Caribou Decline Prompts Study in Newfoundland Labrador
The Minister of Environment and Conservation, the Honourable Charlene Johnson, announced $15.3 million in funding for a five-year scientific and management strategy of the island woodland caribou populations. The strategy builds upon earlier efforts to better understand and mitigate the current decline in woodland caribou numbers and the role of predators in this decline. Since 2006 and 2007, in response to evidence of a continued decline, the Provincial Government invested an additional $3.7 million in new funding in science and management efforts over two years, the results of which led to the development of this five-year caribou strategy. Part of this effort will be directed toward reducing predator numbers through legal harvests in order to determine the effect on caribou populations.
"Our recent studies of our woodland caribou populations have revealed some startling data from a conservation standpoint," said Minister Johnson. "We take the issue of the declining population extremely seriously, and remain steadfast in ensuring proper management measures are in place to mitigate the decline. Our five-year scientific and management strategy will give us a better understanding of the current decline in woodland caribou populations. The caribou strategy focuses on the continuation of the collection of necessary caribou data; initiation of a predator-caribou ecology study; implementation of an enhanced information and education program; cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources to improve wildlife management; increased emphasis on habitat assessment; and a province-wide regional assessment of black bear populations, one of the key predators of caribou calves."
These science initiatives will provide the necessary context to quantify the effect of reducing predator numbers on the survival of caribou.
Caribou populations have been in a state of decline since the mid to late 1990s. A provincial assessment of caribou populations, carried out by the Wildlife Division of the Department of Environment and Conservation over the past couple of years, has confirmed these declines. From an estimated peak of over 90,000 caribou in 1996, the current population is estimated at 37,000, representing a decrease of approximately 60 per cent. Predators such as the black bear, coyote and lynx are the major factors associated with this decline. Results to date indicate declines have been in the range of 40-60 per cent for most herds on the island portion of the province; however, the Grey River Herd has decreased by approximately 90 per cent of its historically highest population level. This has resulted in the need to close this area to all hunting efforts, commencing the fall of 2008.
"The Grey River Herd statistics suggest that immediate conservation measures are necessary. Therefore, all hunting efforts in the area will be suspended in the fall of 2008," said Minister Johnson. "Further assessments of other herds on the South Coast portion of the province and Northern Peninsula also point toward the necessity for stringent conservation efforts such as decreased quotas."
Between 2001-06, the overall resident and non-resident quota for caribou decreased from 7,730 to 4,635, or 40 per cent. In 2007, the quota was reduced to 2,760 and, for 2008 – due to continued resource decline – the licence quota has been set at 1,235.
"This scientific and management strategy is consistent with our government’s commitment to sustainable development and science-based decision making," said Minister Johnson. "The goals of the strategy will be achieved by working with key stakeholders to ensure sound management of our caribou herds, and their insights will be considered as we work toward the long-term goal of sustaining these herds for future generations. The implementation of this strategy will enable government to intervene in a proactive manner."
The minister also stated that in addition to the environmental importance of a healthy caribou population, a sustainable caribou herd has great economic and social significance, particularly for rural areas of the province. "We understand the iconic value of caribou and its place in the cultural fabric of our province. Equally so, we recognize the recreational and economic role it plays in many of our rural regions," said Minister Johnson. "This strategy will be a major additional effort to assist in better understanding and mitigating the caribou decline."