Barren-ground

AhiakBaffin IslandBathurstBeverly and QaminirjuaqBluenose EastBluenose WestBoothia PenninsulaCape BathurstCoats IslandLorillardPorcupineSouthampton IslandTuk PenninsulaWager BayFortymile

Barren-ground caribou are larger in size than the Dolphin and Union and Peary caribou. The average bull (male caribou) weighs in at 100 to 140 kg (220 to 309 lb). Females weigh less. In summer they eat grassy plants, shrubs and mushrooms, and in winter they mostly eat lichens. 

These caribou are mostly migratory, often forming large herds that can number in the hundreds of thousands. They migrate twice a year, moving to calving grounds on the treeless tundra near the coast in springtime, and back towards the treeline in the fall. The top two herds (the Bathurst and Porcupine herds) travel about 1,350 kilometers (as the crow flies) between their summer and winter ranges. When migrating, they walk at about 7 km/hr, covering between 20 and 65 km a day. Smaller herds that are less migratory also exist. Some of these are found on islands such as Southampton Island and Coats Island, two large islands in the northern part of Hudson Bay.

The largest herd in Canada currently is likely the Qamanirjuaq herd that ranges between Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, northern Manitoba and Saskakatchewan. It was estimated to number 288,000 animals in 2017. Overall, the numbers of barren ground caribou are declining. The Bathurst herd that currently ranges between the NWT and Nunavut may have fallen the furthest from a high of 472,000 in 1986, to an estimated 8,200 in 2018 

Government of the Northwest Territories
Government of the Northwest Territories

That’s a decrease of more than 98%. Two populations appear to be bucking the trend of general decline. The Porcupine caribou herd was at a record high of 218,000 in 2017.

The causes of the declines are discussed in more depth in the “threats” section and may be different for different herds, but there is a significant opinion that development of mining and infrastructure (particularly roads) within the range of some of the herds facing the steepest declines is a contributing factor. Hunting pressure and predation are other significant factors identified. As the NWT Species at Risk assessment for Barren-ground caribou notes, “Most barren-ground caribou herds are now at low points in their abundance and they are facing cumulative effects from multiple interacting threats that are unprecedented.”

The steep decline of some of these herds has led to a moratorium on hunting some of the declining herds. For instance, in 2015 the NWT government created a Mobile Core Bathurst Caribou Conservation Area in which no caribou hunting is allowed. The moratorium on hunting has caused hardships to local people who are heavily dependent on the caribou for food, and are forced to buy often expensive (and relatively unsatisfying) food from local stores instead. In addition to the costs of the replacement food, the lack of caribou in the diets of Indigenous people can also lead to spiritual and cultural impacts.

Related news

Community plans to lead caribou conservation in Sahtú region

This news story is about a decision by the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board (Northwest Territories) to approve a community-led approach to managing caribou. The communities of Colville Lake and Délı̨nę have already developed plans. Once the community plans are fully approved, a "total allowable harvest" quota system administered by the Renewable Resources Board will be lifted, although it can be reimposed if the Board thinks it necessary.
18 November 2020 | CKLB Radio

N.W.T. wolf cull 'inhumane and unnecessary,' says Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation

This news story quotes a submission by the Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation to an official request by the NWT and Tlicho governments for feedback on plans to cull wolves. The wolf-culling program is intended to help protect the Bluenose East and Bathurst caribou herds. Both of them have declined dramatically in the past few years. The First Nation's letter calls the wolf-culling plan "inhumane and unnecessary".
17 November 2020 | CBC North

Canada’s environment minister concerned about Alaska seismic project impacts on Indigenous communities and trans-border wildlife

News item about the concerns raised by Canada's Environment Minister regarding planned development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The area is the calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou herd that ranges into Yukon and the NWT. Seismic work in the reserve is planned for this winter, stretching into the time when caribou begin arriving in the area for calving.
11 November 2020 | RCI - eye on the Arctic

Climate is changing Arctic wildlife habits; unique international study

This web story talks about a new study that looked at long term movement patterns in a variety of Arctic wildlife, including caribou. The story notes, "...there is evidence of earlier migrations to the north, and for example earlier births among northern caribou, not seen in more southerly herds. This may result in the higher mortality being observed in northern caribou herds as nutritious food may not be sprouting at the same time as migrations and calving."
6 November 2020 | Radio Canada International

