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Caribou and You

By protecting caribou, you are protecting your future. Caribou need the intact ecosystems that provide the fresh air and clean water we need to survive. By saving caribou's remaining habitat in Canada’s Boreal forests and Northern tundra, we are protecting our health and a way of life for Indigenous peoples, and slowing the effects of climate change.

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About Caribou

Caribou are the largest land-based mammal in North America to still live in large social groups and embark on extensive migrations. Herds of travelling caribou on the Northern tundra will suddenly transform a seemingly empty landscape to one alive with their footfalls and calls.

In the Boreal forest, the woodland caribou also transform the landscape. These caribou travel lithely through peat lands and old growth forests where none of their cousins, deer or moose, can be found. These shy creatures are indicators of the health of our Boreal forests. Where woodland boreal caribou still survive, our Boreal forests are intact and healthy. Where they’ve disappeared, the forests are fragmented and the ecosystem stressed.

Caribou have been a fundamental part of our northern ecosystems for more than 2 million years. They have shaped and been shaped by the harsh climates and landscapes, and are built for survival where few others can live. Predators like wolves, bears, wolverines, and even humans have relied on the regular appearance of caribou as a source of food for thousands of years, many adapting their hunting patterns to follow caribou migrations.

All caribou tend to roam within a specific range – an area circumscribes their movement and activities over the course of a year. Scientists have found that these ranges tend to stay stable, even over decades. Often herds are named after a prominent geographic feature found in their range.

Caribou once had a much greater range than they do today. Caribou bones have been found as far south as West Virginia, USA. Their presence there is linked to the last ice age, which occurred 8,000 years ago.

Types of caribou in Canada

Though all caribou populations in North America belong to one species, over the millennia their appearance and behavior has evolved to increase their survival against predation. As a result, biologists have categorized caribou in various ways to try to capture some of the similarities and differences that have become integral to their survival. One method is based on behavior like migratory and sedentary. Another is based on the ecosystems where they are most often found, including migratory tundra, boreal forest, and mountain.

In addition, an often-used method uses the following terms:

Woodland Caribou Barren Ground Caribou Peary Caribou Porcupine Caribou
Rangifer tarandus tarandus Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus Rangifer tarandus peary Rangifer tarandus granti
A small, dark forest-dwelling caribou found across Canada’s Boreal forest and in mountain ecosystems. This migratory caribou lives just north of the woodland caribou in Canada’s tundra. This small, white-coated migratory caribou lives in Canada’s arctic. This migratory caribou is found in Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Photo: ©Terry Feuerborn

More about woodland caribou

Type Attributes
Boreal Woodland Largest woodland population with 30k remaining. Located primarily south of the northern Boreal tree line View Map. Travel in small groups, summer and winter grouns are close, females use the deep forest to spacw away from predators, give birth alone, and spend several months alone with the calves.
Northern Mountain Healthiest mountain caribou population. Located in Boreal forest and mountain regions of northern BC, NWT and the Yukon. Calve at upper elevations to get away from predators.
Southern Mountain Some of the most endangered in Canada. Located in the Rockies of BC and Alberta, and as far south as Idaho, US. View Map Calve at upper elevations to get away from predators.
Central Mountain Endangered. Cross between BC and Alberta boundaries in and around Jasper National Park. Calve at upper elevations to get away from predators.
Newfoundland Woodland At its peak in 1990s. By 2008, had declined by 60%.Found only in Newfoundland. Different from those in Labrador.Highly adaptable, some are sedentary while others are migratory.
Atlantic (Gaspesie) Endangered, approx. 100 left. Once roamed NB, NS, PEI and New England. Now only found inthe Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. Mostly closely resemble mountain caribou.
Dawson's Woodland Extinct since the 1930s. Lived on the islands of Haida Gwaii on the northwest coast of BC. They were unable to adapt to rising sea levels and the disappearance of food sources.


The threat

Canada’s caribou have survived multiple ice ages, natural events like forest fires and insects that have disseminated their food sources, and, in recent past, rebounded from overhunting once the pressure was removed. In a way, they are a resilient species, adapting over time to survive in different landscapes.

However, even a resilient species cannot adapt overnight to significant changes in their landscape that directly undermine their survival strategies. Caribou are vulnerable to extensive fragmentation of their landscape, which for various reasons exposes them to more predators and decreases their access to food sources. Here is one – though by no means the only – way it happens:

1. Human activity fragments forest 2. Competitors & predators move in 3. Caribou disappear
Logging, road-building and other forms of development like mining and oil and gas extraction fragment the caribou's Boreal forest habitat. View Map of Disturbances in the Boreal

Photo: © Graeme Joseph

When a disturbed forest begins to regrow, it provides lots of food for moose and deer, which in turn attract more of their primary predator, the wolf. The more open landscape also allows the wolf to be a more effective hunter.

Photo: © Mike Beedell/CPAWS

Increasing wolf numbers kill off, or extirpate, local populations of woodland caribou. The animals are left with fewer places to go where they can find food and safety from predators.

Photo: Seismic line, BC. © Wayne Sawchuk

As the climate changes, natural pressures like fires and pests may also result in increased amount of young forests occurring in the landscape, further amplifying the direct human impacts on the landscape.

Status of caribou across Canada

What CPAWS is doing

CPAWS is committed to gaining protection for Canada’s remaining intact caribou habitat and ensuring restoration measures are implemented in disturbed habitats, so that this species and our extraordinary wilderness remain a part of our country’s identity.

