Peary Caribou

Other PEMT sensitivity layers in this region:
Polar Bear | Bowhead Whale | Beluga | Ringed Seal | Peary Caribou
Migratory Birds | Traditional Hunting | Oil Spill Sensitivity

Summer
Peary Caribou - Summer

Winter
Peary Caribou - Winter

Launch the PEMT for a detailed and interactive view of these and other layers.

Valued Component Features

Key habitat

Peary caribou prefer mesic tundra and polar desert habitat types consisting of lichens, grasses, sedges, and forbs (Parker and Ross 1976). In the winter, caribou prefer higher ground for easy foraging due to less snow cover (Parker and Ross 1976).

Peary caribou on Banks Island with and without calves noticeably prefer well drained lands on hills or slopes with undeveloped hummocks, which were mostly dominated by Dryas integrifolia and Kobresia myosuroides (Kevan 1974). Peary caribou with calves appear to moderately prefer wet areas with plant species such as Eriophorum scheuchzeri and Carex aqatalis and well drained lands on hills or slopes with hummocks (Kevan 1974). Vegetation in well developed hummocks included Dryas integrifolia and Cassiope teragona. Less preferred habitat types included: stony barrens and snow covered areas (Kevan 1974).

Banks Island

Key calving grounds are located in the north-east, south-east, and north-west sections of Banks Island (Larter and Nagy 2000a, Kevan 1974). High densities of Peary caribou with calves were observed in the north-east of Banks Island in June (Kevan 1974). Kevan (1974) indicated that identified areas in the northern end of Banks Island should be considered critical for caribou survival in the spring (Figure 8-2). The summer range for Peary caribou was identified in the northwest of Banks Island (Larter and Nagy 2000a). Peary caribou were also observed on the southeastern end of Banks Island in July 1998 and in the northwest end in July 1998 and 1999 (Larter and Nagy 2000b). The winter range has been acknowledged in the south-west section of Banks Island (Larter and Nagy 2000a).

Western Queen Elizabeth Islands

Limited data is available on key Peary caribou habitat on Prince Patrick, Eglinton, and Melville Islands (e.g. Miller et al. 1977a, Miller et al. 1977b, Larter and Nagy 2000b). Specific summering, wintering and calving grounds have not been identified on these islands. One exception might be the southern end of Dundas Peninsula on Melville Island which may serve as a summer range for Peary caribou (Larter and Nagy 2000b). Data collected by Miller et al. (1977a) in 1973 and 1974 suggest that large numbers of caribou migrate seasonally and interchangeably between these islands. One suggestion from reviewing this data is that a summer range for one group of caribou may serve as winter range for a different group of caribou and vice versa.

Eglinton Island

Caribou appeared to concentrate on the southern end of Eglinton Island in June and July 1974 (Miller et al. 1977a) (Figure 8-2). In total, 57 caribou were observed within separate groups on this section of the island. In 1973, approximately 87% of caribou overwintering on Eglinton Island migrated to either Melville or Prince Patrick Island in spring or early summer to (Miller et al. 1977a). Nonetheless, 50% of caribou overwintering on Prince Patrick Island migrated to either Melville or Eglinton Island in spring or early summer (Miller et al. 1977a).

Melville Island

The summer concentration for Peary caribou on Melville Island in July 1998 and 1999 was identified in the southern end of Dundas Peninsula (Larter and Nagy 2000b). They indicated that the majority of caribou in western Melville Island were gathered at this location. In June and July 1974, Miller et al. (1977a) identified small groups of Peary caribou throughout Mellville Island (Figure 8-2). Data obtained from a study conducted in 1973 found that 40% more caribou spent the summer on Melville Island than during the winter (Miller et al. 1977a).

