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NWT & CARMA Studies




Barren-ground caribou herds across their North American range are defined and managed based on their calving grounds.  From the 1970's to the 2000's, knowledge and monitoring of barren-ground caribou herds in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as in Alaska, has increased as the technology and survey methods have improved.  Calving grounds of individual herds are generally consistently located from year to year, but may change in years of exceptional weather (e.g. a late spring).  Calving grounds of individual herds also may shift over time; for example, the Bathurst herd's calving ground historically was on the west side of Bathurst Inlet, shifted to the east side of the Inlet in the 1980's, and shifted to the west side again in the early 1990's.  Calving grounds are considered special areas requiring careful management by aboriginal peoples and biologists alike.  In June 2007, biologists with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), with support from Nunavut government biologists, flew calving distribution surveys over calving grounds (from west to east) of the following herds: Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bluenose West, Bluenose East, Bathurst, Ahiak, Beverly and Qamanirjuaq.  The surveys were flown with consistent methods at or just after the peak of calving, using small fixed-wing aircraft flying north-south or east-west transects at 5 or 10-km spacing.  These surveys are not meant to provide population estimates but they give an index of abundance and allow areas of greater or lesser concentration to be mapped.  Survey lines are continued until there are no further groups of calving caribou encountered.  Because there were very few caribou on the calving grounds of the Beverly herd, additional areas to the north, west and south of the traditional Beverly calving ground were also flown to make sure that no aggregations of breeding cows had been missed.  In June 2008, these surveys were again flown at or near the peak of calving over the same calving grounds, except that the Qamanirjuaq calving ground was flown by Nunavut government biologists for a calving photo-survey instead of a calving distribution survey.





The calving grounds of all the herds were consistent with recent observations of the same herds' calving areas and satellite collar locations of calving cows.  The calving grounds of the Cape Bathurst and Bluenose West herds, which declined rapidly between 2000 and 2005, showed somewhat fragmented concentrations of caribou where larger herds had a more continuous distribution.  The Beverly calving ground had just 189 cows in 2007 and 93 cows in 2008, after previous counts of 5,737 in 1994, when the herd was last photo-surveyed, and 2,629 in 2002, using similar survey methods.  The causes of the catastrophic decline of the Beverly herd are not well understood, in part because the herd was monitored little between 1994 and 2006, but may include heavy hunter harvest on the winter range, a natural cycle, and a partial shift to the calving grounds of the much larger Ahiak herd to the north.  The densities of cows on the Ahiak calving ground were lower than in 2007, likely in part due to a low pregnancy rate.





At a "Caribou Summit" meeting in Inuvik in January 2007 attended by nearly 200 delegates, the causes of decline in NWT barren-ground caribou herds were discussed, as well as management actions to pursue for the welfare of the caribou.  Ranked highest in priority of 27 actions to manage human impacts on caribou was "Protect caribou calving grounds in NWT and Nunavut".  Mapping calving grounds is a key step in managing them carefully.  At present, only the calving ground of the Bluenose West herd has longterm protection as a national park in Canada.  The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board has for some years called for permanent legislated protection of the traditional calving grounds of the two herds.  The catastrophic decline of the Beverly herd means that the GNWT and its neighbouring jurisdictions (Nunavut and Saskatchewan) that share responsibility for this herd will need to invest greater effort into monitoring this herd and doing whatever can be done to promote its recovery.  At present, three companies are exploring for uranium on this herd's calving grounds.





2007 Barren-ground Caribou Calving Distribution Surveys, Northwest Territories & Nunavut
Environment & Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories 
download 2007 surveys results





Jan Adamczewski, Ungulate Biologist,
Environment and Natural Resources,
Government of the Northwest Territories,
Box 1320, Yellowknife, NWT, Canada  X1A 2L9;
phone (867) 873-7763,
email:  jan_adamczewski 'at'


Susan Fleck, Director,
Wildlife Division,
Government of the Northwest Territories,
Box 1320, Yellowknife, NWT, Canada  X1A 2L9;
phone (867) 920-8043,
email:  susan_fleck 'at'