N.W.T. harvesters will get more training to kill wolves, help caribou population

A story about the NWT and Tłı̨chǫ governments' plans to help train local harvesters to kills wolves. This is part of the attempt to reduce wolf predation on the Bathurst and Bluenose East caribou herds. At the moment only one person in theTłı̨chǫ comunities targets wolves.
28 August 2020 | CBC

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in organizes community hunt of Fortymile caribou to bridge generation gap

Members of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation (Yukon) are hunting caribou in the Fortymile herd for the first time in twenty years. The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in had voluntarily stopped hunting the caribou herd after its numbers dropped to a low of 6,500. The herd, that migrates between Yukon and Alaska is now estimated at 84,000.
13 July 2020 | CBC

Strategy to help NWT’s beleaguered caribou is released

A news story about a new recovery strategy for barren-ground caribou herds in the NWT.  The strategy was developed by group of governments and regulatory boards, collectively known as the Conference of Management Authorities. The recovery strategy will guide how all NWT herds of barren-ground caribou are managed, with the exception of the Porcupine herd.
10 July 2020 | cabin radio

Blanket protection for Nunavut caribou not the only option: wildlife biologist

A 2019 news story focusing on Nunavut caribou populations that questions the effectiveness of protected areas on caribou conservation in the territory.
5 April 2019 | Nunatsiaq News

'Deadly serious': 2 caribou herds shrink by half in latest count

A 2018 news story about the rapid decline of the Bathurst and Bluenose-East herds.
20 November 2018 | CBC

Barren ground caribou classified as 'threatened' in the N.W.T.

A 2018 news story about the addition of barren-ground caribou to the NWT Species At Risk list.
11 July 2018 | CBC

Related resources

Large‐scale prion protein genotyping in Canadian caribou populations and potential impact on chronic wasting disease susceptibility

This academic paper is about chronic wasting disease, a brain disease that affects members of the deer family. It has not been found in Canadian caribou yet, but has been found in deer. The genetic makeup of different caribou subspecies is thought to influence their vulnerability to chronic wasting disease. This paper suggests that barren-ground caribou may be less vulnerable than the woodland and mountain caribou.
(2020)

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Report to the Hunters of the Lorillard Caribou May 2020

A brief report from the Northern Contaminants Program on contaminants in the Lorillard herd. The animals were sampled in 2018. The report concludes, "Although it is difficult to come to any firm conclusions based on only four animals, we can say that contaminant levels in the Lorillard Caribou are similar to those in other Arctic herds. There have been no health advisories issued on any Nunavut caribou."
(2020)

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Report to the Hunters of the Lorillard Caribou May 2020 - Inuktitut

A brief report in Inuktitut from the Northern Contaminants Program on contaminants in the Lorillard herd. The animals were sampled in 2018. The report concludes, "Although it is difficult to come to any firm conclusions based on only four animals, we can say that contaminant levels in the Lorillard Caribou are similar to those in other Arctic herds. There have been no health advisories issued on any Nunavut caribou."
(2020)

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Contaminants in Arctic Caribou Synopsis Report 2019-20

A 9 page synopsis report of the Arctic Caribou Contaminant Monitoring Program. The program covers several Arctic herds. It concludes, "Levels of most contaminants measured in caribou kidneys were not of concern toxicologically, although renal [kidney] mercury and cadmium concentrations may cause some concern for human health depending on the quantity of organs consumed. Yukon Health has advised restricting intake of kidney and liver from Yukon caribou, the recommended maximum varying depending on herd (e.g. a maximum of 25 Porcupine cariboukidneys/year). The health advisory confirms that heavy metals are very low in the meat (muscle) from caribouand this remains a healthy food choice. There have been no health advisories issued for caribou in NWT or Nunavut."
Northern contaminants program (2020)

Renal trace elements in barren-ground caribou subpopulations: Temporal trends and differing effects of sex, age and season

An academic paper that looks at the level of some metals in kidneys of some northern caribou. It found that copper levels are decreasing in the caribou kidneys, possibly due to changes in what caribou are eating. The paper concludes, "Declining Cu concentrations in caribou are of concern as low levels could potentially negatively affect reproduction and therefore caribou at a population level."
Science of the Total Environment (2020)

Ecological insights from three decades of animal movement tracking across a changing Arctic