Prince Patrick Island

During June and July 1974, caribou congregated on the central eastern end of Prince Patrick Island, specifically on land near Dames point (14 caribou), Manson Point (162 caribou), and Wilkie Point (33 caribou) (Miller et al. 1977a) (Figure 8-2). In 1973, approximately 50% of caribou overwintering on Prince Patrick Island migrated to either Melville or Eglinton Island in spring or early summer (Miller et al. 1977a). On the other hand, approximately 87% of caribou overwintering on Eglinton island, migrated to either Melville or Prince Patrick Island in spring or early summer (Miller et al. 1977a). In April 1974, 1234 caribou were observed wintering on Prince Patrick Island and only 46% remained for the summer months (Miller et al. 1977b).

Rationale for Selection

Peary caribou were mainly selected as a VEC due to their cultural and nutritional importance to Inuit communities (Tews et al. 2007). On Banks Island, Peary caribou are an important traditional food for individuals living in Sachs Harbour (Larter and Nagy 2000). Peary caribou are protected by Land Claim Agreements with the Inuvialuit (COSEWIC 2004). In addition, caribou are managed by Land Claim organizations and the Territorial governments.

Peary caribou were also selected as a VEC due to their listing territorially and federally. In the Northwest Territories, Peary caribou are listed as At Risk (NWT 2009a). The Banks Island and High Arctic populations of Peary Caribou are listed as Endangered under Schedule 2 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA 2009). The Low Arctic population is listed as Threatened under Schedule 2 (SARA 2009).

Sustainability

Peary caribou populations in the Queen Elizabeth Islands are in decline (Miller and Gunn 2003) as were Banks Island populations (Fraser et al. 1992, McLean et al. 1992). More recently, however, Banks Island populations appear to be stable or slowly increasing (J. Nagy, pers. comm. February 2, 2004 In COSEWIC 2004). Human harvest, natural predation and poor winter conditions are all possible explanations for population declines (McLean and Fraser 1992). Miller and Gunn (2003) concluded that the most likely explanation for die-offs in their study was poor winter conditions leading to reduced foraging which ultimately lead to malnutrition and starvation.

Peary caribou populations within or near the PEMT Area receive territorial (NWT 2009a) and federal protection (SARA 2009) due to their territorial and federal listed status (see Section 8.2). Peary caribou are also protected by Land Claim Agreements with the Inuvialuit (COSEWIC 2004). In addition, Peary caribou are protected on Banks Island in Aulavik National Park which occurs in key Peary caribou habitat. In 2010, Peary caribou and their habitat will also be protected under the new Species at Risk (NWT) Act (NWT 2009b).

Hunting has been proposed as possible cause of population decline on Banks Island (McLean and Fraser 1992). In addition, Gunn et al. (2006) have suggested that decreasing harvest limits may aid in Peary caribou recovery. In the past, the Banks Island Peary caribou population was assessed as Endangered by COSEWIC in 1991 (COSEWIC 2004). In May 2004, the Peary caribou was assessed separately from barren-ground caribou, and based on an updated status report, were designated Endangered because the population continues to decline (COSEWIC 2004). Extended consultations are under way by the federal government to legally list Peary caribou as Endangered under Schedule 1 of the Species At Risk Act. Peary caribou are currently managed by Land Claim organizations and the Northwest Territories government. Together, these groups work to conserve Peary caribou while allowing reasonable harvest. Only subsistence hunting by Inuvialuit is allowed. Since 1991, residents of Sachs Harbour have had a hunting quota of 36 caribou (only one male) (Madsen 2001). Continued hunting management should sustain Peary caribou populations where they are hunted (e.g., Banks Island) (COSEWIC 2004). In general, caribou populations should not be negatively affected by hunting as long as biologists and communities agree on conservation (COSEWIC 2004).

Peary caribou population growth may occur intermittently over many years if wolf populations are stable and if good weather reduces extreme snow and ice condition (Miller and Barry 2009). Although weather cannot be controlled, managing wolf populations may aid in sustaining Peary caribou populations. For example, in 2001, population growth on Banks Island occurred after Inuit hunters increased the wolf harvest in the 1990's (J. Nagy, pers. comm. 2004 In Gunn et al. 2006).

