Caribou herds in the Northwest Territories will top the priority list for territorial species at risk assessments over the next five years.
The GNWT department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) announced its 2012-2017 schedule for assessing species at risk last week.
Executed by the Species at Risk Committee (SARC), the assessments will be used to categorize species as extinct, extirpated (no longer in the NWT), endangered, threatened, of special concern, not at risk or data deficient.
Species scheduled for assessment by December of this year include Peary caribou and Boreal woodland caribou, along with the Hairy Braya plant and the polar bear. The status of Peary caribou, which reside on the northernmost Arctic islands, is currently unknown, although federal species at risk data counts them as endangered. Boreal woodland are likewise without status, but are listed federally as threatened.
Barren-ground caribou and Dolphin-Union caribou will be assessed by December 2013, as well as the northern leopard frog.
“SARC’s assessment of barren-ground caribou will…include all the best available information on the biological status of barren-ground caribou. This includes scientific, traditional and community knowledge information,” ENR spokesperson Judy Mclinton told The Journal.
Coinciding but separate caribou counts done as management actions under the 2011-2015 NWT Barren-ground Caribou Management Strategy are also underway this year. Mclinton said results from the surveys will be incorporated into the herds’ species at risk assessment reports.
Nine barren-ground caribou herds spend all or a portion of their annual cycle within the NWT including the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bathurst, Beverly, Ahiak, Qamanirjuaq, Dolphin-Union, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East herds.
ENR scientists completed their Bathurst herd calving survey in early June, followed by post-calving surveys of the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East and Tuk Peninsula caribou herds at the end of June.
Calving surveys are done by estimating the number of breeding cows on the calving ground using aerial photography. Post-calving photo surveys provide a second estimate of herd size, when herds of all sex and age classes are located using satellite collars and counted again using aerial photography.
Results of the counts will not be available until September, at the earliest, Mclinton said. More counts are planned for the fall, as well.
Species were prioritized for status assessment by SARC using six factors: uniqueness, trends, community concern, rarity, threats and percentage in the NWT. Nineteen more species are scheduled for assessment in 2014-2017, including wood bison, the peregrine falcon and the American white pelican.
SARC, established by the NWT Species at Risk Act, is an independent committee of 15 experts responsible for assessing the biological status of species at risk in the NWT, excluding marine wildlife, fish and migratory birds.