Endangered Species of Canada Stories by the Edmonton Journal, December 1999

A Dwindling Legacy: Cover Story

Banff Snail

Burrowing Owl


Whooping Crane

Kangaroo Rat

Peary Caribou

Peregrine Falcon

Polar Bear

Woodland Caribou

Trumpeter Swan

Copyright: Edmonton Journal

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Alberta Special Places 2000

Endangered Species Webpage

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The Committee on the Status of Endangered Species, a federal advisory group, has created a list of 340 animals and plants that are in some jeopardy. Here are the categories the committee uses:

Extinct — The species no longer exists in Canada

Extirpated — A species no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but can be found elsewhere.

Endangered — A species that faces imminent extirpation or extinction.

Threatened — A species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.

Vulnerable — A species of special concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.

Endangered Species in Alberta - A Different Webpage:

Burrowing Owl

Blue Flag [a flower]

Bull Trout

Ferruginous Hawk

Northern Leopard Frog

Peregrine Falcon

Piping Plover

Swift Fox

Trumpeter Swan

White Pelican

Whooping Crane

Woodland Caribou


The Edmonton Journal

November 30, 1999.

Habitat loss clouds future for ‘grey ghosts’

Industry and government policy key to their survival

 ED STRUZIK Journal Staff Writer EDMONTON


Rangifer tarandus

  • Status: Wildlife Act of Alberta lists them as endangered in the province. Considered vulnerable in western Canada by the committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada.
  • Numbers: Unknown, but estimates range from 3,600 to 6,700.
  • Range: West central and northern Alberta. They inhabit old growth forest, peatland and bogs. They winter in the forested foothills of west central Alberta using primarily pine or pine spruce forests and bog fen wetlands dominated by black spruce. They migrate in spring to the mountains of northern Jasper National park, Willmore Wilderness and adjacent portions of British Columbia.
  • Breeding: Woodland caribou females do not breed until they are at least 2.5 years old. Generally produce just one calf.
  • Outlook for future: Precarious for west central animals; more positive for those in northern Alberta if new management strategies are implemented.

 Last June, Alberta government biologist Kirby Smith flew into the Little Smoky area of west central Alberta to check on 18 female caribou that he had collared earlier in the year.

Only seven of the animals had calves, which is not particularly unusual. But when Smith returned in mid September to see how they were faring, there were no calves to be found.

Last week, his colleagues did another check on the herd. Among the 41 animals they counted, there were only two calves to be seen.

"This year may just be a blip," says Kirby. "But if you want to maintain the size of the population, you want to see about 15 per cent of the herd as calves going into spring."

Woodland caribou, the so called "grey ghosts" of the boreal forest because they are so hard to see among the trees, snow and fog, are among the most vulnerable of western Canada’s largest mammals.

Unlike moose, which produce twins 25 per cent of the time, they rarely have more than one calf. Because it also takes them longer to mature sexually, they are slower to recover from setbacks such as the one Kirby documented this year.

Isolated as this year’s calf failure may be, it does not bode well for the future of woodland caribou in the west central foothills of the province.

At last count, there were between 500 and 700 animals in three herds in the west central Alberta group, only a fraction over the threshold that scientists believe is required to sustain a population against predators, natural disasters, and genetic isolation.

Although no one knows exactly how many caribou there are across Alberta, - estimates range from 3,600 to 6,700 — even the provincial government admits it has a challenge on its hands preserving caribou numbers in the future given all of the oil and gas, forestry, and mining activities, and proposed peatland developments proposed or being carried out in and around woodland caribou habitat.

"I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the animals in northern Alberta," says biologist Elston Dzus, recently to co-ordinator of the Boreal Caribou Research Program in north central Alberta.

"But if we are to have viable populations of woodland caribou in the future, changes to current policy on the government side and practices on the industry side will be necessary."

That’s strong advice coming from a scientist who now works for Alberta Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (Alpac), one of the province’s largest forestry companies which has a huge stake in northeastern Alberta where woodland caribou numbers appear to be stable.

Dzus isn’t operating on a hunch, as many caribou biologists were just a decade or so ago. In the past eight years, several collaborative studies on caribou have been done by government, universities and industry.

Many of them suggest that if industry and woodland caribou are to co exist, industry has going to have to do things differently.

Alpac biologist Simon Dyer’s study tells the story.

Last February in the heavy oil and gas drilling area north of Slave Lake, he captured and equipped 23 caribou with global positioning satellite collars that would record their exact location every two hours over a 12 month period. The idea was to see if caribou would still use sites adjacent to wellsites, roads and seismic lines as often as they use more pristine regions.

What he found was that caribou do not use anything that was within 250 metres of roads, seismics, and human activity as often as might be expected.

And although they would cross seismic lines, they crossed roads six times less than expected.

"You’ve got a number of things going on here," says Dyer.

"First, caribou tend to avoid human activity, which is significant given how much there is in this part of the province. Second, roads act as semi permeable barriers. For whatever reason, caribou are very reluctant to cross them."

In light of the fact that wolves are still the major cause of caribou deaths in Alberta, it has been suggested in the past that the province consider wolf control measures as a management tool.

But both Smith and Dzus believe that habitat protection is really the only viable option.

"That, I think, has got to be your first line of defence," says Smith. "Wolves and caribou have co-existed for more than 10,000 years. It’s human activity that’s upset that balance."

Environmentalists complain that a new caribou management plan is long overdue.

"A committee of stakeholders consisting of industry conservation groups, aboriginal groups, university scientists and government agencies came up with a strategy for the government back in 1996," says Darren Ure, the former Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society director who sat on the government appointed committee. "But the government’s basically sat on it. And since then, we’ve lost an awful lot of good caribou habitat."

Among the most notable are the Pioneer and Berland River Donald Creek sites near Hinton, and the Bear Clairmont, and Kleskun lake sites. Once considered candidates for the province’s much maligned Special Places program, they were quietly offered to industry with little public debate earlier this year. Still, Dzus is hopeful that the future of woodland caribou will be decided in the next year or so when industry and government meet to try and hammer a revised caribou management policy for the future.