From Green Right Now Reports
Ho, ho,…wait, the news is not so merry from Cornell University today. A Cornell conservation scientist reports that climate change and the loss of arctic and forest habitat has a death grip on Canadian caribou and has forced dramatic declines in their population in the last two decades.
Yes, Virginia, sadly, it’s true: Rudolph, Donder, Blitzen, Comet – they could all be on their way out, shoved over the edge by the growth of modern society coupled with atmospheric changes.
Global warming and industrial development in boreal forests have cordoned the caribou, or reindeer, into a fraction of their former range, says Jeff Wells, a conservation scientist with the university. Ontario has lost about half of the woodland range where caribou lived; Alberta has lost about 60 percent and British Columbia has seen 40 percent of the animal’s range vanish.
The result: “…massive declines in the numbers of the barren-ground, long-distance migratory caribou have been recorded; with some herds dropping as much as 90 percent. One herd, for example, went from an estimated 472,000 in 1986 to 128,000 by 2006,” according to Wells.
“One of the barren-ground caribou herds that was once considered the largest or one of the largest in the world, the George River herd of northern Quebec, has declined from nearly 500,000 around 1990 to an estimated 70,000 in 2010,” he said. “The woodland caribou is now listed as endangered in Canada with many herds, especially in the western boreal region now considered to be below self-sustaining levels.”
Wells, a science advisor for Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign and now a senior scientist for the Boreal Songbird Initiative, predicts that caribou will continue to perish unless their habitat is protected.
Saving the forests needed by caribou could help the indigenous populations that depend upon the animal, and it also could mitigate global warming.
Wells’ peer-reviewed research on the topic has found that the boreal forests of Canada stores more than 208 billion tons of carbon or about 26 years worth of global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
Efforts are underway to try to preserve boreal forests worldwide. The International Boreal Conservation Campaign, steered by a managing panel of scientists, has advised that much of the boreal forest be set aside in preserves, for the sake of the planet, and that the remainder be carefully managed.
The IBCC website also offers hope that the boreal ecosystems can be saved, showing on maps tracing the loss of the boreal forest in Canada, that the bulk of the forest remains intact, even as logging and other enterprises chip away at the forests’ southern edges.
Wells outlines several ways that consumers or regular citizens can help save caribou:
- People can help by buying recycled paper products and supporting forest-product companies that are FSC certified and/or that are part of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement recently signed with conservation non-profits. (That is, when they must buy disposable paper at all.)
- They can voice their support of Aboriginal governments and communities within the boreal and arctic regions for the right to manage their lands.
- They can oppose out-dated mining practices that allow exploration without consideration of Aboriginal concerns or environmental review.
- They can oppose oil and gas imports to the U.S. from Canada that have high carbon footprints and major environmental problems.