The effects of climate change are currently uncertain and may have positive and/or negative effects on Peary caribou.

Susceptibility to development

Few studies have been conducted on the effects of human activity on Peary caribou (Beaks Consulting 1975, Miller and Gunn 1979, Gunn and Miller 1980, Miller and Gunn 1981). For example, Peary caribou appear to be highly tolerant to seismic vehicles; however, snowmobile activity within 100 m has been known to disrupt caribou (Beaks Consulting 1975). Several studies have been conducted on the response of Peary caribou to helicopter harassment (Miller and Gunn 1979, Gunn and Miller 1980, Miller and Gunn 1981). Peary caribou cows and calves are the most affected by helicopter harassment; however, they are quick to return to normal activities (Miller and Gunn 1979, Gunn and Miller 1980). In addition, calf play and excitability significantly increased during helicopter activity (Miller and Gunn 1981). Larger groups and groups containing calves appear to be more affected than smaller groups (Miller and Gunn 1979). Although the effect of helicopter activity on caribou appears to be minimal and temporary, the energy utilization during harassment and the long term effects are unknown (Miller and Gunn 1979).

No studies have been conducted on the long term effects of human industrial activities on Peary caribou. Miller and Gunn (1979) have made several comments regarding the anticipated effects of human activity on Peary caribou. For example, human activities could have a negative effect on daily feeding, inter-island migrations and movement, gene flow, and island restocking. In addition, Parker et al. (1975) suggested that the effects of industrial activities occurring near malnourished caribou populations could be significant. Further Miller et al. (1977a) indicated that the effects of a pipeline in the Arctic would be difficult to determine due to the inter-island seasonal Peary caribou movements. Further research is needed to determine the long term effects of anthropogenic activities on Peary caribou populations.

Potential Residual Effects of Industrial Disturbance

Short or long term industrial disturbances may have residual impacts on Peary caribou populations. Industrial activities on land or in between the western Queen Elizabeth Islands would likely have a greater impact on caribou than activities in the Beaufort Sea or the McClure Strait. A major concern is that future shipping traffic and early/late season ice breaking has the potential to disrupt Peary caribou migration between Banks and Victoria Island.

Residual effects from industrial activity may result in either complete loss of habitat, as is common with the 'footprint' of industrial developments, or effective habitat loss, whereby Peary caribou avoid habitat in proximity to development. Industrial activities may also cause Peary caribou to alter migration routes to less preferred or longer routes. Further, industrial disturbances may increase result in additional energy losses. Potential residual implications of long term industrial development on Peary caribou within or near the PEMT Area include:

  • Disruption or loss of critical calving grounds
  • Disruption or loss of key summer and winter ranges
  • Interference of movement and migration between critical habitat areas.
  • Increased energy losses due to an increase in industrial disturbance

Peary caribou are most vulnerable at the end of winter (Miller et al. 1982), especially during severe winters (Miller and Gunn 2003). Increased energy losses due to an increase in industrial disturbance during these severe winters may be detrimental to the survival of a population. Therefore, additional mitigation and restrictions for industrial activities may be necessary near key habitat areas and migrations routes during late winter and early spring.

Mitigation

According to the reviewed literature, Peary caribou are most sensitive and vulnerable during inter-island winter migrations, during calving season and at key wintering and summering grounds. Activities which have the potential to negatively impact Peary caribou include:

  • Any winter activities (e.g. shipping traffic and early/late season ice breaking) occurring between Banks Island and Victoria Island and near Prince Patrick Island and Eglinton Island.
  • Low flying aircraft near key habitat areas (Figure 8-2).
  • Open water activities occurring close to shore.
  • On land activities (e.g. camps, access roads, pipelines, lease sites, air strips, aircraft fuelling stations, etc.) near key habitat areas and between migration routes.

