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 Post subject: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 1st, 2008, 8:48 am 
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Years ago I attended a lecture by a wildlife biologist that described how arctic wildlife populations often cycle in highs and lows that at times could be extreme. I can't recall whether this applied to caribou. The report below shows how poorly understood the dynamics of some wildlife species can be.

In related news, federal environment minister Jim Prentice is looking at a report dealing with woodland caribou and may issue a press release on boreal populations policy during the next several days. There doesn't seem to be any news online covering this yet.

Quote:
WILDLIFE

Sixth Arctic caribou herd in rapid decline
BOB WEBER

The Canadian Press

December 1, 2008

A new study of one of Canada's largest caribou herds seems to confirm fears that, like other herds in the western Arctic, it is suffering a steep and mysterious population decline.

The massive Beverly herd, which roams the tundra from northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan well into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, once numbered about 276,000. But a just-released survey suggests the number of caribou cows on the herd's calving grounds has fallen by 98 per cent over the past 14 years.

Aerial spotting teams found only 93 cows on the tundra west of Baker Lake, Nunavut, this summer.

In 1994, crews counted 5,737 cows on those same lines. The numbers have been declining ever since: to 2,639 in 2002 and 189 in 2007.

The herd's birth rate is now less than one-fifth its traditional level. Spotters counted only 15 calves for every 100 cows instead of the usual 80.

"It's a very, very sharp downward trend," said Ross Thompson of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, which oversees the herd. "It is a concern that the herd has shown that few numbers."

The survey was not intended to provide a population count, but does provide an index of herd health. The Beverly herd now appears to have joined five of the main western Arctic herds that appear to be in serious, long-term decline.

The Bathurst herd, 472,000 strong in 1986, has lost about three-quarters of its population since then. Since 1989, the 178,000-animal Porcupine herd has fallen off by 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

The smaller Cape Bathurst, Bluenose East and Bluenose West herds have decreased by at least a third. Studies are now being completed on the Qamanirjuaq and Ahiak herds.

Nobody has a good explanation, Mr. Thompson said. "There isn't any one factor that anybody can identify. Something has happened over the years."

Some suggest that climate change, by altering the delicate timing of spring thawing and calving, is playing a role. Others point to increasing industrial activity on the tundra, noting that the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq's calving grounds are home to nearly 1,000 mineral leases.

And some say modern hunting methods are impeding the herds' ability to recover.

The NWT conducted surveys on herds adjacent to the Beverly herd and found no evidence that large numbers of animals were simply shifting from one herd to the next, Mr. Thompson said.

Monte Hummel of the World Wildlife Fund, who has been closely involved with caribou research, agrees a variety of factors are likely at play. But he says the timing of the declines is suggestive.

"It's a strange coincidence to me that all this industrial activity happened at the same time as this caribou decline."

Although about half of the Beverly's calving grounds is inside the 67,000-square-kilometre Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary straddling the NWT-Nunavut boundary, the half most heavily used falls outside the preserve.

Mr. Hummel said governments should adopt a "precautionary principle" and not add stressors to the herds such as new development until the declines are better understood.

Nunavut Environment Minister Dan Shewchuk, a former member of the Beverly caribou management board, was not available for comment yesterday .

Caribou herds are vital to the diet and culture of thousands of Inuit, Dene and Métis across the North. Estimates put the value of the Beverly herd alone at $20-million a year to the people who depend on it.

The apparent collapse of the western caribou herds led to a "caribou summit" in Inuvik in January of 2007. One of the main recommendations was the protection of calving grounds. No new calving grounds have been protected from industrial development since then.


http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ ... y/National

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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 1st, 2008, 9:59 am 
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Actually it was on CBC yesterday with the same headline, running titles at bottom of screen.


Thanks for the link, I was curious about the content.

