Woodland Caribou are under serious threat due to habitat loss and expanding industrial development in their traditional range.

The Woodland caribou was once found nearly everywhere there were forests in northern North America. But over the past 100 years, their habitat has shrunk dramatically. Today, Woodland caribou are mostly confined to Canada's northern Boreal Forest.

The iconic woodland caribou acts as an “indicator species” for wilderness areas. There are very sensitive to disturbance, and thrive in intact forests. When Woodland caribou populations are healthy, chances are other species in the area are healthy too.

Woodland Caribou are listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). All species listed require a National Recovery Strategy. In mid 2011, the federal government released a draft recovery strategy for Woodland Caribou. CPAWS acknowledges the progress made on the part of the national government but encourages strong, science-backed commitments to ensuring that all woodland caribou populations will not only survive, but thrive, in intact boreal ecosystems.

In 2007, a recovery strategy was drafted by Saskatchewan to guide caribou survival into the future, and in 2012 the federal government lent support to the efforts of Saskatchewan with its own national “Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal population”. The Conservation Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou in Saskatchewan was finalized in 2014. The ministry has initiated a project that will provide a better understanding of the complexities of woodland caribou ecology, help to meet objectives identified in the provincial conservation strategy and federal recovery strategy, and assist the Province in carrying out its responsibility for managing the species and related habitat.

The Woodland Caribou Range Assessment and Planning project incorporates two key components:

  • Woodland caribou range assessment, which will increase our understanding of woodland caribou populations and their interactions with their environment within Saskatchewan, and
  • Development of range plans that will lead to better decisions involving habitat management and self-sustaining caribou populations.

Engagement with industry, First Nations, Métis and stakeholders is key to the development of range plans. These plans will guide how to restore damaged caribou habitat through: better forest management practices; ensuring that new or other industrial development sites do not pose a risk to caribou; managing road, trail, and seismic line activity; and planning future land use that sustains caribou range and a healthy boreal forest.

Range planning will be science based, incorporating information from various research projects , with the goal of maintaining woodland caribou within their current range in northern Saskatchewan. A healthy caribou population is indicative of a healthy ecosystem overall. For range assessment and planning activities related to woodland caribou, Saskatchewan has been divided into the Boreal Shield (SK1) and Boreal Plain (SK2) conservation units as identified in the provincial conservation strategy and federal recovery strategy.

The threat

Woodland caribou are vulnerable to disturbance from human activities that result in the loss of their preferred habitat or create new access into it. Such activities include forest harvesting that causes a temporary loss of habitat, and other industrial and urban developments that cause a permanent loss. Roads, trails, and seismic lines may create access for people and predators to caribou refuge, disrupting caribou from feeding, calving and resting, and increasing the vulnerability from predators. With their low reproduction rate the increased disturbance and predation may lead to a decline in caribou population levels.

What CPAWS is doing

CPAWS Saskatchewan is part of the Provincial Caribou Recovery management team as an active stakeholder. We are also contributing input to the Provincial Ministry of Environment Plan for Woodland Caribou via the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

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By saving the threatened woodland caribou's remaining Boreal forest habitat across Canada, we'll also help protect one of the world's largest remaining carbon reserves, and slow the effects of climate change.
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