There are strategies that can be applied to project-specific mitigation planning, based on the summary of project specific residual effects, key habitat, the seasonality of caribou movements, and the criteria used to define the grid rating. These considerations should not be interpreted as a prescription for actions imminently required; rather, they are strategies that may be valuable in project planning.

  • Permits may be required from associated federal and territorial governments if industrial activities are proposed in caribou habitat.
  • Avoid industrial harassment or disturbance to Peary caribou. Permit terms and conditions typically disallow industrial harassment
  • Spill response plan and contingency plan
  • Reduce or eliminate anthropogenic disturbance or activities near calving grounds from April to August
  • Reduce or eliminate anthropogenic disturbance or activities near key summer and winter ranges.
  • Avoid interfering or disrupting caribou movements and migration
  • Additional mitigation and restrictions for industrial activities may be necessary near key habitat areas and migrations routes during late winter and early spring.

Climate Change

Noticeable changes in climate are predicted for the Canadian arctic. For example, models have predicted an increase in the average air temperature, an increase in precipitation, and a decrease in ice and snow cover (Kattsov and Kallen 2005). Increased temperatures are resulting in increased vegetation biomass, reduced vegetation nutritional quality, and an increase in insect populations (Gunn et al. 2009). In addition to warmer temperatures, increased sea levels are also anticipated (Church and White 2006) as well as reduced or no ice cover (Stroeve et al. 2007). Despite the predications in future climate change, a small number of studies exist on the effects of climate change on wildlife (Tews et al. 2007).

Historically, climate change has affected Peary caribou populations and those populations have adapted (Ferguson 1996). Whether negative or positive, future climate change should also have an effect on Peary caribou populations (Tews et al. 2007). Only one modeling study exists on the effects of climate change on Peary caribou (Tews et al. 2007). In this study, model parameters consisted of the following: (1) increase in disturbance events, (2) increase in forage inaccessibility, and (3) increase in biomass. Study results indicated that a significant reduction in winter population loss may occur during severe years if biomass increases to 50% and if disturbance events do not effect foraging. Similarly, Harding (2004) suggested that increased temperatures and reduced snow cover periods could have a positive effect on Peary caribou populations. Negative impacts to Peary caribou populations are anticipated if harsh winter conditions result in a reduction of foraging availability by greater than 30% over the next 100 years (Tews et al. 2007). In general, future predicted climate change could have positive or negative effects on Peary caribou (Table 8-1) (e.g. COSEWIC 2004, Harding 2004, Tews et al. 2007).

Some evidence of climate change in the Arctic is already occurring and the changes may eventually have an impact on Peary caribou populations. For example, shrubs in the Arctic have expanded 320 km2 over the past 50 years (Sturm et al. 2001). Therefore, extreme snow and ice cover events may not be an issue if taller and stronger plant species started growing in Peary caribou foraging grounds. In addition, sea levels are slowly rising (Church and White 2006), which may eventually force caribou to retreat to higher grounds (COSEWIC 2004). Furthermore, evidence exists that the Arctic sea ice extent has declined (Stroeve et al. 2007), which may eventually interfere or potentially eliminate Peary caribou inter-island movements. Although the future effects of climate change on Peary caribou are unknown and highly variable, Peary caribou have adapted to climate change in the past (Ferguson 1996).

Sensitivity layers and scores

Areas of higher sensitivity are typically those that support quality feeding areas, as well as movement and migratory corridors necessary for year-over-year survival. As with other VECs, when assessing a grid cell for sensitivity to development, all time periods should be considered. Habitats that support key life stages are important to identify regardless of the season at which it is most used, because habitat loss that occurs in one season may have impacts that extend beyond that season of impact.

Summer season: May 1 to October 31 Sensitivity

Key calving grounds are located in the northeast, southeast, and northwest sections of Banks Island (Larter and Nagy 2000a, Kevan 1974). Kevan (1974) indicated that identified areas in the northern end of Banks Island should be considered critical for caribou survival in the spring (Figure 8-2). Summer grounds for Peary caribou are located in the northwest (Larter and Nagy 2000a, Kevan 1974).

