September 28, 2010
Scientists: Climate, Industry to Blame For Dramatic Decrease in Caribou Population
By Chad Love
Canada's once-vast northern caribou herds are in a "free-fall."
From this story on Yale Environment360:
In late July, a group of Inuit hunters set off by boat along the west coast of Banks Island to search for Peary caribou, which inhabit the Arctic archipelago of Canada. Roger Kuptana, a 62-year-old Inuit who had grown up on the island, didn’t give his fellow hunters much chance of success in their hunt for the animals, the smallest caribou sub-species in North America. “I think it’s a waste of gas,” Kuptana told me when I visited his modest home in Sachs Harbour, a traditional community of roughly 100 people on the island, not far from the Yukon-Alaska border. “There used to be a lot of caribou around here when I grew up. But now you have to travel pretty far north to find them on the island. It’s not just here. It seems like this happening everywhere.”
As it turned out, Kuptana was right; the Inuit hunters found no Peary caribou, despite three days of searching. The hunters’ predicament is familiar to the Eskimos of Alaska, other Inuit of Canada and Greenland, and the Nenets, Komi, Evenks, Chukotkans, and indigenous groups of northern Russia and Scandinavia. Throughout the Arctic, many of the great caribou and reindeer herds that once roamed the treeless tundra, providing an indispensible source of meat and clothing for aboriginal groups, are in free-fall. Thirty-four of the 43 major herds that scientists have studied worldwide in the last decade are in decline, with caribou numbers plunging 57 percent from their historical peaks. Some populations have fallen precipitously: The Bathurst herd in Canada’s central Arctic has plummeted from a peak of 472,000 in 1986 to 32,000 today — a drop of 93 percent.
According to scientists, the causes of the global caribou decline are straightforward: rapidly rising Arctic temperatures are throwing caribou out of sync with the environment in which they evolved; oil and gas development, mining, logging, and hydropower projects in the Far North are impinging on the caribou’s range; and, though not a major factor, hunting is further depleting already beleaguered caribou populations.
Your reaction? If caribou herds are indeed in a free-fall, do you think sport hunting should be reduced accordingly?