George River Caribou Herd in Critical State
The 2018 census results for the George River Caribou Herd show further dramatic decline and put the size of the herd at 5,500 caribou – a 38 per cent decline since 2016 and a 99 per cent decline since 2001 that puts the herd at its greatest known risk for total extirpation.
Biologists from Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec completed the census of the herd in July, with the direct participation of Indigenous representatives from both provinces.
In 2001, the herd was estimated at 385,000 animals; by 2010 the population was estimated to be just 74,000 caribou, triggering harvest restrictions that included the end of commercial hunting. Despite a complete closure of all hunting as of 2013, by 2016 the population had declined to 8,900 animals. The herd range is remote, with currently low levels of habitat disturbance. Wolf abundance is being monitored and appears to be quite low over the herd range, and testing indicates caribou are currently healthy with decreasing prevalence of parasites. Surveys of recruitment conducted in October 2016 and 2017 documented good numbers of calves born into the population.
In 2017 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended listing the George River Caribou Herd as Endangered. The Provincial Government considered the recommendation and – at the specific request of Indigenous governments and communities in Labrador – decided not to list, and agreed to develop a co-management approach between Indigenous governments and communities and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.