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Diminishing Caribou Populations In Canada

April 10, 2009

The woodland caribou of Canada may see a shriveling of size in its 36,000 population within the next century, while other animals in areas of heavy energy production and logging face greater risk, a major report indicated on Thursday, Reuters accounted. 

The report was accepted by the Conservative government last June but did not publicize its findings until now.  Concerned conservationists believe the document is lacking details and requires more in-depth study. 

Environmental critics suggest this is just another lackadaisical effort by the Ottawa government to pursue green issues.  Accusations of the government being too chummy with the energy industry also play on the perceptions of the critics.  The Ottawa government, however, denies such allegations saying it needed fair time to study this multifaceted topic. 

Other more prevalent species of caribou migrate across the northern tundra of Canada and Arctic in large herds with head counts in the hundreds of thousands, but not the woodland caribou.  This type of caribou, with only 57 herds in all, lives in the southern boreal forests that stretch across the entire country.

Eighteen caribou experts collaborated to do the research for this study.  They found that 29 of the herds were not self-sustaining.  Most of the herds at risk were located in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan where there is a large amount of energy production. 

The report proposed, “The inherent risks associated with a small population size warrant a cautious approach when considering potential resilience to any additional disturbance.”

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, long time advocates for protection of woodland caribou, said the report revealed that the animals were facing more danger than anyone was aware of.  

“We are calling for an immediate pause to logging and new development activity in critical caribou habitat,” urged Aran O’Carroll of the society. 

The report lacked enough substantial evidence on the effect of human activity on the caribou, the federal environment ministry said prompting for further research in this area. 

“It does not provide enough detail about the habitat disturbance that can be tolerated by caribou populations and still maintain long-term persistence,” said a spokeswoman.

She indicated the ministry intended to develop a strategy in mid-2011 to protect the animals.

“We completely disagree with that. We think it is the most scientifically conclusive report ever produced on the species,” O’Carroll told the press.

Specialists were concerned by the decreasing population of barren ground caribou of Canada’s vast Northwest Territories in early 2007.  At that time, they attributed changing climate, insect levels, the amount of food available, and the number of predators as primary contributors to their diminishing populations. 

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