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Gaspésie Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan (2002-2012)


Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) were apparently abundant in the Gaspésie at the beginning of the 20th century. However, they were the object of intense commercial harvesting (Moisan 1956). Courtois et al. (2001) briefly looked at historical changes to the size of this population. Caribou were still seen in Gaspé in 1868, sometimes even close to dwellings (Guay 1983), but their range declined rapidly thereafter. Caribou were considered rare in the Matapedia Valley around 1887, probably because of excessive hunting, which was particularly intense between 1900 and 1915. There was an outbreak of an epizootic disease, the cause of which is unknown, between 1920 and 1928 (Moisan 1956). The population was protected by the creation of Gaspésie provincial park in 1937 and the subsequent ban on hunting in 1949. Forestry and mining activities, on the other hand, were only prohibited as of 1977.

In 1953, there were between 700 and 1,500 caribou in the Gaspésie population. The caribou inhabited an area of approximately 1,000 km2, and were divided into four main groups that spent the winters on the alpine tundra on Logan, Albert, Jacques-Cartier and Copper mountains (Garland River, Murdochville; Moisan 1957). Recruitment appeared to be good, probably because of the absence of wolves (Canis lupus). There were many black bears (Ursus americanus); however, they were not considered to be a significant source of predation, and were controlled by park wardens. Nevertheless, Moisan (1957) expressed concern about the caribou’s situation resulting from habitat alteration brought on by logging, forest fires and mining.

Despite the protection efforts of park officials, the caribou population continued to decline, particularly until the middle of the 1970s. There are currently about 140 individuals in the Gaspésie population (Fournier and Faubert 2001). Their situation is very precarious because of predation on calves by coyotes (Canis latrans) that appeared in the Gaspésie in the middle of the 1970s, and black bears that live on the summits used by the caribou (Crête and Desrosiers 1993).

In 1984, the population was assessed as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC 2000); it was recently reassessed as endangered. A recovery plan focusing on predator control and the reduction of human disturbances has been in place since 1990 (Gaspésie Caribou Recovery Team 1994). A forest management plan was developed to protect habitats in land adjacent to the park (Champagne et al. 1999). Since September 2001, the Quebec government has listed the caribou and its habitat as vulnerable, in accordance with the Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species (E-12.01) and the Regulation respecting threatened or vulnerable species and their habitats (R.S.Q., c. E-12.01, s.10, r.0.2.3; Gazette officielle du Québec, 2001).

The precarious situation of the Gaspésie Woodland Caribou population led to the creation of a new Recovery Team in the fall of 2001. Given the urgency of the situation, predator control measures were introduced in the summer of the same year. This document sets forth the Recovery Team’s report, and includes a review of literature on caribou, based primarily on the work of Michaud (2001), and a summary of previous action taken with respect to the Gaspésie population. It also outlines the Team’s goals and objectives, and the methods it proposes to ensure the survival of the Gaspésie Woodland Caribou population.