Photo: Manu Keggenhoff

The recovery

Illustration: Heidi Marion

Six Southern Lakes First Nations, with support from their Game Guardians and Land Monitors, have launched collaborative ground-based monitoring for caribou. Monitored locations are based on Traditional Knowledge from the communities; the program focuses on the Carcross, Atlin, Ibex, and Laberge herds.

Ground-based monitoring brings an important addition to efforts already underway – such as caribou collaring, annual rut counts, community meetings and the actions of the Southern Lakes Caribou First Nations Working Group.

This comprehensive monitoring represents the merger of traditional knowledge and western science necessary to lead collaborative wildlife management and conservation. Soon, heads will turn to the North for guidance in collaborative wildlife management initiatives because this broad, coordinated effort is already a success story.

“This work will enable First Nations to use Traditional Laws and collaborative approaches to address current land and wildlife management issues,” says Dave Sembsmoen, former Senior Lands Steward with KDFN’s Department of Lands and Natural Resources. “It’s a program that is rooted in education and relationship building.” Brandy Mayes, KDFN

Photo: Paul Dabbs

Collaring and surveys

Both the Government of British Columbia and the Yukon Government are collaring Southern Lakes Caribou herds. In 2018, 30 caribou were collared in and around the Atlin area and in 2020, 74 collars were deployed on the Laberge, Carcross, and Ibex herds from 2018 to 2021. These collaring efforts help us better understand migration routes, critical seasonal ranges, and the overall spatial ecology of the ungulates.

caribou collaring

Fall composition counts for woodland caribou herds in Yukon are an important source of monitoring information for caribou management. During the fall breeding season (rut), animals are congregated allowing us to locate, count, and classify efficiently.

From these surveys we get recruitment rates (calves/adult females) and sex ratios (bulls/adult females). These ratios, monitored over time, are indicators of population health and can help detect population growth or decline.

Composition surveys have been conducted annually since 1992 on the Carcross/Laberge herd, and 1983 on the Ibex herd as part of the monitoring program for the recovery of these herds.

Surveys are conducted by flying over the herds’ rutting area, where cows, calves, and bulls are counted. While it’s not possible to see every caribou, a large portion of the population is counted, representing the whole herd and providing a minimum consensus count.

Calf survival can change from year to year, mainly due to inclement weather and predation. Over four years from 2017 to 2021, the Carcross/Laberge herds had an average of 23, and the Ibex herd had 18 calves per 100 cows.

Monitoring over multiple years will help make conclusions about the status and stability of the Southern Lakes Herds.