Low/Moderate Sensitivity (2):

The rest of Banks Island which is not identified as calving grounds, summer grounds, or wintering grounds is considered low/moderate sensitivity due to migration between these grounds during the spring and fall. These areas would be most sensitive during spring migration (April to June) and fall migration (August to October). Peary caribou can also be dispersed in low densities throughout the island.

Moderate Sensitivity (3):

Known key wintering grounds

Moderate/High Sensitivity (4):

Summer grounds for Peary caribou are located in the north-west of Banks Island.

High Sensitivity (5):

Calving grounds in the north-east, south-east, and north-west sections of Banks Island. These areas would be most sensitive from May until August.

Winter season: November 1 to April 30 Sensitivity (Figure 8-4)

The winter range has been identified in the south-west section of Banks Island (Larter and Nagy 2000a). Peary caribou are most vulnerable at the end of winter (Miller et al. 1982), especially during severe winters (Miller and Gunn 2003). Increased energy losses due to an increase in industrial disturbance during these severe winters may be detrimental to the survival of a population. Thus, higher risk category is associated with important wintering habitat.

Low/Moderate Sensitivity (2):

Summer grounds located in the northwest of Banks Island. The rest of Banks Island which is not identified as calving grounds, summer grounds, or wintering grounds is considered low/moderate sensitivity due to migration between these grounds during the spring and fall. These areas would be most sensitive during spring migration (April to June). And fall migration (September to October). Peary caribou can also be dispersed in low densities throughout the island.

Moderate Sensitivity (3):

Calving grounds located in the northeast, southeast, and northwest sections of Banks Island.

Moderate/High Sensitivity (4):

Wintering grounds located in the southwest section of Banks Island (October to April)

Summary

The Peary Caribou was largely selected as a VEC due to their cultural and nutritional importance to Inuit communities. In the Northwest Territories, Peary caribou are listed as At Risk (NWT 2009a). Federally, the Banks Island and High Arctic populations of Peary Caribou are listed as Endangered under Schedule 2 of the Species at Risk Act and the Low Arctic population is listed as Threatened under Schedule 2 (SARA 2009). Within the study area Peary caribou are located on Banks Island throughout the year. Key calving grounds are located in the north-east, south-east, and north-west sections of Banks Island from May until August. Summer grounds for Peary caribou are located in the north-west of Banks Island. The winter range for Peary caribou is located in the south-west of Banks Island. In the study area, movement occurs between summer, winter and calving grounds in the spring and fall. Migration is also known to occur between Banks and north-western Victoria Island. Migration has not been documented between Banks Island and the western Queen Elizabeth Islands.

One modeling study exists on the effects of climate change on Peary caribou (Tews et al. 2007). Negative impacts to Peary caribou populations are anticipated if harsh winter conditions result in a reduction of foraging availability by greater than 30% over the next 100 years; however, increased temperatures and reduced snow cover periods could have a positive effect on Peary caribou populations.

Potential impacts from industrial activity include man-made noise impacts, low flying aircraft, anthropogenic development on Bank's Island and shipping during ice cover in between islands of known movements. Industrial activities near on in active calving grounds, active wintering grounds, and active migration routes could potentially have a long term negative impact on the population.

The sensitivity layers established for Peary caribou reflect the environmental sensitivity of an area should development occur. There is a variety of potential project types that vary in spatial extent, duration, and intensity, with a corresponding range in magnitude of impacts that may occur in the project area. Within the PEMT study area on Banks Island, the most sensitive areas would include calving grounds from May to August and wintering grounds from October to April.

There are strategies that can be applied to project-specific mitigation planning, based on the summary of project- specific residual effects, key habitat, the seasonality of caribou movements, and the criteria used to define the grid rating. These considerations should not be interpreted as a prescription for actions imminently required; rather, they are strategies that may be valuable in project planning.

References

See references used for Migratory Birds information.