Caribou Numbers in the NWT — The Outfitter’s Battle

John Andre. 2007. Caribou Numbers in the NWT — The Outfitter’s Battle (PowerPoint presentation). Shoshone Wilderness Adventures, Lac de Gras, Northwest Territories, CA.

John Andre is majority stockholder in two Canadian corporations, Qaivvik, Ltd. and Caribou Pass Outfitters, Ltd.

Full PowerPoint presentation [here] (2.44MB)

Selected excerpts:

The caribou have been hunted for tens of thousands of years by the aboriginal peoples of the north. The health of the caribou herds is sacred to them, it is part of their very being. Generation after generation followed the caribou, or waited for them to come. They understood the movements of the great herds, and the cycle of feast and famine. Now, with “modern” technology, we track caribou with satellite collars, count nematodes in their droppings, and census them using fancy terms such as linear regression analysis and coefficient of variation. It is not an easy job, counting over a million animals, scattered over tens of thousands of square miles of wilderness. This presentation is not meant to degrade, in any way, the efforts of some of the wildlife biologists that have worked hard over the last 60 years, risking their lives in an unforgiving environment, with limited budgets and manpower, to study and better understand the caribou.

The Problems Begin

In late 2005, the government split the former RWED into ENR (Environment & Natural Resources) and ITI (Industry, Tourism, and Investment.) It may or may not be a coincidence, but this is when problems with the government began.

In May of 2006, we were abruptly told that we had to stop selling caribou hunts for that year; that the caribou numbers had dropped significantly. This cost the industry three months of sales, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The question is, if the next survey hadn’t been done yet, how did the government know for sure the herds were down? Was the outcome preconceived?

In June of 2006, the Bathurst herd was surveyed, and was down to 128,000 caribou. Minister Miltenberger, of the ENR , told the outfitting industry that they were cutting our tag quotas back to the pre-2000 level of 132 tags, for the 2007 season. At the same time, resident hunters were reduced from 5 tags to 2 tags, and bulls only. (The harvest of mature bulls has consistently been shown to have zero effect on overall ungulate population growth.) The outfitting industry, although not necessarily agreeing with their numbers or science, wanted to do their part to help the caribou, and so we accepted this slashing of our industry by nearly 30%.

The fact is, we hadn’t looked at the numbers carefully enough.

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Variation In Mitochondrial DNA and Microsatellite DNA in Caribou (Rangifer Tarandus) in North America

Matthew A. Cronin, Michael D. Macneil, and John C. Patton. 2005. Variation In Mitochondrial DNA and Microsatellite DNA in Caribou (Rangifer Tarandus) in North America. Journal of Mammalogy, 86(3):495–505, 2005.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:


Genetic variation of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) at 18 microsatellite DNA loci and the cytochrome-b gene of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was quantified in 11 herds of 3 North American subspecies: Alaskan barren ground caribou (R. t. granti), Canadian barren ground caribou (R. t. groenlandicus), and woodland caribou (R. t. caribou). Phylogenetic analysis of 1,194 nucleotides of cytochrome-b sequence resulted in a clade of 52 genotypes in R. t. granti, R. t. groenlandicus, and in 1 herd of R. t. caribou, and a clade of 7 genotypes in R. t. caribou. mtDNA sequence divergence is approximately 1% between these clades and 0.3–0.6% within these clades. The subspecies do not have monophyletic mtDNA, but do have different frequencies of mtDNA genotypes. Microsatellite allele frequencies also are differentiated between the woodland (R. t. caribou) and barren ground (R. t. granti and R. t. groenlandicus) subspecies. An exception is the George River herd in Labrador, which is classified as R. t. caribou but has mtDNA and microsatellite allele frequencies intermediate between the other herds of R. t. caribou and R. t. groenlandicus. Within subspecies, there is relatively low differentiation of microsatellite allele frequencies and mtDNA genotypes among herds of R. t. granti and R. t. groenlandicus, and relatively high differentiation of microsatellite alleles and mtDNA genotypes among herds of R. t. caribou in 4 geographically separate areas in Canada. The extent of differentiation of mtDNA genotype frequencies and microsatellite allele frequencies within and among each subspecies reflects past and present gene flow among herds. Issues related to subspecies, populations, ecotypes, and herds are discussed.
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26 Dec 2008, 5:25pm
Wildlife Management Wildlife Policy
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A Proposal to Eliminate Redundant Terminology for Intra-Species Groups

M. A. Cronin. 2006. A Proposal to Eliminate Redundant Terminology for Intra-Species Groups. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34(1):237–241; 2006

Dr. Matthew Cronin PhD. is Research Associate Professor of Animal Genetics, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is also a member of the Alaska Board of Forestry.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:


Many new terms have come into use for intra-species groups of animals defined with genetic criteria including subspecies, evolutionarily significant units, evolutionary units, management units, metapopulations, distinct population segments, populations, and subpopulations. These terms have redundant meanings and can lead to confusion for biologists, managers, and policy makers. I propose that for wildlife management we can simplify intra-species terminology and use only the terms subspecies, populations, and subpopulations. These 3 terms have roots in evolutionary and population biology and can incorporate genetic, demographic, and geographic considerations.

Recently, there has been a proliferation of terms used to describe groups of animals below the species level. For example, Wells and Richmond (1995) identified more than 30 terms used to describe groups generally referring to populations. They also discussed the problems with scientific communication associated with such extensive and redundant terminology.

