A little-known fact about the Canadian 25 cent coin, is that the animal on the “tails” side is in fact not a moose, but a caribou! Caribou (also known as reindeer), are an integral part of Canadian indigenous heritage, as well as northern ecosystems. These members of the deer family were once one of Canada’s most widespread wildlife species. Today their numbers have significantly diminished, some herds by more than 90%. Climate change, increased habitat development, and poor land use planning have contributed greatly to the caribou’s steady decline. Most Arctic caribou are migratory, which poses challenges for habitat conservation when coupled with mining exploration and development.
Located in east-central Alaska, and west-central Yukon, the Fortymile Caribou Herd of migratory caribou used to be one of the largest herds in North America. In the 1920s the Fortymile herd was estimated to be between 260,000 and 569,000 animals. Their range covered large tracts of land in Alaska and Yukon. During the next few decades, the herd experienced significant decline to it’s lowest point in 1973 at between 5,740 and 8,610 caribou. As a result, the herd all but disappeared from Yukon, with no animals observed between 1976 and 1984.
In 1993, an international recovery team was created to initiate recovery of the herd to its previous ranges. The team consisted of representatives from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (local First Nations band government), Alaskan Fish and Game Advisory Committees, government representatives from Yukon and Alaska, user groups, and other First Nations groups. In 1995, the team produced a five-year recovery plan aimed at promoting herd growth through reduced harvest, habitat and predator management, and public outreach. By 2001, the herd had increased by 78%, and by 2010, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated that the herd size was approximately 51,675 caribou. By 2013, the Fortymile herd had reoccupied large areas of its historic range in Yukon. Survey results from 2017 showed the herd continuing to increase in size, with numbers estimated at 71,000 caribou.
The Fortymile Caribou Herd migrates into Goldcorp’s Coffee Project area in Yukon. As a result, we have contributed substantial data and monitoring to the efforts already in place with Yukon Environment and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. With consulting from Environmental Dynamics Inc. (EDI), we have conducted winter ungulate surveys, collaborative habitat modelling using data obtained from caribou collars, winter habitat use and diet analyses, remote camera photo captures, and wildlife reporting from onsite staff and contractors.
In future, we have also committed to monitor caribou distribution, habitat use and migration patterns in the Coffee Project area through the use of aerial surveys, monitoring plots and analysis of satellite collar data.
The Fortymile Caribou herd recovery and conservation is a huge success story for Yukon and Alaska, and one that we are committed to sustaining throughout the life of the Coffee Project and beyond. Our collaboration in the Yukon towards caribou habitat conservation is an example of our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals priorities on biodiversity and the International Council on Mining and Metals’ (ICMM), of which we are a member, Principle 7 – contributing towards the conservation of biodiversity and integrated approaches to land-use planning. Check out our 2016 Sustainability Report for more details on our commitment to ICMM Principles and the SDGs.