Chart­ing Canada’s dwin­dling cari­bou herds

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - B Y A A R ON K Y L I E

“Cari­bou: one hoof in the grave.” So read the epi­taph on a two-me­tre-high tomb­stone Green­peace erected in front of fed­eral en­vi­ron­ment and cli­mate change min­is­ter Cather­ine Mckenna’s of­fice on May 1, 2018. The stunt aimed to draw at­ten­tion to the plight of the coun­try’s bo­real wood­land cari­bou, the pro­tec­tion of which has faced “many de­lays” ac­cord­ing to a mid-april 2018 re­port from the fed­eral en­vi­ron­ment com­mis­sioner. All of Canada’s cari­bou sub­species have in­creas­ingly been in the news as the an­i­mal’s na­tional pop­u­la­tion, which once num­bered in the mil­lions, has de­clined dras­ti­cally and quickly to lit­tle more than a mil­lion to­day. Ex­perts are con­cerned some pop­u­la­tions may not sur­vive the threats they’re fac­ing. One herd, Bri­tish Co­lum­bia’s South Selkirk, had just three fe­males left in April 2018. This map is a snap­shot of the sta­tus of Canada’s cari­bou, group­ing the species by “des­ig­nat­able units,” or DUS (shown here), that the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of En­dan­gered Wildlife in Canada uses. (Daw­son’s cari­bou, which lived on Gra­ham Is­land, B.C., went ex­tinct in the early 20th cen­tury, and haven’t been in­cluded.) Note that the pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mates here suf­fer from one of the sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges fac­ing the species — a lack of reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing. Both the high­est and cur­rent es­ti­mates are not nec­es­sar­ily from the same time pe­riod. And some cur­rent es­ti­mates are decades old. Ex­perts know that the ranks of seven DUS de­creased be­tween COSEWIC’S 2012 re­cov­ery strat­egy and its 2017 progress re­port. The lat­ter notes that “Five years af­ter the re­lease of the Re­cov­ery Strat­egy, ev­ery prov­ince and ter­ri­tory is still work­ing to fully com­plete its range plans.” Those plans are still miss­ing. While many blame the prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries for a lack of ac­tion and the feds for a lack of lead­er­ship, Justina Ray, the pres­i­dent and se­nior sci­en­tist of Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety Canada, has a more suc­cinct ex­pla­na­tion of the prob­lem. “We are a nat­u­ral re­source-driven econ­omy, and lim­its to our foot­print is anath­ema to most,” says Ray. “Our sys­tem of mon­e­tiz­ing does not ex­tend to species. They have no value.”

Read a blog by sci­en­tist Justina Ray on the de­cline of cari­bou pop­u­la­tions over the past decade at can­geo.ca/jf19/cari­bou.

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