Canada is home to some of the most amazing hooved animals in the world. Deer, moose, and caribou have become part of our national image, which is what makes the state of Nunavut’s Dolphin and Union caribou herd so troubling. Recently, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada announced it had determined the Dolphin and Union caribou herd to be an endangered species.
It is no surprise that climate change has been deemed a cause of increasing pressure on the herd, as their semi-annual migration across the Coronation Gulf has been consistently shortened by later freezing and earlier thawing of sea ice.
This shortened freezing season is made more dangerous by the increase in shipping traffic in the region. As ships are forced to break through the ice, a shorter, warmer season means that the open water takes longer to refreeze, and can lead to caribou drowning or even large groups of caribou being stranded on ice flows.
A Nunavut land-use plan has recommended a decrease in shipping activity in order to protect the heard, but the Canadian Government has objected to the plan.
“The restrictions proposed in the draft plan would impede search and rescue and other forms of emergency and environmental response, national defence, national security and other essential government and non-government operations and services such as community resupply; they could also impact future economic development,” Ottawa said in response. “Further, the proposed restrictions that would impede navigation through the various waterways that make up the Northwest Passage would likely provoke a negative reaction from certain other states.”
While these issues are clearly difficult to address, a WWF-Canada senior specialist on Arctic species and ecosystems claims that this may be our only option.
“Climate change, disease, predation: those are all very hard to control. Industrial development and icebreaking are ones that we can control.”
The state of these caribou proves to us that the balance between animal populations and human development is an issue across all of Canada’s geography. Hopefully a balance can be struck, before its too late.