The term “range management” refers to actions that can be taken to reduce impacts on the quality of the caribou range, actions to minimize disturbance to the caribou, and damage to the land that sustains them. These actions include fire control, regulation of forestry, establishment of protected areas, and limitations on infrastructure (such as roads) or measures taken to reduce its impact.
Fires play an important role in the regeneration of natural systems in the north, but they are also increasing as the north warms. This increase, coupled with the decline of most of the Canadian Arctic caribou herds has raised community concerns about the way fires are fought. This concern is centred on the barren-ground herds that tend to winter in the treeline. The lichens that are a major part of the barren-ground caribou winter diet can take decades to recover from forest fires. However, very old stands of trees also tend to have less lichen around them.
The NWT government considers important caribou habitat as a “value-at-risk” when making decisions on fighting forest fires. The government is considering increasing fire response activities on key caribou winter ranges during the fire season.
Infrastructure and Development
Planned roads, ports, and pipelines and the development of mines and oil and gas drilling have raised concerns about the impacts of development of caribou. There is evidence from both scientific and Indigenous knowledge sources that caribou avoid roads and mining developments. This avoidance does not appear to be the same in all cases, so it is difficult to say exactly what impact it has. Avoidance may add to stress felt by the animals, and cause them to stay away from areas in which they would normally feed, or areas through which they would travel.
These concerns are being seriously considered by management authorities in some cases. For instance, the Nunavut Impact Review Board turned down a gold mining proposal south of Cambridge Bay (the Back River project owned by Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.) in 2016 in large part due to concerns about its impact on caribou. The federal Minister asked the board to take another look at the project, and it was eventually approved, but with several measures touching on mitigation of the project’s effects on caribou. Those include shutting down operations if caribou calving or post-calving ranges overlap with the mine area.
Using protected areas to protect caribou populations is an approach that has been tried in some areas, particularly to protect calving grounds, which are known to be particularly sensitive areas for caribou. A problem with this approach is that calving areas shift from year to year, so protected areas need to be large enough to cover the range of potential calving areas. In 2016, the Draft Nunavut Land Use Plan proposed that all caribou calving grounds in Nunavut should be protected, but the plan has yet to be approved.
Some caribou herds, such as the Cape Churchill and Porcupine herds have large protected areas that cover historical calving grounds, but even these are not always safe. For instance, there are periodic attempts to open up the 6,000 km2 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (where the Porcupine herd calves) to oil and gas exploration.
The NWT government has been using a different tactic for the Bathurst Caribou herd, setting up the Mobile Core Bathurst Caribou Management Zone. This area, updated monthly as the caribou move, is a no-hunting zone for caribou. The 2019 Bathurst Caribou Range Plan also proposes habitat conservation for sensitive areas and to ensure connectivity of the herd's annual range
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