Researchers bring caribou knowledge together

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Researchers are developing a tool to help regulators gain a clearer picture on how a given development project might affect caribou.

Ecologist Colin Daniel said the project aims to take into account a multitude of factors – things like climate change, other industrial development, wildfires and overall habitat change, birth rates, hunting and predation – to form the context that would help better understand the impact a development project may have on nearby caribou.

Several projects being funded by World Wildlife Fund-Canada this year centre around caribou management in the NWT. Karen Clark/World Wildlife Fund Canada photo

World Wildlife Fund Canada announced on Aug. 10 it would be funding this project and 13 others throughout Canada’s North in this year’s iteration of WWF-Canada’s Arctic Species Conservation Fund.

“There are a lot of moving pieces when you’re trying to do this,” said Daniel. “There’s a lot of different ways that different things could have effects on caribou. Over my career, scientists really did a lot of work on different parts of that puzzle, more or less independently.

“What we’re trying to do with this project really at this point is to find ways to bring all that understanding together into one piece.”

Currently, he said, research conducted ahead of development tends to look at just a piece of the puzzle rather than taking the larger view.

Daniel said the growing understanding of caribou, and all the moving pieces that affect them, is similar to the way climate knowledge and weather forecasting grew. While it’s impossible to predict with full accuracy, weather forecasts provide likelihoods for when it might rain, for example.

Daniel said he hopes this project can contribute to caribou scientists eventually having a full enough understanding of the variety of factors at play that they could assign a numerical value on whether a project may affect caribou.

Daniel is part of the team at Apex Resource Management Solutions, which is partnered with Shadow Lake Environmental Consulting and the GNWT on the cumulative impact modelling project. He said they are aiming to have the project finished at the end of this calendar year.

The other NWT projects being funded by WWF-Canada include a partnership between the GNWT and Umingmak Productions to produce a video explaining caribou survey methods; research on the effects of mining infrastructure on caribou that will be conducted through a partnership between the GNWT, the University of Northern British Columbia and the Circumpolar Arctic Rangifer Monitoring and Assessment Network; and the creation of a database of for the Deninu Kue First Nation of its traditional knowledge on caribou.

Researchers Judy Williams, left, and Karen Clark work in the field on a project funded by World Wildlife Fund Canada. Jan Adamczewski/World Wildlife Fund Canada photo

Close to $400,000 was given out in total, with grants for individual projects typically ranging from $20,000 to $30,000, according to Brandon Laforest, senior specialist in Arctic species and ecosystems for WWF-Canada.

This year, close to 30 applications for funding were submitted, according to Laforest.

He said the projects that were funded were picked for having real potential for a tangible outcome that would further wildlife conservation, with a higher priority on projects that have the support of, and could benefit, local Northern communities.

“The way the system works,” said Laforest, “Is we’re very transparent and we lay out what our conservation priorities are for the Arctic wildlife and Arctic ecosystems and we invite interested parties who want to work with us to send us proposals that we can evaluate.”

The call for proposals goes out every December.