Climate change, not habitat loss, may be biggest threat to caribou herds: study

Research suggests climate change, not habitat loss, may be the biggest threat to the survival of threatened caribou herds.

Biologists have long thought the herds are menaced by wolves using cutlines and clear cuts to follow deer into old−growth forests that once protected caribou.

They thought restoring that habitat would reduce deer numbers and the wolves that prey on them, giving caribou a break in the process.

Researchers tested that notion by comparing deer populations in a region bisected by the Saskatchewan−Alberta boundary.

Industrial impacts were nearly four times as extensive on the western side of that region and significantly colder and snowier in the north.

After analysis, they found climate had twice as much impact on deer numbers as habitat.

Lead author Melanie Dickie of the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute says the finding means deer are here to stay in the boreal forest.

She says that probably means simply replanting and restoring damage to the boreal forest isn’t going to be enough to keep caribou on the landscape and that measures such as culling wolves will be around for a long time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.

The Canadian Press