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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 1st, 2008, 12:07 pm 
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There is currently a proposal for an extensive uranium exploration program by Uravan in the Beverly Calving Grounds (around Garry Lake on the Back River). Previously, such proposals were rubber stamped, but this one has been forwarded to the Nunavut Impact Review Board for a full environmental assessment. Area includes exploration on 245 mining claims on 550,000 acres (all within the traditional calving ground of the Beverly Herd).

Components of the project (PDF) include: aerial geophysical surveys, ground geochemical sampling, diamond drilling, construction of permanent exploration camp and mobile temporary camp, ground transportation by sno-cat type vehicle, snow machines and all terrain vehicles, air transportation by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, construction of airstrips and touchdown areas, transportation and storage of fuel and hazardous materials, water management for drilling sites and camps, sewage, greywater, and waste management at sites.

The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board has called for a number of steps to foster long term sustainability of herd and existing management regime:

Quote:
1. Governments, regulatory agencies and others should use a precautionary approach when making caribou-related decisions.
2. The federal government should reject Uravan Minerals Incorporated’s permit application for uranium exploration at Garry Lake, Nunavut, on the Beverly traditional calving ground.
3. Additional mineral exploration should not be allowed on the Beverly traditional calving ground.
4. The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary Management Plan should be implemented.
5. The Beverly calving ground should receive long-term legislated protection.

For updates on the review process … you can visit here (the FTP site is the only way the Nunavut Impact Review Board communications widely to the public via the internet).

You can sign up for e-mail updates to the Garry Lake assessment by sending an e-mail to Leslie Payette, Manager Environmental Administration Nunavut Impact Review Board:

lpayette@nirb.ca


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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 1st, 2008, 1:54 pm 
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Thanks for keeping us in the loop frozentripper.

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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 1st, 2008, 5:06 pm 
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This can hardly be called a "mysterious decline"

There's nothing mysterious about it:
It's a well known fact that caribou need large tracts of intact wilderness to survive.
It wasn't too long ago, that the Temagami area was the traditional range of the woodland caribou. Logging, and industrial development pushed the caribou out of Temagami, into areas further North, in search of intact wilderness.

Today, logging in the boreal forest goes on almost without regulation. Massive clearcuts occur throughout the area, displacing those caribou herds that inhabit the boreal.

A perfect example of this mis-management can be seen in the Ogoki area, where biologists wrote what they call a "mosiac" that essentially completely decimates the entire forest over a period of time.

Now, the sad truth of the matter is, the Arctic is no longer the intact wilderness that it once was. Mineral exploration, diamond mines, etc... have broken up this once pristine wilderness area.

So these caribou will inevitably suffer the same fate as those in Temagami 100 years ago.

Will we never learn?


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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 2nd, 2008, 8:55 am 
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Mike McIntosh wrote:
Will we never learn?

Good luck convincing a resource hungry world that Santa's Reindeer are more important that uranium to power the coming new proliferation of nuclear power plants - or more important than "harvesting" the dwindling world supply of wood products....

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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 2nd, 2008, 10:33 am 
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email message from David Pelly follows.
Allan

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Hi,

I would only ask this in extraordinary circumstances. Would you consider sending this appeal, below, on to your list of contacts? NIRB’s decision on this application from Uravan will without doubt be precedent-setting. If we lose this one, the entire area will be riddled with similar projects in no time. (See numbers below, for a sense of what’s waiting in the wings.)

A flood of emails to NIRB will make a difference, I firmly believe. Deadline for input is Dec 12.

Thanks.

D.


-----Original Message-----
From: David Pelly [mailto:dpelly@sympatico.ca]
Sent: December 1, 2008 4:36 PM
To: Undisclosed Recipients
Subject: FW: Uravan Garry Lake Project, NIRB File 08EN037
Importance: High

Friends,

There is a crisis looming on the barrenlands. Population estimates indicate the Beverly caribou population has dropped by 98% in the past 14 years, since the last proper aerial survey. Some salient detail appears in my email below.