This academic article summarizes trends in long-term data on a variety of Arctic species movements, including barren-ground Caribou. It found, "Barren-ground caribou calved later despite occupying a similar latitudinal range as the northern boreal caribou (Fig. 3). Most importantly, barren-ground and northern woodland caribou, but not southern woodland caribou, exhibited significant trends toward earlier parturition [0.4 to 1.1 days/year (table S10)]. This is the first continental-scale retrospective evidence of potential adaptive responses to climate trends by caribou."
science magazine (2020)

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RECOVERY STRATEGY FOR BARREN-GROUND CARIBOU In the Northwest Territories

This 70-page recovery strategy for barren-gound caribou in the Northwest Territories lays out plans to help the eight herds covered by the strategy. The strategy was required by the NWT Species at Risk Act after the barren-ground caribou were listed as "threatened" in 2018. The governments and co-management boards that developed the strategy have until April 9, 2021 to agree on the implementation of the recovery strategy. 
Conference of Management Authorities (2020)

Interchange and Overlap Among Four Adjacent Arctic Caribou Herds

This academic paper looks at four barren-ground caribou herds in Alaska (including the Porcupine herd that ranges into northern Canada) to try to understand how often individuals change herds. Of the four herds studied, the Porcupine herd had the lowest incidence of caribou joining another herd. The authors concluded, "There was greater herd interchange from the 2 smaller herds to the 2 larger herds, indicating a tendency of caribou to join larger groups or move to areas of higher caribou density."
(2020)

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Recovery strategy for Barren-Ground caribou

This 62-page 2019 draft recovery strategy for barren-ground caribou in the NWT was produced by the group of wildlife boards and governments responsible for the conservation and recovery of species at risk in the NWT.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2019)

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Report to the Hunters of the Qamanirjuaq Caribou – Feb 2019

With the help of local hunters, we have been taking kidney, liver and muscle samples of Qamanirjuaq caribou since 2006. We collect these samples to study changes in the levels of contaminants in kidneys and livers of caribou. These contaminants may be carried to the Arctic by wind.
(2019)

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Porcupine caribou resources and tools

This is a web page on which you can search for categorized information on the Porcupine caribou herd.
Porcupine Caribou Management Board (2019)

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Barren-ground Caribou Co-Management in the NWT

A 21-page booklet explaining the different responsibilities and authroities for managing all of the barren-ground caribou herds in the NWT. It includes information on responsibilities for herds that cross borders.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2019)

Human disturbance effects and cumulative habitat loss in endangered migratory caribou

A 2018 academic paper to assess the effects of human disturbance on barren-ground caribou herds. This study focuses on the Leaf River and George River herds in northern Quebec and Labrador. The paper finds caribou do avoid human disturbance but makes no findings on the impacts to the health of the two herds
Université Laval (2018)

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Undermining subsistence: Barren-ground caribou in a “tragedy of open access”

This 2018 academic paper argues that human disturbance, not subsistence hunting is the prime driver of caribou decline. It focuses primarily on the Bathurst Caribou Herd, shared between the NWT and Nunavut
Various (2018)

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Indigenous leadership in caribou conservation

A series of 14 interviews with northern Indigenous people talking about caribou and Indigenous knowledge, recorded during the 2018 North American Caribou Workshop. Interviews range from just under 8 minutes to more than 45 minutes.
IsumaTV (2018)

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Barren-ground Caribou Survey Results FAQ

A 6-page document on the barren-ground caribou surveys conducted by the Government of the Northwest Territories in 2018.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2018)

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SPECIES STATUS REPORT: Porcupine Caribou and Barren-ground Caribou

A lengthy NWT government Species at Risk assessment of barren-ground caribou and Porcupine caribou. It classifies the Porcupine caribou as “not at risk” in the NWT, and the other herds as “threatened” within the NWT. The assessment contains parallel tables that compare Indigenous and scientific knowledge on aspects of the caribou.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2017)

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Report to the Hunters of the Kivalliq Region Contaminants in Qamanirjuaq Caribou – September 2017

With the help of local hunters, we have been taking kidney, liver and muscle samples of Qamanirjuaq caribou since 2006. We collect these samples to study changes in the amount of contaminants such as mercury and lead in kidneys of caribou. These contaminants may be carried to the Arctic by wind.
(2017)

