The Northwest Territories has officially listed barren-ground caribou as a threatened species.

In doing so, the territory commits under its own legislation to developing a recovery strategy for the animals in the next two years – but the listing doesn’t automatically grant caribou any additional protective measures.

A separate federal consultation on the status of barren-ground caribou, which could end up granting extra protection by law, is ongoing.

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Populations of barren-ground caribou in NWT herds have fallen dramatically since the late 1980s, not helped by climate change, industrial development, and forest fires.

“The cumulative effects from these combined threats are considered unprecedented,” read an assessment by the territory’s Species at Risk Committee conducted in 2017.

Only the Porcupine herd, which is not included in this decision as it is considered geographically distinct (its range straddles eastern Alaska, northern Yukon and the NWT’s western edge), has increased its numbers in recent years.

By contrast, the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East, Bathurst, Beverly, Ahiak, and Qamanirjuaq herds are all in decline.

Various other species of caribou, such as boreal caribou, are already on the same list.

Federal consultation

Wednesday’s announcement follows guidance from the Conference of Management Authorities, which brings together wildlife officials from the territory’s various governments to make decisions on species at risk.

The announcement also lists two types of bat, the little brown myotis and northern myotis, as species of concern. A plan to manage the numbers of all bat species is being drawn up.

However, the group decided not to add grizzly bears to the list of species at risk, saying there is “not sufficient evidence” to justify that course of action.

The territorial government’s list of species at risk is not the same as the federal government’s list.

The federal government – following the 2016 decision of a national group of scientists to declare the caribou threatened – is currently holding an extended public consultation to establish the costs and benefits of changing the animals’ designation.

That consultation lasts until October 22, after which Ottawa could elect to formally place barren-ground caribou on the federal list of species at risk.

Appearance on the federal list can mean a range of legal protections are put in place to preserve numbers.