As this news arrives (in the press today across the country), the Nunavut Impact Review Board is considering an application from Uravan Minerals, for development of their uranium property right on the caribou calving ground, just south of Garry Lake (Back River). For details – if you need more – visit the NIRB website and look under ftp://ftp.nirb.ca/REVIEWS/CURRENT_REVIEWS/



I know there are a million and one issues demanding your attention. But for the sake of the barren ground caribou, and the wild spaces we all cherish, please write a short email to NIRB (lpayette@nirb.ca) this week, demanding that the Uravan application be denied. Believe it – your letter can make a difference.



Thanks for your help.



Best regards,

David



David F. Pelly

www.davidpelly.com







-----Original Message-----
From: David Pelly [mailto:dpelly@sympatico.ca]
Sent: December 1, 2008 4:12 PM
To: 'lpayette@nirb.ca'
Cc: 'Strahl.C@parl.gc.ca'; 'DShewchuk@gov.nu.ca'; 'Prentice.J@parl.gc.ca'
Subject: Uravan Garry Lake Project, NIRB File 08EN037



Please register my strong opposition to Uravan’s plans for mineral development on the calving grounds of the Beverly caribou. And in your deliberations, please take note of the following:



At the NWT Barren-ground Caribou Summit in 2007, delegates voted overwhelming in favour of establishing their first priority as “Protect the calving grounds in the NWT and Nunavut” and directed the GNWT to “Meet with Nunavut to begin discussions about protection calving grounds.”


Two weeks ago the GNWT revealed their evidence at a meeting of the BQCMB that “the numbers of adult female caribou (cows) seen on the Beverly calving ground during June systematic reconnaissance surveys dropped from 5,737 in 1994 to 93 in 2008, and that very few calves were seen during the 2008 survey – only 15 calves for every 100 cows. (In comparison, usually about 80 calves for every 100 cows are seen on the calving grounds of healthy barren-ground caribou herds near the peak of calving, as was the case with the Bathurst herd in June 2008.)”


As reported by CP, the CBC, The Globe and Mail, and elsewhere today, “The massive Beverly herd, which roams the tundra from northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan and well into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, once numbered about 276,000 animals. But a just-released survey suggests the number of caribou cows on the calving grounds of the massive Beverly herd have fallen by a stunning 98 per cent over the last 14 years.”


In the past few years, while caribou numbers have been dropping, disruptive mineral exploration activity on the calving ground and the adjacent post-calving aggregation areas has risen dramatically. As of this month, there are 727 active mineral tenures (permits, claims and leases) on the Beverly calving ground. This level of industrial activity is clearly not sustainable.


Major mining companies – De Beers, Areva, and Cameco – have declared that they will no longer conduct activities on caribou calving and post-calving grounds in Nunavut, because they understand the implications of this activity.


The proposal before the NIRB at present is bound to set a precedent. It is essential that the NIRB send a clear signal to industry that mineral development on the calving and post-calving grounds is out of the question. To do otherwise is to accept the decline of the caribou population as unimportant to the people who depend on these animals, both physically and culturally – these caribou provide millions of dollars worth of meat annually to the residents of user-communities in Nunavut, NWT, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Not protecting caribou habitat also contradicts the broad desires of Canadians to see this iconic species and its habitat protected for future generations. The NIRB surely has a responsibility to do what it can to protect the caribou and caribou habitat.



While one cannot state categorically that the decline in caribou numbers is a direct result of industrial activity, we can be absolutely sure that it does not help the caribou, and that their recovery will be rendered next to impossible if their habitat is taken over by industrial activity. NIRB should now declare that this will not be permitted to occur – the only way to do that is to deny Uravan’s application.

Sincerely,

David Pelly

www.davidpelly.com

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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 2nd, 2008, 11:58 am 
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I'm not a caribou expert, still, my first thoughts after seeing the title of the report was that climate warming was responsible. Polar bears are declining at the same time in the arctic and have been put on a species at risk list - the reason seems to be climate change and the change in the polar bears' environment making their survival more difficult. The rate of environmental change due to climate warming is greatest in polar areas with arctic residents and scientists reporting many obvious and observable effects.

