may increase.

Animal populations are shrinking worldwide

The change in caribou numbers also looks concerning when you factor in what’s happening to wildlife around the world.

In October, WWF, the international wildlife conservation nonprofit, released its biennial Living Planet Report, a global assessment of the health of animal populations all over the world. The topline finding: The average vertebrate (birds, fish, mammals, amphibians) population has declined 60 percent since 1970.

That eye-popping figure — a 60 percent decline in average populations — is not the same as saying the world has lost 60 percent of its animals. But most populations of animals, like particular herds, or schools of fish, have seen declining numbers.

There’s a bigger global story here that we must reckon with: Humans are a small part of the living world, yet we have an outsize impact on it. The WWF report stresses that wildlife faces multiple threats — climate change, habitat loss, pollution, hunting, and invasive species — which all trace back to us and our insatiable consumption patterns.

What we lose if we lose the caribou

Caribou don’t have the ability to fly. (Sorry, kids. Though, if you’re reading a science news article, you probably know this by now.) But they’re hugely important to the Arctic ecosystem as a source of food for predators like wolves and biting flies. “A lot of the ecosystem components are riding on their backs,” Russell says.

Moreover, they’re central to the traditions of indigenous people in the Arctic, like the Sami, as a source of food and clothing. “If you look at the [top] Northern resources, that shape the culture of northern communities and aboriginal people, what they have in common is caribou and or wild reindeer, no matter where they are in the circumpolar North,” he says.

The takeaway is that the Arctic landscape is changing — and it’s changing more dramatically than anywhere on the Earth. The temperature increase in the Arctic just since 2014, the report card also finds, “is unlike any other period on record.” And it’s not yet clear if the caribou can change and adapt with it.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/12/11/18134411/christmas-reindeer-north-pole-populations-decline-agu-arctic-report-card?fbclid=IwAR1RQAyv0xMTNIF6HkJHTIXKzyXTjP-fRjN1o9UlYTDS_BYR28pdLjAsZNM

North Idaho County, State Snowmobilers File Lawsuit Over USFWS’ ESA Listing Of Selkirk Caribou 

Friday, November 16, 2012 (PST)
North Idaho’s Bonner County and the state’s snowmobile association this week launched a lawsuit in U.S. District Court aimed at forcing a response from the federal government regarding Endangered Species Act listing of the “Southern Selkirk” population of woodland caribou.

Bonner County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association on May 9 filed a petition under ESA regulations suggesting that the caribou population was illegally listed and asking that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reconsider its 1983 listing of the Selkirk caribou population as endangered.

Under ESA rules, an initial finding as to whether or not a petition to remove a species from the list presents substantial information indicating that the requested action may be warranted is due within 90 days of the petition. The complaint that finding has yet to be issued.

The complaint filed Thursday for the county and snowmobile association by the Pacific Legal Foundation says the USFWS has “violated the ESA, and unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed required agency action in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act….”

“Unfortunately, the government has not responded to our petition,” said PLF attorney Daniel Himebaugh. “The agency is not serving the taxpayers, or the cause of responsible environmental regulation, by ignoring legitimate questions about its policies. Therefore, on behalf of our clients, and all taxpayers, we’re forced to tell the agency, ‘we’ll see you in court.’”

The petition claims that the caribou population in Bonner County’s Selkirk Mountains isn’t distinct in a legally relevant way that would support federal regulation.

“The delisting petition that we submitted in May was based on the government’s own science,” Himebaugh said. “As we pointed out, the federal government’s findings suggest that the caribou population should be dropped from the ESA list. The problem is the Service did not look at the Selkirk caribou population in relation to the caribou species as a whole. The government singled out a small population without determining whether it was legally discrete or significant in the manner that the ESA requires.”

A 2008 status review completed by the USFWS says “The geographic separation between the South Selkirk population and the next two closest populations (South Purcells and Nakusp), the physical movement barriers between these populations, and the limited exchange of animals between the South Selkirk and adjacent populations demonstrate that this population is markedly separated from other populations of the same taxon as a result of physical factors.

