The Northwest Territories (NWT) Species at Risk Committee (SARC) met April 4-6, 2017 in Fort Smith and has released the results of the 2017 assessments of the status of grizzly bear, five bat species, Porcupine caribou, and barren-ground caribou in the NWT.
SARC determined that grizzly bear is a species of special concern in the NWT. This assessment was based on small numbers (about 2,000-3,000 mature individuals), limiting biological characteristics (large home range size, low reproductive output, denning requirements), and threats (human-caused mortality, industrial development).
Five bat species (big brown bat, little brown myotis, northern myotis, long-eared myotis, and long-legged myotis) were assessed. Little brown myotis and northern myotis were assessed as special concern because of their high vulnerability to the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome. White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that has wiped out populations of bats elsewhere in North America. White-nose syndrome is not currently present in the NWT, but it could reach the NWT in one to two decades. With the recent discovery of white-nose syndrome in the United States' Pacific Northwest, this disease could spread to the NWT sooner. Big brown bat, long-eared myotis, and long-legged myotis were assessed as data deficient, owing to substantial information gaps in abundance and population trends.
SARC assessed barren-ground caribou (Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East, Bathurst, Beverly, Ahiak, and Qamanirjuaq herds) as threatened in the NWT. This assessment was based on dramatic population declines in most herds as well as threats including climate change, predation, industrial development, and forest fires. The cumulative effects from these combined threats are considered unprecedented.
SARC considered Porcupine caribou separately as a geographically distinct population and assessed it as not at risk in the NWT. This means that it is not considered at risk of extinction given the current circumstances. The herd has increased over the past 25 years and the current population estimate is the highest seen since the early 1970s. In addition, birth rates and calf survival have been relatively strong since 2001 and the herd is being well-managed.
Most barren-ground caribou populations in the circumpolar north are in decline. The Porcupine caribou herd is an exception; it is increasing. However, given the importance of Porcupine caribou to the people of the NWT and the declines in other barren-ground caribou populations, SARC is recommending that Porcupine caribou be considered for re-assessment if there is evidence that the herd might be following the same downward trajectory.
Details of these 2017 assessments and more information on grizzly bears, bats, Porcupine caribou, and barren-ground caribou can be found on the NWT species at risk website: www.nwtspeciesatrisk.ca
SARC, established by the Species at Risk (NWT) Act, is an independent committee of experts responsible for assessing the biological status of species at risk in the NWT.