It's noteworthy that Monte Hummel, the WWF''s caribou expert admits that the declines are not well understood. He recommends that industrial activity should be suspended until the science is more complete.

Here's an article from earlier this year, on the effects of climate change contributing to the decline.

Quote:
Global warming tied to Arctic caribou decline

Warm, wet winters and hot, dry summers reduce numbers

Ed Struzik, Canwest News Service
Published: Sunday, May 11, 2008

EDMONTON -- In the summer of 1996, biologist Frank Miller was
flying along the coast of Bathurst Island searching for Peary caribou, found only in the High Arctic of Canada, when he spied a dark spot on the sea ice.

Flying in for a look, he could see these animals were not the caribou he was looking for. They were muskoxen. The circle of animals didn't bolt. Miller got the pilot to land a few hundred metres away. Even as he approached on foot, the herd didn't flinch. As he moved closer, it dawned on him -- they were all dead. The animals were frozen stiff and leaning against each other like statues.

It was one of the most strange and gruesome things I'd ever seen as a biologist," the Edmonton researcher recalls.

"They were probably on their last legs and starving when they headed out across the sea ice searching for better food conditions on another island."

In the spring he discovered carcasses of caribou and muskoxen strewn across the tundra. When the die-off ended two years later, almost 98 per cent of the caribou on the Queen Elizabeth Islands three years earlier were gone.

The High Arctic population is in such deep trouble that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada has recommended the Peary caribou remain on the endangered list.

Climate change, over-hunting and industrial development are all likely playing a role.

Anne Gunn, a biologist with 30 years' of caribou research behind her, is one of several scientists who have studied how runs of cold, dry winters with less snow tend to favour caribou because there is little to slow them down and sap their energy while they're on the move or being chased by wolves. Less snow also makes it easier for them to dig down to the vegetation they need in order to survive.

Runs of warm, wet winters can be brutal. The snow may be deep during the long migration to the calving grounds and thawing can cause some of it to ice-over. If those winters are followed by hot, dry summers that favour parasites, biting flies and fires that destroy lichen, the results can be catastrophic.

Many of the large mammals of the Arctic, Gunn notes -- the wooly mammoth, Yukon horses, Alaskan camels, short-faced bears and American lions -- died off during the 8,500 years that the climate began warming after the last great ice age. The animals left are adapting to another period of warming that began 150 years ago when the mini-ice age ended around 1850. That natural warming is now being intensified by the emission of greenhouse gases. "We cannot afford to dither," Gunn says. "Given the rate of changes we are unleashing across the Arctic regions. In addition to the roads, pipelines, mines and other things we have built, or plan to build on caribou habitat, global warming is already threatening the future of these animals."


http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/ ... c2a3eb52d3

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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 2nd, 2008, 12:11 pm 
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I agree, this is an urgent issue. Please read the comments by David Pelly above!! Alex Hall has also been actively involved in the issue. The jr. uranium mining companies had their proposals rejected for a second time along the upper Thelon River (Bayswater and Uravan), but they were rejected on cultural heritage grounds (and not ecological grounds). The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary Management Plan is still outstanding, and serious effort has to be given to how to manage the area for long term interests.

While the NWT review board (MVEIRB) rejected the Thelon claims (Boomerang and Screech Lake), they approved an exploratory project on the Dubawnt (Crab Lake). The Nunavut Impact Review Board also approved a project by Bayswater last year in the Beverly Caribou Calving Grounds (08EN001), and without environmental review. So the sustainability and environmental questions are still very much outstanding, in flux, and are being decided "right now."