“We find that the population is significant because of its importance in helping protect the viability of the mountain caribou metapopulation, which is in danger of extirpation throughout its current range. Over the last century, mountain caribou have been extirpated from 60 percent of their historic range in BC and the US,” the status review says.

“Loss of the South Selkirk caribou population would represent an additional 8 percent reduction in the current range of mountain caribou (whose range has already declined by 60 percent) and would eliminate the southernmost population and the last remaining caribou population in the coterminous US.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of caribou on the North American continent, so there is no justification for putting Idaho caribou on the ESA list and imposing job-killing land use restrictions as a result,” said Bonner County Commissioner Mike Nielsen. “This regulatory overkill puts winter tourism and recreation on the endangered list.”

The complaint says that due to purported threats to the Southern Selkirk Mountain Caribou Population, a court-ordered injunction prevents Bonner County and its residents from using and maintaining certain trails in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests for snowmobile recreation.

“Trail grooming that interferes with the caribou or its habitat may expose the county to liability for a ‘take’ of caribou under the ESA. Moreover, implementation of the defendants’ recent critical habitat proposal for the Southern Selkirk Mountain Caribou Population would place additional restrictions on recreational activities in more than 375,000 acres in Bonner County and surrounding areas, resulting in lost income for the county and its residents,” the complaint says.

The complaint asks the court to issue a “mandatory injunction requiring Defendants to make a finding by a date certain on whether Plaintiffs’ petition ‘presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that’ delisting the Southern Selkirk Mountain Caribou Population may be warranted.”

For more information see CBB, May 11, 2012, “Pacific Legal Foundation Files Petition To Delist Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains Caribou” http://www.cbbulletin.com/420363.aspx

http://www.cbbulletin.com/423891.aspx

PLANS FOR CARIBOU SOW CONFLICT IN NORTHWEST

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS PROPOSED TO DESIGNATE 600 SQUARE MILES IN IDAHO, WASHINGTON AS CRITICAL HABITAT

https://www.cdapress.com/archive/article-61e00162-7b30-5487-8c45-b48fb0108abe.html

Plans for caribou sow conflict in Northwest

FILE – In this November 2005 file photo provided by the British Columbia Forest Service are part of a Southern Selkirk caribou herd moving north through the Selkirk Mountains about three miles north of the Washington state border into Canada. Woodland caribou are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest. The federal government has proposed designating about 600 square miles in Idaho and Washington as critical habitat in an effort to save this last U.S. herd. (AP Photo/British Columbia Forest Service, Garry Beaudry, File)

COOLIN – Woodland caribou, rarely-seen creatures that with their antlers stand as tall as a man, are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest as a final toehold in the Lower 48.

The federal government has proposed designating about 600 square miles in Idaho and Washington – roughly half the size of Rhode Island – as critical habitat in an effort to save this last U.S. herd of fewer than 50 animals.

But the plan has touched a raw nerve in this deeply conservative region, where the federal government is already viewed as a job destroyer because of restrictions on logging and other activities.

A recent public meeting on the habitat proposal drew a crowd of 200 angry people, several of whom excoriated government officials for allegedly trying to destroy their local lifestyle.

“Please leave northern Idaho alone,” Pam Stout, a local tea party activist, told federal biologists.

“We belong here too, not just the animals,” added resident Scott Rockholm.

Other speakers were less polite, accusing government officials of a land grab, raising allegations of United Nations conspiracies or telling the federal government to get out of a region that is mostly federal land.

But it’s not that simple.

Federal endangered species law requires that critical habitat be set aside for the caribou, and environmental groups went to court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to comply.

This is one of the few places left in the United States that still contains all of the species that were present when Lewis and Clark traveled through 200 years ago, including caribou, said Terry Harris of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

“I don’t think we want to lose that,” Harris said.

