The Caribou Challenge

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One of the most unique animals in the province is in a fight for it's life, and it needs your help.

The first Europeans to travel in northern Saskatchewan saw animals that reminded them of European reindeer. What they actually saw was two North American varieties of the same species. Northern Saskatchewan is home to these very special and unique animals we now know as caribou.

The woodland caribou and the barren-ground caribou are creatures of the north and creatures of the cold. Actually northern Saskatchewan is the only place where both members of the same species coexist. They are as much at home in the water, in the middle of a bog as on a steep rock cliff. They love the spruce and tamarack, and they thrive on lichens. Their majestic antlers look like a cross between those of a moose and those of an elk.

The woodland caribou, called Atik in the Cree language, is the larger, darker animal. It sometimes travels in small groups, sometimes alone in the seclusion of tamarack bogs and jack pine forests.

The northern limit of Atik's historic range follows a line from the south shore of Lake Athabasca in the northwest to Wollaston Lake in the northeast. The southern limit of it's range stretches from the Pasquia Hills on the Manitoba border, to Loon Lake near the Alberta border. Today the woodland caribou is rarely seen in the southern areas of it's traditional Saskatchewan range.

Tim Trottier of Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) says that's partly due to human activity.

"The species has lost important habitat to logging, especially old growth spruce and jack pine forests with a lichen ground cover. In some places their ranges have become islands surrounded by a mix of farmland, rangeland, woodlots and recreational areas. Disturbance from land clearing, road, trail and utility corridor development, logging, mineral exploration and mining may have isolated herds from important parts of their range causing them to become fragmented, shrink or even disappear. Along the southern periphery of their range, where human development has been most intense, entire herds of caribou have disappeared or exist as remnants of a former herd. White-tailed deer, elk and moose often move into the areas changed by human activity. Those animals attract more wolves and that may result in more predation on woodland caribou."

In 1987 SERM closed the sport hunting season for woodland caribou. At that time a survey showed the caribou's range was three-quarters of it's historic size and estimated the population had shrunk to half of it's traditional number.

In 2000 the woodland caribou was added to Canada's endangered species list. Along with the Federal government and other Canadian provinces, SERM is now developing a recovery plan for the woodland caribou.

Trottier says SERM welcomes comments and ideas from northern communities, aboriginal groups, and other interested organizations.

"The plan will help identify and implement ways of sharing traditional and scientific information about the species, educating people about the species and its habitat, monitoring caribou populations, and restoring caribou populations and their habitat. SERM expects to have a recovery plan in place within three years."

Trotter also says individuals can help by reporting caribou sightings, and take part in voluntary monitoring. He says that will help SERM learn more about the locations, movements and size of Woodland Caribou herds.

Next week SERM Newsline will look at the barren-ground caribou.

For more information contact:

Tim Trottier
Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management


groovy mike's picture

Thanks for sharing the information

Thanks for sharing the information on caribou in Saskatchewan and you are right Hunter25. We all think of those endless herds of migrating caribou that we dream of seeing. I suppose that they are analogous to the endless herds of American bison from before the 1870s. But in truth, in recent years the caribou herds have been suffering population losses. I’m not sure that anyone knows the full story of why. I do hope that they recover though. I would very much like to add both a woodland and barren ground caribou or two to my trophy wall and table fare.

hunter25's picture

It is interesting all the

It is interesting all the things I come across reading all these old news reports. When you think about caribou you always think about Canada or Alaska. I know there are several different species of caribou up there but never stopped to think that some of them might be considered endangered. Even in the best of places things can go bad I guess. Severe winters up there, loss of habitat just like in other places and I suppose depradation from wolves and other predators can all take their toll on what once was a healthy herd. I'll have to look things up and see if this one has recovered as in most cases a few years of proper management can bring things back into line. I may never get to actually go hunting caribou myself but would like to think that there is a healthy population waiting for me if the opportunity ever comes true.