Reindeer and caribou
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Wild reindeer and caribou are distributed in millions around the circumpolar Arctic where they play a key role in the environment, culture, and economy of the region.   They are fundamental to indigenous peoples, and have become part of their spiritual values, as well as their subsistence and commercial economies.  Being so abundant they support a diversity of predators, i.e. grizzly bears, wolves and wolverine.  Wild reindeer and caribou have declined by about 33% - from 3.8 to 5.6 million - since populations peaked in the 1990s and early 2000s following increases in the 1970s and 1980s.  Regionally, there is a tendency for herds to be synchronized in their phases of increase and decrease.  Download press package here

 

For example, currently all seven of the major migratory tundra herds in Canada’s Northwest Territories and Nunavut are declining from highs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of Alaska’s 24 southern and interior herds, 16 are declining, six are stable, and two are increasing.

 

Climate change is a critical determinant behind recent declines, but the major stressors vary between individual herds. Generally, herds in the far north have been hit by severity of local weather, primarily fall to spring icing. For the migratory mainland herds, continental climate trends are implicated, with current climatic changes likely exacerbating natural cycles.  Increased human activity and industrial development are also implicated in the declines of many herds, particularly the more southern ones. The small mountain herds in Norway, for example, are affected by habitat fragmentation resulting from hydroelectric projects, roads, and recreational activities.

 

The sheer numbers of wild caribou and reindeer, numbering in the millions, coupled with their historical resiliency, contributes to complacency about their future. So the recovery of most herds is not assured: recovery may be delayed or very slow, and some herds may disappear altogether.  Habitat changes in the future include a reduction in the size of tundra ranges through the expansion of roads, oilfields, and mining areas. At the same time, current and future climate-related changes will impact the abundance of caribou and wild reindeer. Climate and weather directly affect most aspects of caribou ecology through influences on forage quality, quantity, and availability, as well as influences on vulnerability to predation and parasites. For example, future global warming will lead to an encroachment of the tree line and shrubs into the tundra and a corresponding loss of grasses, lichens, and mosses.

 

Wild reindeer and caribou are distributed in millions around the circumpolar Arctic where they play a key role in the environment, culture, and economy of the region. They are fundamental to indigenous peoples, and have become part of their spiritual values, as well as their subsistence and commercial economies.  Being so abundant they support a diversity of predators, i.e. grizzly bears, wolves and wolverine.Wild reindeer and caribou have declined by about 33% - from 3.8 to 5.6 million - since populations peaked in the 1990s and early 2000s following increases in the 1970s and 1980s. Regionally, there is a tendency for herds to be synchronized in their phases of increase and decrease. For example, currently all seven of the major migratory tundra herds in Canada’s Northwest Territories and Nunavut are declining from highs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of Alaska’s 24 southern and interior herds, 16 are declining, six are stable, and two are increasing.

 

Climate change is a critical determinant behind recent declines, but the major stressors vary between individual herds. Generally, herds in the far north have been hit by severity of local weather, primarily fall to spring icing. For the migratory mainland herds, continental climate trends are implicated, with current climatic changes likely exacerbating natural cycles. Increased human activity and industrial development are also implicated in the declines of many herds, particularly the more southern ones. The small mountain herds in Norway, for example, are affected by habitat fragmentation resulting from hydroelectric projects, roads, and recreational activities.

 

The sheer numbers of wild caribou and reindeer, numbering in the millions, coupled with their historical resiliency, contributes to complacency about their future. So the recovery of most herds is not assured: recovery may be delayed or very slow, and some herds may disappear altogether. Habitat changes in the future include a reduction in the size of tundra ranges through the expansion of roads, oilfields, and mining areas. At the same time, current and future climate-related changes will impact the abundance of caribou and wild reindeer. Climate and weather directly affect most aspects of caribou ecology through influences on forage quality, quantity, and availability, as well as influences on vulnerability to predation and parasites. For example, future global warming will lead to an encroachment of the tree line and shrubs into the tundra and a corresponding loss of grasses, lichens, and mosses.