Canadian Geographic


Charting Canada’s dwindling caribou herds

- 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

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