At a minimum, it is a very good idea to sign up to be on the e-mail distribution list for these assessments. That's one way regulators measure public interest in an issue. And another is to send in a letter. You would e-mail Leslie Payette for both:

lpayette@nirb.ca

For background on the Garry Lake proposal: SEE HERE

Quote:
On September 25, 2008, Honourable Chuck Strahl, Minister of INAC indicated that the Garry Lake project proposal shall be subject to Public Review, as described above, however the Minister proposed.... "that the Board structure the review in a manner that will facilitate a thorough , yet expeditious review of the project". Further, the Minister made note of ... "the Boards acknowledgement in its decision report that it is unusual for a project of this size to be recommended for review". The Minister supported focusing the scope of the Public Review on the Garry Lake project proposal's impacts and cumulative impacts on wildlife habitat and Inuit wildlife harvesting.

What this may mean for Uravan and the Garry Lake project is uncertain.

More …

For more on climate change and caribou populations … this was an article that got a lot of attention back in the summer. And I posted on it here.


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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: December 2nd, 2008, 1:44 pm 
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Note on 12 pm Dec. 12, 2008 deadline …

This is for comments on the Draft EIS Guidelines:

Copy of Draft EIS (PDF)
Announcement for Public Comments (PDF) ... posted Nov. 20, 2008.

Quote:
An EIS is a detailed document prepared by the Proponent, in accordance with the guidelines issued by the NIRB, which identifies, predicts, evaluates, and communicates information about the ecosystemic and socio-economic impacts of a project proposal. An EIS also provides for the identification and development of mitigation measures – measures designed to control, reduce, or eliminate potentially adverse impacts of an activity or project.

All parties are asked to ensure that their comments reference the page, section, paragraph and item numbers of the Draft EIS Guidelines where relevant.

I think it is always helps to provide materials relevant to the particular stage in the EA process. Once a EIS is finalized, I would expect public hearings and consultations to follow … but defining the scope of the assessment, in a lot of cases, is where the real action happens.


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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: November 6th, 2009, 10:45 am 
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There's lots going on with caribou populations in the North at the moment, and this is a follow up story yesterday from Bob Weber. Climate change, hunting pressure, and industrial activities are highlighted as concerns.

Quote:
Scientists say caribou is the new cod as supply dwindles

YELLOWKNIFE — Once, caribou wandered over the Arctic tundra in herds that took days to pass.

So great were their numbers -- even 20 years ago -- that they were able to shake off man's puny imprint on the great barren lands like so many flies on a rump.

"There was so much caribou all over that even our plane, our scheduled flights, couldn't land on the airstrip," recalled Alfonz Nitsiza of Wha Ti, a tiny aboriginal community northwest of Yellowknife.

"The caribou were on the airstrip. It was full of caribou, all our communities were."

Today, scientists fear caribou are the new cod.

"If we want a counterpart to start looking at what may be happening with the caribou, look at the northern cod," said Anne Gunn, a caribou biologist and former Northwest Territories researcher.

Once a gigantic bloom of life that sustained entire societies, the cod fishery was closed in 1992 after a near-total collapse of fish stocks. The subsequent bust of Newfoundland's outport culture was nearly as complete.

Recent surveys on two major caribou herds in Canada's North suggest the same thing may be happening there. And as scientists begin to unlock the secrets of that decline, aboriginals who still depend on the great herds to feed both body and soul are rethinking old assumptions.

"The elders are saying that there is a cycle, that caribou go away somewhere but they come back," Nitsiza said. "This time, the caribou may not come back."

Biologists say 15 of the world's 23 herds are shrinking. Only six herds, generally the small ones, are growing.

"The worst is in the N.W.T.," said Don Russell, a former Canadian Wildlife Service biologist, who now heads the Circumarctic Rangifer Monitoring and Assessment network.

The Bluenose West herd, for example, which ranges over the northwest corner of the N.W.T., was under 20,000 animals in 2006 -- a quarter its size at the turn of the millennium. Nine of Canada's 11 herds are in decline.

Concern has been building for years. But this summer, survey results carried a distinct whiff of impending catastrophe.

N.W.T. biologists estimated the Bathurst herd of the central barrens had fallen from over 120,000 animals in 2006 to 32,000 -- a 75 per cent implosion representing the loss of nearly 90,000 caribou in only three years.