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Determining Optimal Radio Collar Sample Sizes for Monitoring Barren-ground Caribou Populations

A 40-page 2017 academic study discussing how many radio collars would be necessary to track particular herds in the Northwest Territories.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2017)

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COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), Barren-ground population in Canada - 2016

The 2016 assessment report on barren-ground caribou prepared by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC). It is a long, thorough and quite technical overview. It resulted in the Canadian populations of barren-ground caribou being designated “threatened” under the federal government system
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) (2016)

VADZAIH – cooking caribou from antler to hoof

A caribou cookbook produced by the Porcupine caribou management board
Porcupine Caribou Management Board (2016)

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caribou and community well-being (Gjoa Haven)

A web page with a variety of other resources centred on the link between the people of Gjoa Haven (Nunavut) and caribou. Resources on the page range from academic papers to a hand-drawn ink calendar showing the phases of local Inuit use of caribou.
Straight Up North (2016)

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General Approach to Harvest Modeling for Barren-ground Caribou Herds in the NWT and Recommendations on Harvest Based on Risk Status

A 39-page academic paper from 2016 designed to help assess the impact of hunting on barren-ground caribou herds, based on the population size and trend of a given herd.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2016)

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Sample Sizes of Collared Barren-ground Caribou to Estimate Herd Size in Winter and Fall Management Areas to Allow Assesment of Harvest Risk

A 2016 academic paper that analyzes how many caribou it is necessary to collar to reliably define proportions of each herd in harvest areas in fall and winter. It concludes that at least 20 collars are required per herd.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2016)

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Peary caribou and barren-ground caribou COSEWIC assessment and status report: chapter 10

This 2015 chapter from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada analyzes the available information on threats to Peary Caribou and barren-ground caribou
Environment and Climate Change Canada (2015)

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Review of post-2010 Literature on Human Effects on Barren-Ground Caribou: Focus on Traditional Knowledge, Western Science and Caribou Protection Measures

This 2015 report prepared for the Nunavut Wildlife management Board reviews both scientific and traditional knowledge sources published from 2010-2015 on the effects of human disturbance on barren-ground caribou. It is organized by looking at linear features (such as roads, power lines and pipelines), resource development infrastructure (such as buildings or open pit mines), and aircraft and vehicles. It concludes that, “The impact of development on caribou is usually not due to single roads, mines, cut-blocks or seismic lines; rather, it is the cumulative effect of many habitat alterations including disturbances over time that affects caribou numbers and distribution.”
(2015)

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The Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, and Bluenose-East Barren-ground Caribou Herds Management Plan

There is no management board for this herd, but there is a management plan. The plan was prepared under the authority of the Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management. This group brings together representatives of several renewable resources boards and committees in the NWT and Nunavut to address cross-boundary wildlife issues
Government of the Northwest Territories (2014)

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Working together for Baffin Island Caribou

A brief 2013 workshop report which examines the causes and impacts of the decline of caribou on Baffin Island, and suggests some management measures.
Government of Nunavut (2013)

Denésoliné (Chipewyan) Knowledge of Barren-Ground Caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) Movements

An academic paper from 2010 on the Indigenous knowledge of caribou from elders and hunters in Lutsel K’e in the Northwest Territories. Forest fires, mining development, and failure to comply with traditional practices are all noted as influences on caribou abundance.
Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation (2010)

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Cadmium in caribou and muskoxen from the Canadian Yukon and Northwest Territories

Cadmium, zinc, copper and metallothionein concentrations were measured in liver and kidney tissue of caribou and muskoxen collected from various sites in the Canadian Yukon and Northwest Territories. Cadmium concentrations in caribou tissues were substantially higher than in muskoxen for all age classes and were comparable to concentrations reported for caribou from northern Quebec and Norway.
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) (1994)

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Caribou of Northern Canada

This 1971 13 minute film from the Canadian Wildlife Service has some dated information, but good basic information on the lifecycle of the barren-ground caribou.
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) (1971)

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Barren-ground co-management in the Northwest Territories

This 20-page document from the Government of the Northwest Territories gives an overview of how co-management bodies in the NWT participate in management of the nine barren-ground caribou herds found in the territory.
Government of the Northwest Territories

Barren-ground Caribou

A website giving information on the barren-ground herds in the NWT.
Government of the Northwest Territories

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