Under the proposal, 375,000 acres of high-elevation forest land in the Selkirk Mountains, including portions of Bonner and Boundary counties in Idaho and Pend Oreille County in Washington, would be designated as critical habitat. Nearly all of the land is already owned by the federal and state governments, with about 15,000 acres in private hands in Idaho.

Under a critical habitat designation, any activities that require federal approval or money would be scrutinized for their impact on the caribou.

This has alarmed residents who snowmobile, hunt and chop wood in the thick forests of northern Idaho’s lake country, or who have businesses that rely on forest access.

“Our economy revolves around that national forest,” said resident Lee Pinkerton. “Without it, we have to find a new way to make a living.”

Snowmobiling is a particularly popular activity here, drawing lots of tourists in winter. Operators worry that the region’s trail system will be reduced to help caribou.

Bob Davis, a resort owner and 30-year resident of the area, said previous restrictions on snowmobiling already cut that business by 70 percent.

“Snowmobilers don’t go where they are not wanted,” Davis said. “These people will ride someplace else.”

Federal biologists Ben Conard and Bryon Holt spoke at the public meeting, telling the crowd that the critical habitat designation would be mostly unnoticed.

“To the average person, you are not going to see a difference,” Conard told the audience, drawing guffaws from skeptics.

Federal approval has already been required for many activities ever since the mountain caribou were first listed as an endangered species in 1984. The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to designate critical habitat at that time, fearing that would help poachers locate the animals. Those concerns have now faded.

But while the designation won’t immediately lead to road closures or land restrictions, the federal officials acknowledged that some activities could ultimately be curtailed if they are found to hurt the caribou.

“We are trying to re-establish an animal that is native to the United States,” Holt said.

Coolin is located on the shores of Priest Lake, about 80 miles north of Spokane, Wash., in the thick, wet forests of the southern Selkirk Mountains. Such forests produce the lichen that are the animals’ only food source in winter.

Woodland caribou used to be found across the northern tier of the United States, but these days are found only here and in Canada.

The southern Selkirk herd moves across the border between the U.S. and Canada. But only one or two caribou are typically spotted each year on the U.S. side. Last year none were spotted.

“Why do we need 375,000 acres of critical habitat if we have no caribou?” wondered resident Pat Hunter.

Locals also complain that the caribou are being eaten by grizzly bears and wolves that are also protected species in the area.

Environmental groups say the designation is long overdue.

Harris said people who argue that there are too few caribou to warrant the designation are missing the point.

“The issue of too few caribou is precisely the reason for the critical habitat designation,” Harris said. “That’s the problem this is intended to solve.”

There is no evidence that reintroduced wolves are eating many of the animals, he said.

Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service blames the caribou decline on the loss of contiguous old-growth forests due to logging and wildfires, plus the building of roads and recreational trails that fragment habitat and help predators move into caribou range.

But many local leaders are determined to prevent the critical habitat designation.

Bonner County Commissioner Cornel Rasor told the crowd that his goal in calling the meeting was to start the process of derailing the proposal.

“We’re trying to change the direction of the ship of state,” he said.

After a public comment period, the federal government will announce its decision on the critical habitat proposal this fall.

Plans for caribou sow conflict in Northwest

FILE – In this November 2005 file photo provided by the British Columbia Forest Service are part of a Southern Selkirk caribou herd moving north through the Selkirk Mountains about three miles north of the Washington state border into Canada. Woodland caribou are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest. The federal government has proposed designating about 600 square miles in Idaho and Washington as critical habitat in an effort to save this last U.S. herd. (AP Photo/British Columbia Forest Service, Garry Beaudry, File)

Nightmare before Christmas: Siberia plans to cull 250,000 reindeer amid anthrax fears

One third of world’s largest reindeer herd could be killed in an effort to prevent the spread of the ‘zombie’ disease in the Russian tundra

Reindeer culls are traditionally held in November and December, but the number of animals to be killed this year is expected to be much higher because of the threat of an anthrax breakout.
Reindeer culls are traditionally held in November and December, but the number of animals to be killed this year is expected to be much higher because of the threat of an anthrax breakout. Photograph: Amos Chapple/REX

A cull of a quarter of a million reindeer by Christmas has been proposed in northern Siberia in a bid to reduce the risk of an anthrax outbreak.

