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COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the woodland caribou Rangifer tarandus caribou in Canada

Special Significance of the Populations

About 99.98% of individuals of the subspecies caribou reside in Canada, including about 1.1 million in Quebec/Labrador (Caribou Quebec 2000) and more than 19 000 on the Hudson Plain (Harris 1999, Elliott 1998). However, the forest-dwelling ecotype numbers only 184 000 caribou of which 78% occur in the Northern Mountain and Newfoundland populations (Table 1). Several local populations of forest-dwelling caribou in the Southern Mountain and Boreal populations are likely to disappear over the next few decades. A challenge will be to keep those two COSEWIC populations, now estimated to number 7 200 and 33 000 caribou, from becoming endangered.

Humans and caribou evolved together in Asia, Europe, and North America (Banfield 1961, Kelsall 1984). Caribou have a special spiritual and cultural significance to many indigenous people because of a long association where life and death was in delicate balance. Caribou are of great symbolic importance to Aboriginal people. Local knowledge is important in assessments of caribou populations in Canada because scientific studies are few, complex, and expensive.

Recreational hunting of forest-dwelling woodland caribou is of economic importance in Yukon, northern B.C., and Newfoundland. Wildlife tourism is important in many parts of Canada occupied by caribou. For example, caribou are likely to be seen in spring along the Alaska Highway in northern B.C. on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, and in Jasper National Park.

Woodland caribou have a special significance as an indicator of changes to old-growth forests. They provide food for several predators and scavengers and are a symbol of near-wilderness. Caribou are also symbols of a healthy natural environment and reduced local populations in areas where old-growth forests have been seriously reduced indicate that human activities are altering their range and the ecosystem to a significant degree. Woodland caribou foster cross-border management by provincial and federal agencies and co-management boards.