Beverly caribou herd at high risk of continued decline: management board
"Caribou herds may not last forever unless people do everything they can to help caribou now”
The Beverly Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board has issued a warning, following its meeting in Winnipeg on Nov. 22: “the Beverly caribou herd is highly vulnerable and more needs to be done to address the pressures it is facing.”
This message follows the board’s vulnerability assessment for the herd in November 2017, based on local and traditional knowledge along with scientific information.
For the assessment, board members looked at 20 indicators of herd vulnerability for Beverly caribou, rating these from very low to very high. The board then used these results to identify a preliminary overall vulnerability level for the herd.
“When a caribou herd is ‘vulnerable,’ the herd is more likely to be negatively affected by things that would have less impact under better conditions,” the board said in its report.
The Beverly herd’s range extends from Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories to west-central Nunavut. The range overlaps with the Bathurst caribou herd on the west and the Qamanirjuaq and Ahiak caribou herds on the east.
The herd calves in both the western Queen Maud Gulf area and the traditional calving grounds near Beverly Lake in Nunavut.
Last week, the board members also looked at the preliminary results of recent surveys conducted by the Government of Nunavut, including a June 2018 Beverly calving ground survey, which was used to estimate the herd’s current size.
These results show that the herd has continued to decline since the last population survey in 2011.
The management board cited no numbers for the herd’s population, but it said the decline “causes serious concern.”
The June 2011 survey showed only an estimated 124,000 caribou left within the Beverly herd, although that and another 2011 study also concluded the Beverly herd had moved further north in Nunavut to calve near the western Queen Maud Gulf coast rather than at its usual calving ground.
Elders maintained the herd had relocated instead of declining.
But the combined information from the assessment and surveys prompted the board to rate the Beverly herd’s current vulnerability level as “high,” a news release from the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board said on Nov. 27.
Earlier this year the N.W.T.’s Conference of Management Authorities listed the Beverly herd as a species of risk.
The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board’s chair, Earl Evans, said in the news release that this high vulnerability level should be “a wakeup call.”
“People were caught by surprise by the Bathurst caribou situation. Now that herd has declined so much it may never recover,” he said.
The Bathurst herd has declined by almost 60 per cent since 2015, from about 20,000 to 8,200 animals.
Over the past 30 years, the decline stands at about 96 per cent.
“If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it,” Evans said. “Now is the time for the board to really ramp up its educational messages that caribou herds may not last forever unless people do everything they can to help caribou now.”
Preliminary results from a GN 2017 population survey also showed the Qamanirjuaq herd’s population has dropped to 264,000 in 2015, down from 348,000 in 2009, and earlier estimates of 500,000.