Woodland caribou

Publication - March 24, 2009
The Boreal Forest is home to one of Canada’s most iconic animals: the woodland caribou. Unfortunately, logging and industrial development have been destroying this threatened species’ habitat for decades, and caribou are quickly disappearing. If this habitat loss continues, Boreal woodland caribou could be extinct by the end of the century.

From coast to coast

Boreal woodland caribou live across Canada, from the Northwest Territories and British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador. They are listed federally as a threatened species. They eat lichens that are only found in old growth, coniferous forests, and their survival strategy is to space themselves out over large areas to avoid predators. This means they need huge areas of old growth forest— about 13,000 square kilometres for a herd of 500 — in order to survive.

Half of habitat already lost

Woodland caribou are extremely sensitive to disturbance in their habitat, which has shrunk dramatically as logging has spread north and roads have fragmented once intact forests. In Ontario, for example, they have lost half of their range in the past century, at a rate of almost 35,000 square kilometres per decade.

Delayed impact

There is a 20-year delay between the time logging takes place and the full impact on caribou is realized. That means that the precarious state woodland caribou are in today doesn’t even reflect the full effect of the past two decades of clearcutting and road building in the Boreal Forest.

In 2009, Environment Canada released a landmark report by independent scientists that confirmed a direct link between the amount of disturbance in Boreal woodland caribou habitat and the ability of the caribou population to sustain itself. It found that for many populations across the country, the likelihood of still existing 100 years from now is less than 50 per cent.

All talk, no action

Provincial and federal governments have spent years talking about the woodland caribou problem, but have so far refused to take the kind of meaningful action that’s needed to save them from extinction. But it’s not too late to save Canada’s iconic animal.

  • The federal government must stop delaying completion of its long-overdue Boreal woodland caribou recovery strategy, and must incorporate the findings of the critical habitat study into its strategy.
  • Provincial governments must immediately suspend logging and road building in critical caribou habitat, and start a process to create new protected areas of intact forest throughout woodland caribou range.
  • Companies must stop all logging, and road building in intact forests and critical caribou habitat until comprehensive conservation planning has been completed and protected areas are established.

Healthy caribou = sustainable forests and communities

The health of woodland caribou reflects the health of our forests. Protecting caribou means making substantial changes to where and how forestry takes place. Ultimately, the changes that are needed for the survival of woodland caribou are the same changes that will make forest-based jobs and communities strong and sustainable in the long term.

Did you know?

  • Caribou fur is made of long, hollow hairs that help caribou float when swimming and trap air so they stay warm even in the water.
  • Caribou feet can get as big as dinner plates, acting like snowshoes in the winter and paddles in water.
  • Unlike other deer species, many female caribou grow antlers.
  • When Boreal woodland caribou give birth, they do it alone, at around one female per 16 square kilometres, to keep the risk of predators down.