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Environment

Their habitat melting, mountain caribou become species at risk


Northern mountain caribou have joined the NWT List of Species at Risk as a species of special concern, meaning all types of NWT caribou are now considered at risk.

The territory’s environment minister, Shane Thompson, formally listed northern mountain caribou – which live in the Mackenzie Mountains, migrating from higher ground to lower forests – on Thursday this week.

There are currently six herds of northern mountain caribou in the NWT: Bonnet Plume, Redstone, Tay River, South Nahanni, Coal River, and La Biche.

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According to the Conference of Management Authorities – the group of regulators and government agencies that share responsibility for species at risk – northern mountain caribou were listed due to their vulnerability to climate change and human disturbance.

The Mackenzie Mountains ice patch habitat, which the caribou use to escape insects and cool down in the summer, is melting.

Northern mountain caribou are one of five types of caribou found in the NWT. Barren-ground, boreal, and peary caribou are threatened species, while the dolphin-union and northern mountain caribou are classified as species of special concern, a designation considered less severe.

The special concern classification does not result in any automatic prohibitions or protections for the species or its habitat.

Jody Pellissey, chair of the Conference of Management Authorities, said the listing does, however, mean a management plan must be developed within two years. 

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Listing the species “puts it on the radar of those who are responsible for management and monitoring of wildlife species,” Pellissey said.

A national management plan for northern mountain caribou was published by Environment Canada in 2012. A regional, community-based planning process also exists. The Conference of Management Authorities will develop an NWT management plan by combining elements of those documents with lessons from consultation with the public and Indigenous governments.

“Rather than trying to rewrite the wheel, we’ll use existing plans, adopt them, and use them together rather than separately,” Pellissey said.

“There could potentially be impacts to harvesters that are included in a management plan, but that’s decided as the plan is developed, and it’s in consultation with Indigenous organizations and others in those regions where they’re developing those plans.”

Northern mountain caribou will be included on the NWT list of species at risk for a minimum of 10 years.

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