The impact of human disturbance on caribou is one of the most contested issues in the study of caribou. By human disturbance, we mean things like industrial impacts (such as mining or oil and gas installations), the development of infrastructure such as roads, ports, and pipelines, and the presence of people generally, such as tourists.
A large scale 2018 study on two barren-ground caribou herds in Northern Quebec and Labrador found that caribou did avoid many types of disturbance. The effect was different for different types of disturbance. The avoidance stretched as far as 23 km for one herd avoiding a mine site. In the case of power lines, there was usually no apparent avoidance. Roads were found to pose a barrier on some occasions, but on others, were crossed by caribou. The study found that overall, human disturbance was affecting where caribou chose to go, but it could not conclude that this would have a negative effect on the herds.
Other studies have included information from Indigenous knowledge sources that also suggest that human disturbance, particularly industrial disturbance, is responsible for caribou avoiding certain areas. A report prepared for the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in 2015 concluded, “ 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.”
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