The challenge

Boreal caribou rely on large areas of dense old forest to both find foods like lichens needed for winter survival and to avoid predators, such as wolves. But as human activity has dramatically reduced areas of old forest and divided up what is left with roads, transmission lines, pipelines and other developments, caribou have steadily declined.  Today, boreal caribou are listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act and a recent federal report found that many herds continue to decline.  
Caribou population health can tell us a lot about the state of our forests. Right now, the continued decline of individual populations is telling us that we have pushed this species past the limit of habitat disturbance it can tolerate. Canada, as home to most of the world’s caribou, has a global responsibility to keep these creatures roaming in our woodlands, mountains and barrens. We need more effective and immediate action to protect remaining habitat and restore other areas if caribou and many other far-less visible species are going to survive.



What we are doing and why

WCS Canada’s extensive research on boreal caribou has helped inform species at risk recovery planning for the species, including the recognition of the need for limits on habitat disturbance in the ranges of individual herds. Our President and Senior Scientist, Dr. Justina Ray, is a recognized expert on caribou and has spent thousands of hours flying over remote northern landscapes to monitor – and better understand – caribou populations.  
A key focus of our work is protecting intact wild areas, such as the northern boreal in Ontario, that are vital to caribou while also working to change government and industry approaches to better recognize how the combined effect of new roads, mines, logging operations or other developments can lead to a “death by a thousand cuts” for this threatened species.
Our objective is to reverse the ongoing decline of caribou populations that can still be saved and to use our scientific understanding of the species’ habitat needs and disturbance thresholds to press for reform of forest management and other resource activities to better accommodate the needs of caribou while protecting key refuge areas that remain strongholds for this threatened species.

Our strategies

We work to conserve large areas of intact old forest that are vital to caribou survival.  In particular, we are calling for new planning approaches to better limit the combined impact of multiple developments on caribou habitat.  For example, we are urging the Ontario government to embrace big picture regional planning for the Ontario northern boreal to keep this key area for caribou survival and persistence ecologically intact.
We are advancing scientific understanding of caribou population trends and the best ways to help herds recover.  WCS Canada has led research on boreal caribou in Ontario for many years and as the co-chair of the terrestrial mammals subcommittee of COSEWIC from 2009-2017, Dr. Ray led the assessments of all caribou ecotypes in Canada, including boreal, all of which deemed  to be at risk of extinction.
We are working to Increase public understanding of the importance of caribou conservation through articles, presentations, workshops and other outreach.  Canada is home to the majority of the world’s caribou and we have a global responsibility to see that action is taken to help this uniquely northern adapted species survive – and thrive – in our boreal forests.

Latest news

  • In a TVO article, our President and Senior Scientist Justina Ray comments on the declining boreal caribou population— and their habitat. 
  • In an opinion piece for the Narwhal, our President talks about how delay and inaction have led to a crisis situation for caribou in southern British Columbia -- a crisis that it is going to take many hands to solve
  • Our Senior Scientist discusses why current efforts to help threatened caribou are inadequate and what needs to be done to strengthen efforts in a Muddy Boots blog: Caribou a key test for federal government
  • A group of caribou scientists, including WCS Canada Chief Scientist Dr. Justina Ray, wrote to the federal government to debunk myths about caribou conservation being spread by the Forest Products Association of Canada
  • News that not a single province or territory has met the federal government’s deadline for developing recovery plans made headlines across Canada in late 2017.