Porcupine caribou herd winter habitat could shrink in 100 years: study

A new study suggests communities in Alaska and Yukon could see fewer caribou in the future due to a growing number of forest fires that will burn up lichen-rich boreal forest, which the caribou feed on.

Study says climate change will cause more forest fires and burn up lichen-rich boreal forests

A new study suggests communities in northern Alaska and Yukon could see fewer porcupine caribou in the future.

Scientists believe climate change could increase the number of forest fires in the area, which would end up destroying lichen-rich boreal forest, where herds, such as the porcupine caribou, forage in the winter.

The study, which was co-authored by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the U.S. Geological Survey, says there could be 21 per cent less of the slow growing lichen in the area over the next century.   

A study out of the U.S. says 21 per cent of the porcupine caribou herd could be lost in the near future. (CBC News)
"When we talk about … the expectations of climate change, things are going to get drier and that feeds directly into fire dynamics," said David Gustine, lead researcher of the study. "And so to put it simply, we expect there to be more area burned by wildfire in the foreseeable future. In this case it was the next 100 years."

The study looks closely at the effects of predicted increasing temperatures and how that may influence the flammability of the forest in Northeastern Alaska and Northwestern Canada. 

Todd Brinkman, an Assistant Wildlife Biology Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says changes in caribou distribution in the winter means residents in places like Arctic Village, Alaska and Old Crow, Yukon will have to become more flexible.

"How this study might be of value to locals is they can start to think about how they might respond or better anticipate a change in local caribou distribution."

The research is part of the Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative funded by the U.S.G.S.