Photo: Boreal woodland caribou

Grant Caribou (Credit: wallyg via Flickr.)

A Canadian icon:

You might be carrying a caribou around in your pocket right now — this important Canadian icon has been appearing on our 25-cent piece since 1936. But that should be the closest you ever come to touching a caribou.

These shy and highly secretive animals need large forests free of roads to thrive. But the caribou are in trouble, and in some parts of this country they may be in danger of disappearing because of too much habitat disturbance in the forests where they live.

Caribou are barometers for healthy forests. If caribou aren't doing well, that means our forests are in trouble and we need healthy forests to help sequester carbon, regulate climate and mitigate against floods, to name a few of the ecological services that they provide.

Where do caribou live?

From the Yukon, down through the northern corner of British Columbia all the way across to Newfoundland, a variety of caribou roam this country. Barren ground caribou are found in the Arctic tundra. The rare mountain caribou can be found in Canada's remote mountain ranges. Boreal woodland caribou like to hang out in the mosquito- and lichen-filled boreal forests. At one time, caribou also lived in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. But they have disappeared due to human actions such as over-hunting and habitat destruction.

Why are caribou in trouble?

Boreal woodland caribou are in trouble across Canada — to date at least half of the caribou's range has been lost due to activities that disturb and fragment their forest habitat, such as road building. These changes in the boreal forest due to human activity make caribou an easy target for their natural predators — wolves. At present, boreal woodland caribou are listed as "threatened" under the federal Species at Risk Act — this means that they are threatened with extinction.

The way forward

Scientists recommend that caribou need large, healthy, intact and interconnected forests to survive. As a result, provincial and federal governments must work together to maintain, protect and restore caribou habitat across the country, using the best available science.

The best available science

Under the Species at Risk Act, the federal government is required to prepare a Recovery Strategy for Caribou. The Recovery Strategy for boreal woodland caribou was due in June 2008, but has been delayed with a revised release date promised for June 2011.

To fulfill its obligation to identify the boreal woodland caribou's critical habitat in the Recovery Strategy, using the best science available, Environment Canada enlisted some of North America's leading scientists to produce a report with critical habitat recommendations.

The Scientific Review of critical habitat for boreal woodland caribou was released in April 2009. This review contains critical habitat recommendations for boreal woodland caribou. It also contains cutting edge information about the relationship between habitat disturbance levels and caribou survival. This relationship can be used to better understand the risk levels to caribou populations of habitat disturbance within their ranges and to manage forests to ensure caribou recovery.

Additional research is now underway by the federal government to expand upon the findings in the Science Review. New information will be used to refine the critical habitat recommendations in the Review. Environment Canada must include a map of critical habitat in the final Recovery Strategy that reflects the advice of the scientists.

What can you do?

1. Listen to what David has to say
Read David Suzuki's Science Matters column on the link between caribou and the boreal region.

2. Walk, walk again, and then walk some more
The less fuel you use to drive your car, the less oil and gas companies have to go and search for in caribou habitat. Oil and gas exploration lines and roads make caribou easy targets for their main predator — wolves.

3. Reduce the amount of paper you use at the office or at home and buy only 100% post-consumer waste paper
Industrial logging is cutting into fragmenting the boreal forest, and that means caribou are being evicted from their homes. The less paper you use, the less trees are cut down — it's that simple!

Read more

  • Read DSF's news release about the release of the Scientific Review for the Identification of Critical Habitat for Boreal Woodland Caribou
  • Read DSF's caribou backgrounder to help you understand the federal report titled: Science Review for the Identification of Critical Habitat for Boreal Woodland Caribou.

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