Many barren-ground caribou herds have declined significantly in recent years, despite efforts to reduce hunting pressures and manage disturbance to caribou.
The GNWT works with its co-management partners to make decisions about the herds that reflect the values and concerns of our communities, and recognize and respect Aboriginal and treaty rights in the NWT.
In this section
Barren-ground caribou are the most abundant and widespread subspecies of caribou found in the Northwest Territories (NWT). They are characterized by long seasonal migrations between winter and summer ranges. Nine distinct barren-ground caribou herds spend all or part of their annual cycle in the taiga forests and tundra of the NWT mainland; many are shared with neighbouring jurisdictions.
- FACT SHEET: Barren-ground Caribou in the NWT
Historical NWT barren-ground herd ranges and calving areas (1996-2018)
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.
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. The GNWT also works with Indigenous communities and organizations in southern parts of the NWT where claims are not yet settled.
Our cooperative approach to managing barren-ground caribou is guided by two overarching documents:
- 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.
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.
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 defines community-based management of this herd in the context of regional management with the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board and ENR. 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.
In 2018, barren-ground caribou (not including the Porcupine herd) were added to the NWT List of Species at Risk as a Threatened species. An NWT recovery strategy was released in 2020.
Measures to help the recovery and long-term sustainability of the herds include co-management activities related to harvest, habitat and predation.
There is no non-resident harvest of barren-ground caribou in the Northwest Territories, and resident harvest is limited. Many herds also have harvest restrictions for Indigenous hunters that have been put in place through co-management processes. Contact your local or regional ENR office to find out about restrictions in your area.
While habitat disturbance from development is a major cause of decline in many southern caribou populations (e.g. boreal caribou and southern mountain caribou in B.C.), the ranges of most barren-ground caribou in the Northwest Territories have little to no human-caused disturbance. Still, the same downward trends or low population levels are being seen across the North. Ensuring each barren-ground caribou herd has healthy year-round habitat and the opportunity to migrate freely across its range will be important for the long-term welfare of the herds.
The Bathurst Caribou Range Plan was developed with communities and co-management partners to help protect key habitat, allow for seasonal movements and reduce disturbance of Bathurst caribou. Released in 2019, this plan provides guidance for decision-makers to manage activities in a way that keeps the land healthy for caribou.
Wolves are the primary predator of barren-ground caribou. To help address the significant declines we have seen in the Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds over the last few years, the GNWT and Tłı̨chǫ Government developed a joint proposal for wolf management in the North Slave Region. Reducing wolf predation, together with ongoing caribou harvest restrictions and other management actions, can help increase caribou survival and give these herds a better chance to recover.
Learn more about our approach to wolf management:
Fact sheet - Joint proposal