Concern circles Canada’s eastern Arctic caribou population as numbers continue to drop among the tundra herd and the Torngat Mountain herd in far northeastern Canada. Scientists link the decline to loss of habitat due to forestry and mining operations as well as global warming, which has severely impacted Arctic climate. Because of this steady decline, caribou were classified as endangered last week.
"Caribou are, sadly, very sensitive to human disturbances, and we are disturbing caribou more and more," Justina Ray said in a report by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), according to Phys.org. “These stressors seem to be interacting in complicated ways with rapid warming in the North.”
COSEWIC’s research resulted in labeling the tundra herd as “threatened” and the Torngat Mountain herd as “endangered” with fear of extinction. According to Phys.org, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) first acknowledged the problem back in October, pointing to the steady decline in Canadian caribou numbers over the past three decades – with some herds experiencing a 98% drop in population.
“This is basically a huge red flag, and a call to action, to do things now before the situation gets worse,” Brandon Laforest, WWF-Canada’s senior specialist in Arctic species and ecosystems, told The Weather Network.
Diminished caribou herds also impact tribes that hunt the animals for sustenance. Yet, without intervention, the likelihood of the caribou rebounding or recovering is slim. The first step? Creating a land-use plan that includes a protected area for the animals to use.
"We can talk about reducing emissions and trying to control the effects of climate change, but if we’re talking about on-the-ground action to help barren-ground caribou, it’s well agreed that protecting calving grounds is the most accessible, and the first thing we should be talking about," Laforest told The Weather Network.