Caribou in the NWT

What types of caribou live in the NWT?

There are five types of caribou in the Northwest Territories (NWT). Risks and management considerations for each type are very different, due to their distinctive seasonal movements, distribution and ecology.

Peary caribou and Dolphin and Union caribou live in the northernmost part of the territory, on the Arctic islands and mainland.

Northern Mountain caribou live in the Mackenzie Mountains. They make seasonal migrations between higher ground and forested areas in lower altitudes.

Boreal caribou live in the boreal and taiga forest. They move around but do not migrate seasonally. Unlike other types of caribou, they have no distinct calving grounds. Females prefer to disperse throughout the forests to calve.

Barren-ground caribou make long-distance migrations from wintering areas to summering areas north of the tree line. They are the most abundant and widespread type of caribou in the NWT and are managed as different herds based upon calving grounds.

How are they managed?

All caribou in the NWT are managed in collaboration with co-management partners, including Indigenous governments and organizations, renewable resource boards and communities.

All protection and herd management efforts are supported by ongoing monitoring and research, including satellite telemetry and regular aerial surveys. The GNWT also provides support for traditional knowledge and community-based caribou research and monitoring programs.

Conservation tools to protect caribou in the NWT fall broadly into two categories: tools for protecting caribou and tools for protecting caribou habitat.

Tools to protect caribou

Tools to protect caribou include harvest restrictions, reporting of caribou harvest and promoting responsible harvesting practices through hunter education programs. Caribou protection measures could also include predator management, which has not been used widely in the NWT to date. There are also tools for managing sensory disturbance to caribou during sensitive periods, and tools for managing caribou mortality from vehicle collisions on roads or due to other physical hazards, including open pits and trenches and entanglement in fences.

Tools to protect caribou habitat

Tools to protect caribou habitat include conservation of key habitats and managing land use through land use planning and associated conformity requirements, by potentially setting thresholds for cumulative habitat disturbance, and by encouraging or requiring best industry practices through environmental assessments. Habitat protection could also include fire protection for key caribou winter ranges, which has been recommended but not implemented in the NWT. The tools include range plans and management plans.

For some types of caribou, these plans will help guide decision-makers who need to consider how new development could affect the caribou. For other types, such as Boreal caribou, range plans demonstrate how we will protect and maintain critical habitat using a combination of enforceable legal instruments and policy.

Are there legal requirements to protect caribou?

Species at risk legislation governs the protection of wildlife species in the NWT: the federal Species at Risk Act and the Species at Risk (NWT) Act. Each has its own process for assessing the status of a species and a legal listing process that can trigger the development of management plans, recovery plans or other actions to protect species at risk.

Boreal caribou, Northern Mountain caribou, Barren-ground caribou, Peary caribou, and Dolphin and Union caribou are all listed as species at risk under federal and/or territorial species at risk legislation. Management actions for these species are developed through management plans and recovery strategies.

In the NWT, specific actions are required for Boreal caribou habitat protection, based on their status under federal species at risk legislation. This includes the development of range plans.

There are also management obligations under the Wildlife Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and under land and self-government agreements.

Related information

NWT Species and Habitat Viewer

Use the NWT Species and Habitat Viewer to find caribou map layers and get custom reports on caribou ranges, habitats, and habitat disturbance based on your location(s) of interest across the NWT.