Boreal Caribou

Boreal Caribou Recovery Strategy

The Northwest Territories (NWT) Boreal Caribou Recovery Strategy is available, as of March 1, 2017.

Release of this document follows an independent assessment completed by the NWT Species at Risk Committee (SARC) and consensus agreements from the Conference of Management Authorities (CMA), which has nine months to develop an agreement respecting implementation of the recovery strategy.

Boreal caribou were listed as Threatened on the NWT List of Species at Risk in February 2014. They were listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2003.

national recovery strategy was released in 2012. The strategy identifies critical habitat for boreal caribou as a minimum of 65 percent of undisturbed habitat throughout their range.

What are boreal caribou?

Boreal caribou

Boreal caribou are a distinct population of woodland caribou. They are the largest subspecies of caribou in the Northwest Territories (NWT).

Males weigh an average of 150 kg and can reach 1.2 m high at the shoulder. Their brown summer coat turns greyish in winter. In all seasons their neck, mane, underbelly, rump and a patch above each hoof are creamy white. Antlers of woodland caribou are thicker and broader compared to those of barren-ground caribou.

Northern mountain caribou

Boreal caribou are similar to northern mountain caribou, which are the other population of woodland caribou found in the NWT. Northern Mountain caribou live in the Mackenzie Mountains. They have different habitat preferences and behaviour than boreal caribou.

Many northern mountain caribou are migratory and they sometimes gather into large groups. They have distinct migrations in elevation, where they move up or down in response to changes in food quality and availability, and in season between summering and wintering areas. Seasonal migrations may involve groups of thousands of animals.

There is also a non-migratory or sedentary group of northern mountain caribou living in the Sahtu region of the Mackenzie Mountains.


Boreal caribou live in the forests east of the Mackenzie Mountains. They tend to live in small groups and prefer to stay within the forest all year. Boreal caribou do not migrate. Females space out throughout the forests for calving to reduce the risk of predation.


There are about 45,000 adult caribou within the range of northern mountain caribou in the NWT, Yukon and northern British Columbia. They are divided into about 39 herds.

The northern mountain caribou herds in the NWT are the Bonnet Plume at about 5,000 animals; the Redstone with at least 10,000 animals; and, the Nahanni Complex, including Coal River, La Biche and South Nahanni, with about 3000 animals.

Boreal caribou populations have declined in most of their range across Canada. In the NWT, the population of boreal caribou is estimated to be between 6000 and 7000 animals.

Population trend varies across the NWT. Boreal caribou numbers appear to be stable or increasing in some parts of the NWT. However, numbers are decreasing in parts of the southern NWT where the majority of boreal caribou are found.

Population trends for the Bonnet Plume, Redstone and South Nahanni are believed to be stable. Trends for Coal River and La Biche are unknown.


The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and co-management partners are developing a range plan for boreal caribou habitat in the NWT. This will ensure critical habitat is protected.

A harvest management system helps protect northern mountain caribou in the NWT.  NWT resident can harvest one woodland caribou a year, either a boreal or northern mountain caribou. Non-residents can also harvest northern mountain caribou with an outfitter. There is no limit or closed season for Aboriginal harvest of northern mountain caribou. The northern mountain caribou range within Nahanni and Naats’ihch’oh National Park Reserves is protected.

Action plan

An Action Plan for Boreal Woodland Caribou Conservation in the NWT 2010-2015  was developed as part of the national recovery strategy. This plan provides goals and direction for the conservation of boreal caribou in the NWT.

The GNWT is implementing the actions in the plan in cooperation with the Tlicho Government, co-management boards and other stakeholders.  Actions in the Implementation Plan include monitoring and managing boreal caribou and their habitat.

Species at Risk status

Boreal caribou were listed as Threatened on the NWT List of Species at Risk in February 2014. They were listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2003.

Northern mountain caribou were listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2005. A national management plan for northern mountain caribou was released in 2012.


Boreal Caribou study reports

There are a number of ecological studies being conducted on boreal caribou in other regions of the NWT. The purpose of the studies is to increase knowledge of boreal caribou, to help informed decision-making about lands in the face of increasing development pressures.

Dehcho Boreal Caribou study reports

South Slave Boreal Caribou Program progress report