There are thought to be more than 700,000 animals in the Yamalo-Nenets region, in the arctic zone of the West Siberian plain – the largest herd in the world.

About 300,000 of those are on the Yamal peninsula, prompting concerns of overgrazing and dense herds that could facilitate the spread of disease, the Siberian Times reported.

Dmitry Kobylkin, the governor of Yamalo-Nenets, has called for a proposal for how to reduce the population by 250,000 animals to be finalised by the end of September.

Culls are traditionally held in November and December, but the number of animals to be killed this year is expected to be significantly increased, following outbreaks of anthrax in recent months.

The so-called “zombie” disease is thought to have been resurrected when unusually warm temperatures thawed the carcass of a reindeer that died from anthrax several decades ago, releasing the bacteria.

A state of emergency was imposed in July. A 12-year-old boy from the Yamalo-Nenets region later died after consuming the venison of an infected reindeer.

Some 2,350 reindeer also perished in the outbreaks, reported the Siberian Times, as well as at least four dogs.

A Nenets herdsman gathers his reindeer as they prepare to leave a site outside the town of Nadym in Siberia. The Nenets people live in snow and freezing temperatures some 260 days of the year and are mainly nomadic reindeer herdsmen.
A Nenets herdsman gathers his reindeer as they prepare to leave a site outside the town of Nadym in Siberia. The Nenets people live in snow and freezing temperatures some 260 days of the year and are mainly nomadic reindeer herdsmen. Photograph: Tatyana Makeyeva/AFP/Getty Images

Officials are now calling for the reindeer population to be reduced, warning that infection can spread rapidly through large herds.

Nikolai Vlasov, the deputy head of Russia’s federal veterinary and phytosanitary surveillance service, told the Siberian Times the more dense an animal population is, the greater the risk of disease transfer.

“Density of livestock, especially in the tundra areas that are very fragile, should be regulated. … It is impossible to breed reindeers without limits.”

More: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/30/nightmare-before-christmas-siberia-plans-to-cull-250000-reindeer-amid-anthrax-fears

Climate Change Is Starving North Pole Reindeer

Scientists say while there are more reindeer, they are much smaller in size

The Guardian reports the reindeer are losing access to plants because warmer winter temps mean less snowfall. Without snow, the precipitation that falls is often rain which eventually freezes the ground; the ice sheets serve as a barrier between the reindeer and their food. The changes in temperature also mean reindeer have more food in the warmer months, a change that has led to a population boom. So while the reindeer are smaller, there are more of them.

323 Reindeer Killed by Bolt of Lightning in Norway
A single lightning strike is believed to have killed more than 300 reindeer in Norway.

“Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough,” the Guardian reports Professor Steve Albon, an who led the reindeer study in conjunction with Norwegian researchers, said. “So far we have more but smaller reindeer.”

The Christian Science Monitor reports the past decade has been hard on the reindeer population. In 2006 and 2013, the Monitor says, over 80,000 reindeer died of starvation linked to warm winters.

[Guardian] full story: http://time.com/4597865/climate-change-is-starving-north-pole-reindeer/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+time%2Ftopstories+%28TIME%3A+Top+Stories%29

Trump win threatens Porcupine caribou herd, says Yukon MP

BLOG-Trump-Probably-Hates-This-News-About-Wind-Energy-0722-2015

‘The Republicans have always wanted to have drilling’ in calving grounds, Larry Bagnell says

CBC News <http://www.cbc.ca/news/cbc-news-online-news-staff-list-1.1294364> Posted: Nov 10, 2016 1:42 PM CT Last Updated: Nov 10, 2016 1:52 PM CT

The Porcupine herd is one of the largest migratory barren ground caribou herds in North America. Its range stretches from Alaska to Yukon. <http://i.cbc.ca/1.3320779.1447685936%21/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/porcupine-caribou.jpg>

The Porcupine herd is one of the largest migratory barren ground caribou herds in North America. Its range stretches from Alaska to Yukon. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell believes Donald Trump’s victory does not bode well for one of the last thriving caribou herds in the North — the Porcupine caribou.

