Environment and Conservation
February 7, 2008

Five-Year Caribou Strategy Seeks to Address Declining Populations

The Minister of Environment and Conservation, the Honourable Charlene Johnson, today 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."

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Media contact:
Melony O’Neill
Director of Communications (Acting)
Department of Environment and Conservation
709-729-2575, 689-0928
moneill@gov.nl.ca

BACKGROUNDER

Caribou populations have been in a state of decline since approximately the mid to late 1990s. From an estimated peak of over 90,000 caribou in 1996, the present population is estimated at 37,000, a decrease of approximately 60 per cent. Predators are seen as a major reason for this decline. Studies on calf annual survival rates show some herds at less than 10 per cent. High calf mortality, coupled with an adult mortality rate estimated at approximately 12 per cent, means populations will continue to decline independently of any other pressures such as hunting. Recent and ongoing studies clearly implicate black bear, coyote and, in some cases, lynx as the key predators of caribou calves. Calf annual survival rates must increase to at least 15 per cent even to stabilize populations at current levels.

During the winter and spring of 2006, a census of the herds on the South Coast portion of the province was conducted where six of the major caribou herds exist. The Northern Peninsula effort began in the early fall of 2007. The collaring of animals in this area is ongoing and will be followed by a winter census.

Results to date indicate that declines have been in the range of 40-60 per cent for most herds. However, the Grey River herd has decreased by approximately 90 per cent, so the area will be closed to hunting in the fall of 2008. Calf predation studies indicate that all predators are focusing on caribou calves primarily from birth to 14 weeks of age, and black bears are responsible for 30-50 per cent of the observed calf mortalities.

The body condition of caribou sampled to date indicate that they are in good condition, suggesting that range conditions are not, at present, limiting populations.

The Caribou Strategy includes the following initiatives which will give a better understanding of the current decline in the woodland caribou populations and enable government to intervene in a proactive manner:

Continuation of the collection of necessary data, including data from existing radio-collared animals and the expansion of the adult collaring effort to the Middle Ridge herd. There will also be census and classification programs, as well as the continuation of calf mortality studies.

Initiation of a predator ecology study in cooperation with several academic institutes. This study will include the collaring and monitoring of key predators and caribou, followed by a focused predator removal program on caribou calving areas.

Implementation of an enhanced information and education program focused primarily at ensuring hunters and trappers continue to be effective in wildlife and predator management through legal participation in wildlife harvesting.

Implementation of a province-wide regional assessment of black bear populations, given their significant impact on the decline of caribou calves.

Improved wildlife enforcement.

Increased emphasis on habitat assessment.

2008 02 07                                                        12:45 p.m.


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