To protect caribou and their habitat, we are seeking to protect large stretches of Canada’s forests, wetlands and tundra from coast to coast to coast.

Across Canada, CPAWS national and regional conservation staff and volunteers are working with provinces, territories and the federal government, progressive companies, local communities and First Nations to develop conservation measures for caribou on public lands, including those leased to resource companies.

We also dedicate resources to educating the public, and monitoring and releasing an annual report on Canada’s progress in protecting our remaining caribou (See most recent report).

Our conservation goals:

  • Strong provincial and territorial recovery strategies implemented for at-risk caribou herds across Canada (in progress )
  • Design and implementation of robust range plans for each Boreal Woodland caribou herd under the Federal Species-at-Risk Act with significant protection for core caribou habitat (in progress)
  • Caribou habitat conservation proposals on lands leased to forest companies, developed with partners in the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and with provincial and First Nation government (in progress)
  • Integration of carbou conservation considerations in land use management tools, such as forest management laws, permitting regulations, and environmental impact assessments practices (in progress)

What we have achieved:

  • Improved information and maps about Boreal Woodland caribou in Canada
  • Strong requirements under the Federal Species-at-Risk Act for Boreal Woodland caribou (accomplished 2012)
  • Multiple outcomes at the provincial and territorial level, such as strong recovery strategies in several provinces. See below for more information.

Progress on caribou by province

British Columbia

Home to northern, mountain and boreal woodland caribou. With the exception of some northern herds, all herds are classified as threatened and local populations are very low in numbers. BC recognizes the need to take actions to recover the species, but lacks the robust legal tools to do so, including no provincial species at risk law. CPAWS BC is involved in numerous processes linked to protecting caribou habitat for both ecotypes. Read More


Home to large mountain and boreal woodland, barren ground and Peary herds. The territory has recognized the need to take actions to protect various caribou herds within its borders, however there are no legal tools for their protection. CPAWS Yukon is working to protect landscapes like the Peel watershed, where there are significant Boreal caribou poplulations. 

Northwest Territories

Home to boreal and mountain woodland, barren ground, Peary, and other migratory caribou. Both Boreal and Peary caribou are listed as threatened under the territory's species at risk act and other herds are being assessed. CPAWS NWT is working with First Nations to establish a network of protected areas in the Mackenzie Valley, which will have a critical role in protecting woodland caribou. Read More


Home to boreal and mountain woodland caribou, including the Little Smoky herd. The province has recognized the need to take actions to recover the species, but has no legal tools to promote protection of endangered species. CPAWS Northern Alberta is working to protect caribou habitat and engage the public through the Caribou & You and Stand Up for Jasper campaigns, reporting on serious gaps in cumulative effects management in caribou habitat, and contributing to provincial processes via the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Read More


Home to boreal woodland caribou. The province has recognized the need to take actions to recover the species, but has no legal tools to promote protection of endangered species. CPAWS Saskatchewan is part of the Provincial Caribou Recovery management team. They are also contributing input to the Provincial Ministry of Environment Plan for Woodland Caribou via the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Read More


Home to boreal woodland caribou. This herd is listed as threatened under the provincial Species at Risk act. CPAWS Manitoba is working with companies, First Nations and provincial authorities to protect caribou habitat, including contributing to the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. They have also participated in the development of the provincial caribou recovery strategy in the province and will support its implementation. Read More


Home to boreal woodland caribou, though the herds to the north spend time in the tundra during the spring and summer. All herds are listed as threatened under the provincial endangered species act. CPAWS/ Wildlands League is working with companies, First Nations and provincial authorities to protect caribou habitat, including contributing to the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and Forest Stewardship Council processes. They also have numerous activities linked to implement the Ontario caribou recovery strategy and the provincial Endangered Species Act. 


Home to boreal woodland and migratory caribou, and the last herd of mountain-like Gaspésie caribou. Boreal caribou are designated as vulnerable under provincial legislation. SNAP Quebec is working with companies, First Nations and provincial authorities to protect caribou habitat, including contributing to the Forest Stewardship Council processes. In addition, the chapter is providing input into provincial protected area processes and is a member of the provincial caribou recovery team. Read More

Newfoundland and Labrador

Home to woodland caribou populations that are part of the boreal population. Woodland caribou are threatened in Labrador, but are not considered at risk on the island of Newfoundland, despite new data about population declines. CPAWS NL is working to get Newfoundland's woodland caribou listed as "threatened" under the Species at Risk Act, protect the rapidly declining Red Wine and Grey River caribou herds and their habitat, encourage the NL government to implement its $15.3 million Caribou Recovery Program, and appeal the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper mill's 5-year cutting plan for districts 14/15 in western NF affecting 3 of NL's caribou herds. Read More



Looking for Action: Caribou losing ground (December 2014)

This report is our second annual review of Canada’s progress in conserving boreal woodland caribou habitat since the 2012 release of the federal recovery strategy for boreal caribou under the Species-at-Risk Act (SARA).

2015 UPDATE: Boreal Woodland Caribou Conservation in Canada (2015)

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has been conducting annual reviews of progress by federal, provincial and territorial governments to protect and recover Canada’s remaining boreal woodland caribou1 populations since 2013, the year after the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal population, in Canada2 was issued by the federal government under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Population Critical: How are Canada’s Boreal Woodland Caribou Faring? (2013)

In our first annual assessment of how well provinces and territories are doing in meeting their obligations to protect boreal caribou since the federal recovery strategy for the species was released in 2012, the majority get bottom marks for lagging so far behind in protecting one of Canada’s most iconic species at risk.

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