Barren-ground Caribou

How many barren-ground caribou herds are in the Northwest Territories?

Barren-ground caribou are the most abundant and widespread subspecies of caribou found in the Northwest Territories (NWT). Nine distinct barren-ground caribou herds range over the taiga forests and tundra of the NWT mainland; many are shared with neighbouring jurisdictions.

Historical NWT barren-ground herd ranges and calving areas (1996-2018)

How we count caribou

Caribou are central to the way of life of Indigenous northerners and have sustained people in the NWT for many generations. However, recent aerial surveys show many barren-ground caribou herds across the NWT and the North are declining. We need the best possible traditional, local and scientific information to help us understand how we can support barren-ground caribou through this current low.

Calving ground photo survey

The videos below explain how we estimate caribou numbers in the NWT. The calving ground photographic survey method is used to count Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds.

Post-calving photo survey

The post-calving photographic survey method is used to count Cape Bathurst, Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula and Bluenose-West caribou herds.

How does the GNWT track caribou movements and population trends?

The GNWT uses regular aerial surveys along with satellite telemetry (collars) to help us better understand caribou movements and population trends. The surveys are conducted every three years in collaboration with Indigenous government and organizations, the Government of Nunavut, renewable resources boards and communities that depend on the herds. The most recent surveys took place in 2018.

We have also been working with scientific and traditional knowledge experts to better understand pressures affecting caribou. The GNWT provides support for traditional knowledge and community-based caribou research and monitoring programs, including the Tłı̨chǫ Boots on the Ground Caribou Monitoring Program and the Łutsel Kʼe Dene First Nation Moccasins on the Ground program.

What are the latest population survey results?

Biologists from the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) worked with 13 community observers and our co-management partners to photograph and survey five barren-ground caribou herds in the summer of 2018.

Population estimates for the Bathurst and Bluenose-East populations are especially concerning, indicating a decline of nearly 50 per cent for the Bluenose-East, and nearly 60 per cent for the Bathurst caribou herd, since the last time the herds were counted in 2015.

The declining trend in Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds is consistent with generally declining trends in migratory tundra caribou herds in North America including the George River and Leaf River herds in Quebec/Labrador as well as some herds in Nunavut and Alaska.

2018 Population Survey Results

How are barren-ground caribou managed in the NWT?

Co-management processes, established under land claim agreements in the Inuvialuit, Gwich'in, Sahtú and Tłı̨chǫ settlement areas provide direction and advice to governments on management of caribou and habitat using traditional and scientific knowledge.

Our cooperative approach to managing barren-ground caribou is guided by two overarching documents:

  1. Taking Care of Caribou was developed by a committee of six co-management boards who share authority for three northern caribou herds: the Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East and Cape Bathurst. It addresses the long-term caribou management and stewardship of these three herds.
  2. The Northwest Territories Barren-ground Caribou Management Strategy provides overall guidance for the management and long-term sustainability of all NWT barren-ground caribou herds.

In 2018, barren-ground caribou (not including the Porcupine herd) were added to the NWT List of Species at Risk as a Threatened species. A recovery strategy is currently under development.

For the Bluenose-East herd in the Sahtú, the community of Délįne has developed its own caribou conservation plan, Belare wı́lé Gots’ę́ Ɂekwę́, which sets the context of regional management with the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board and ENR working in collaboration with the community. Self-limitation and self-directed management actions arrived at by consensus have been viewed as the preferred approach by Délįne.  

There are also herd-specific management plans for the Porcupine, Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herds, as well as a Bathurst Caribou Range Plan that helps decision-makers manage activities on the land in a way that supports the recovery of the Bathurst herd.

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