Bagnell says Trump’s winning the U.S. presidency, along with Republican victories in the Senate and Congress, will make protecting the herd’s calving grounds in Alaska from oil drilling “difficult.”

“The Republicans have always wanted to have drilling there, which would upset the life cycle of the herd,” Bagnell said.

The Porcupine herd is one of the largest migratory barren ground caribou herds in North America. Its range stretches from Alaska’s North Slope into northern Yukon. The size of the herd fluctuates but the last population estimate, from 2013, put the herd at about 197,000 animals.

Larry Bagnell <http://i.cbc.ca/1.3844691.1478742946%21/fileImage/httpImage/image.JPG_gen/derivatives/original_300/larry-bagnell.JPG>

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell says the new U.S. administration is going to make efforts to protect the Porcupine herd ‘difficult.’ (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Many Indigenous people in Alaska and Yukon rely on the herd for food, and have lobbied for decades to ensure the herd’s calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) are protected from development. The area is rich in untapped oil.

President George W. Bush pushed to open the area to development, and Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill last year that would have permitted oil production in the refuge.

President Barack Obama, however, sought to expand the protected area <http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/barack-obama-to-seek-protecting-alaska-arctic-refuge-from-drilling-1.2931246> .

Bagnell says now that Republicans will control the agenda in Washington, “it’s going to make that more challenging.”

Alberta announces tree planting will be part of caribou protection plan

By: Staff The Canadian Press Published on Sat Oct 01 2016

EDMONTON – The Alberta government says it’s moving ahead with the oil and
gas industry to restore habitat for dwindling caribou herds.

The province announced Saturday that work is beginning that will eventually
see trees planted along thousands of kilometres of land that were cleared
for seismic lines in the Little Smoky and A La Peche caribou rangelands.

The work starts with compiling a restoration guide, as well as setting up a
pilot project along 70 kilometres of seismic lines in the spring.

A $200,000 contract will be issued to source and grow the trees for the
pilot project, and $800,000 will be earmarked for an operational plan to
restore 3,900 kilometres of lines.

The federal government has given provinces until 2017 to come up with range
plans and recovery strategies for caribou herds, which are in danger across
the country.

The Alberta government released a draft plan for caribou protection in its
northern and central regions in June, where one particularly threatened herd
has declined to only a few dozen.

“We are pleased with the leadership role taken by the oil and gas industry
in working to ensure we have a made-in-Alberta plan that provides an
economic certainty for industry and workers who make their living in the
north and do what’s right to protect this iconic animal,” Alberta’s
environment minister, Shannon Phillips, said in a media release.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier noted the tree-planting
efforts will provide jobs and strengthen local economies.

The clean energy think tank the Pembina Institute says on its website that
oil companies that create the seismic lines to get information about
underground rock formations must remove trees and other obstacles in order
to make room for their vehicles and equipment.

The seismic lines and roads into forests and wetlands provide wolves with
easy access to caribou, which results in more predators than the herds can
tolerate.

In Alberta, decades of development have left herds clinging to a few scraps
of old-growth forest. Numbers have declined by about 60 per cent and some
ranges are more than 80 per cent disturbed.

Portions of the Alberta draft plan released in June called for energy
development to be “rescheduled” and logging old-growth forest on caribou
range to be blocked. It said wolves would continue to be shot to try to
manage the population, although bears also eat caribou calves.

The draft also suggested fencing off a 100-square-kilometre habitat for
female caribou during the calving season to protect them from predators.

The fence proposal drew fire from some environmental groups who argued the
major issue that needed to be addressed was the loss of natural habitat to
industrial expansion.

There were also suggestions that caribou coming out of a predator-free
enclosure would not know how to handle themselves in the wild.