Conservation status of caribou in the western mountains of Canada: Protections under the species at risk act, 2002-2014
In April 2014, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) reviewed the status of caribou in the western mountains of Canada, in keeping with the ten-year reassessment mandate under the Species at Risk Act. Assessed as two ‘nationally significant’ populations in 2002, COSEWIC revised the conservation units for all caribou in Canada, recognising eleven extant Designatable Units (DUs), three of which -- Northern Mountain, Central Mountain, and Southern Mountain -- are found only in western Canada. The 2014 assessment concluded that the condition of many subpopulations in all three DUs had deteriorated. As a result of small and declining population sizes, the Central Mountain and Southern Mountain DUs are now recognised as endangered. Recent declines in a number of Northern Mountain DU subpopulations did not meet thresholds for endangered or threatened, and were assessed as of special concern. Since the passage of the federal Species at Risk Act in 2002, considerable areas of habitat were managed or conserved for caribou, although disturbance from cumulative human development activities has increased during the same period. Government agencies and local First Nations are attempting to arrest the steep decline of some subpopulations by using predator control, maternal penning, population augmentation, and captive breeding. Based on declines, future developments and current recovery effects, we offer the following recommendations: 1) where recovery actions are necessary, commit to simultaneously reducing human intrusion into caribou ranges, restoring habitat over the long term, and conducting short-term predator control, 2) carefully consider COSEWIC’s new DU structure for management and recovery actions, especially regarding translocations, 3) carry out regular surveys to monitor the condition of Northern Mountain caribou subpopulations and immediately implement preventative measures where necessary, and 4) undertake a proactive, planned approach coordinated across jurisdictions to conserve landscape processes important to caribou conservation.
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