The news was even worse to the east, where scientists studied cow-calf pairs in the Beverly herd.

Aerial survey teams couldn't even find enough pairs to get statistically valid data. A herd that numbered 280,000 animals only 15 years ago was simply gone.

"Collapse. I think that's a good term," said Ross Thompson of the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Management Board.

Caribou herds have always fluctuated, sometimes wildly. The George River herd in Arctic Quebec grew from as few as 5,000 animals in the early 1960s to 700,000 by the 1990s (although it's now shrinking).

But new factors are putting wobbles in the caribou cycle. Recent research is beginning to show how climate change, aboriginal hunting and industrial development may be preventing populations from recovering.

More ...

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/s ... ub=SciTech


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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: November 7th, 2009, 11:25 am 
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Mysterious? The only mystery to me is that anyone finds it "mysterious".

The caribou have been on the governments Species At Risk list at least since '02 as threatened.

The Nature Canada report from Apr of this year grades the governments response to the problem. It isn't very encouraging.

The caribou are only one of 100's of species in this country "at risk". SARA list's some 490 odd while COSEWIC lists 585 ! And they are just the ones we know about.

As long as we continue to put the economy 1st nature will continue to suffer decline. The real "mystery" is why, even with overwhelming evidence of the causes, we fail to act.


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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: November 8th, 2009, 7:30 pm 
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Don't overlook this line from the quoted article:

"Caribou herds have always fluctuated, sometimes wildly. The George River herd in Arctic Quebec grew from as few as 5,000 animals in the early 1960s to 700,000 by the 1990s (although it's now shrinking)."

The population implosion is definitely concerning. But we don't know the cause any more than we know the why the George river herd grew 140X over a 30 year period.

I really have to take exception to the comparison to the cod fishery. Last I checked there weren't any ungulate trawlers out there sweeping the tundra clean of caribou.

Wildlife management is not a simple thing. Nor is it very satisfying when the most effective answer typically turns out to be not to do anything.

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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: November 9th, 2009, 4:59 pm 
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"Mysterious? The only mystery to me is that anyone finds it "mysterious".

The caribou have been on the governments Species At Risk list at least since '02 as threatened."

This refers to the woodland caribou subspecies, not barrenland caribou. They are not "threatened" at the moment, thank heavens. However the recent declines are of concern. But keep in mind that caribou herds do exhibit fluctuations, roughly at human lifetime intervals, according to Inuit traditional knowledge studies I have read. Also they can exhibit absolutely phenomenal rates of population growth (over 20% per year), simply astounding for a large mammal.

Daniel.


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 Post subject: Re: Mysterious arctic caribou decline
PostPosted: January 14th, 2010, 9:26 am 
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Garry Lake Project Update (Please See David Pelly's note above).

Public relations are in full swing at Uravan. After a protracted land use permit process in 2008, company was told it needed to have a full environmental review for its exploratory project, which is located within the calving grounds of the Beverly caribou herd. The preliminary screening review received over 200 submissions from paddlers, environmental groups, wildlife management boards, government and Inuit representatives, and more.

In 2009, Uravan continued to operate it's unlicensed site and a water license inspector found a 1,000 litres fuel leak at the site from 112 drums of fuel. You need a permit for storage of fuel, camp construction materials, waste disposal, and diamond drilling equipment (which were also found at site).

CBC, Northern News Services, and Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit, an new Inuit uranium mining public education group based in Iqaliut, report on story:

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/north/story/20 ... -lake.html

http://www.nnsl.com/northern-news-servi ... 1_10c.html

http://makikuranium.wordpress.com/2009/ ... lake-site/

Despite fuel cache, leaks, diamond drilling equipment, and assurances of clean-up (it received an extension because it was unable to meet initial deadline for clean up of illegal site), Uravan says it wishes to discontinue it's operations at Garry Lake (according to CBC). Don't want to state the obvious, but seeing is believing.


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