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N.W.T. caribou populations continue to decline, survey shows

The results of surveys in the Northwest Territories this summer show that caribou populations are continuing to decline.

Bluenose-East, Bathurst herds see 50% drop in breeding cows - 'a crucial indicator of herd health'

The results of surveys in the Northwest Territories this summer indicate caribou populations are continuing to decline. (GNWT)

Caribou populations are continuing to decline, according to surveys conducted in the N.W.T. this summer. 

Surveys done in June and July show that the Bathurst population dropped by about one third — from 32,000 animals in 2012, to between 16,000 and 22,000 this year.

The number of breeding cows, "a crucial indicator of herd health," has dropped by 50 per cent, according to a press release from the territorial government. 

The Bluenose-East herd has declined from about 68,000 caribou in 2013 to between 35,000 and 40,000 this year. Its number of breeding cows has also dropped by 50 per cent since 2013.

The Bluenose-West herd has dropped by about 5,000 animals since 2012. 

The Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula population is now about 1,701 — a decline of nearly 500 animals since 2012.

The Cape Bathurst herd only has 2,260 animals this year, compared to 19,000 in 1992.

Minister calls declines 'an emergency'

"The longer term issue is to come up with a management plan for the Bluenose-East, which is in the works," says Michael Miltenberger, minister of environment and natural resources. "And to get the players to the table and finally develop a Bathurst management plan that everybody will agree with."

He says that includes implementing management plans for the herds, and an "inter-jurisdictional agreement with the Government of Nunavut to collaborate on research, monitoring and management actions for shared herds."

"When a herd goes from 460,000 to 15,000, to me and I think everybody else, that's an emergency," Miltenberger says, referring to the Bathurst herd's population in 1986 compared to now.

The territorial government says the issue is not unique to the N.W.T., pointing to other regions that are dealing with similar declines, including Alaska and Nunavut.

"Although the evidence is incomplete, we suspect these further declines, in large part, reflect poor environmental conditions, possibly on the summer range, [that] are leading to reduced pregnancy rates and reduced calf survival rates," said Jan Adamczewski, a wildlife biologist with ENR.

A final report on the population survey results will be released later this fall.

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