The importance of intraspecies definitions is exemplified by the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA allows listing of species, but it also allows listing of subspecies and distinct population segments (DPS) without clear definition of these terms. The importance of these intra-specific categories is evident in the large number of subspecies and DPS listed under the ESA. For example, more than 70% (57 of 81 listed taxa) of the listed mammals in the United States are identified as subspecies or DPS ( Examples of subspecies listed under the ESA with questionable subspecies status include the California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica, Cronin 1997, Zink et al. 2000) and Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei, Ramey et al. 2005). Other examples of indefinite subspecies designations that affect management and policy are given by Cronin (1993) and Zink (2004).

The importance of clear definition of DPS has been recognized by the agencies administering the ESA (i.e., The United States Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service). These agencies noted: “Federal agencies charged with carrying out the provisions of the ESA have struggled for over a decade to develop a consistent approach for interpreting the term ‘distinct population segment’” (Waples 1991:v); and “…it is important that the term ‘distinct population segment’ beinterpreted in a clear and consistent fashion.” (Federal Register 7 Feb. 1996, Vol 61:4722). The National Research Council (NRC 1995:55) recognized the importance of identification of intraspecific units for ESA consideration and stated: “Unless we agree to preserve all endangered or threatened organisms of all taxonomic ranks, we must find ways to identify those groups of organisms we consider to be significant.

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26 Dec 2008, 3:38pm
Wildlife Policy
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The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse: subjective subspecies, advocacy and management

M. A. Cronin. 2007. The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse: subjective subspecies, advocacy and management. Correspondence, Animal Conservation 10 (2007) 159–161

Dr. Matthew Cronin, PhD. is Research Associate Professor of Animal Genetics, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is also a member of the Alaska Board of Forestry.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

I read with concern the letters to the editor regarding the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse Zapus hudsonius preblei in which Martin (2006) criticized Ramey et al. (2005) for questioning the subspecies designation and the editor for a failed peer review, and Crandall (2006) defended his editorship.

However, the debate over the subspecies status of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse does not properly acknowledge the subjectivity of the subspecies category. Designation of subspecies status is inherently subjective and this should be openly admitted by both sides of the debate. Accusations of advocacy in this issue are spurious because applied fields such as wildlife conservation or agriculture have inherent advocacy for management objectives. As discussed below, I suggest management units of intraspecific groups should be based on geography, not subjective judgements of subspecies status or genetic differentiation.

The subspecies status of this mouse has been discussed extensively (Ramey et al., 2005, 2006; Crandall, 2006; Martin, 2006; Vignieri et al., 2006) because it has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Briefly, the Preble’s mouse was designated a subspecies with limited descriptive morphological data. There are no diagnostic characters that unequivocally distinguish it from conspecifics. It does not have monophyletic mitochondrial DNA. It may be geographically isolated from, and have different allele frequencies than, con-specific populations. Sample sizes and locations studied are probably small relative to population numbers. The allele frequency differences are for DNA loci that are usually considered selectively neutral. There are no data documenting local adaptation, but it is possible. Given the lack of quantitative criteria for naming subspecies the Preble’s mouse could be considered a legitimate subspecies, or not a legitimate subspecies. My concerns center on the lack of appreciation of the subjectivity of subspecies and on misunderstanding of the nature of advocacy and management in the context of the Preble’s mouse.

It is well established that the subspecies category is subjective (reviewed by Cronin, 1993, 2006; Geist, O’Gara & Hoffmann, 2000; Zink, 2004). This includes other cases involving the ESA (e.g. Cronin, 1997; Zink et al., 2000) and recognition of this could have avoided much of the debate over the Preble’s mouse. …

The subjectivity of subspecies designation is exemplified by the Preble’s mouse. Ramey et al. (2005) used a hypothesis testing approach for genetic, ecological and morphological data and concluded that the subspecies designation was not warranted. Vignieri et al. (2006) presented criteria (no or significantly reduced gene flow), acknowledged subspecies are not well defined, and then concluded the Preble’s mouse is a legitimate subspecies. The ensuing critiques (Crandall, 2006; Martin, 2006; Ramey et al., 2006; Vignieri et al., 2006) demonstrate neither was an absolute result. It is important to recognize that other intra-specific groups that can be listed under the ESA, distinct population segments-DPS and evolutionarily significant units- ESU, are also subjectively defined (Cronin, 2006).

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20 Dec 2008, 11:09am
Predators Wildlife Management
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Large predators: them and us!

Dr. Valerius Geist, PhD. 2008. Large predators: them and us! Fair Chase. Vol. 23, No. 3. pp. 14-19

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

We pay close attention to large predators. We do so because we evolved as prey. It was our ancient fate to be killed and eaten, and our primary goal to escape such. Our instincts are still shaped that way.

There is thus a reason why the bloody carnage on our highways is a mere statistic, but the mauling of a person by a grizzly is news. It’s not only that so many fossilized remains of our ancient ancestors are meals consumed by large predators in secluded caves or rock niches, but also that we speciated like large herbivores. That is, our pattern and timing of forming species, of adapting to landscapes, mimics and coincides with that of deer, antelope or cattle, but not that of large carnivores. And that despite our fondness for meat, despite “man the hunter”, and despite the fact that at least one species of humans, Neanderthal man, grew into a super predator.

Large herbivores readily form new species and show a pattern of strong speciation from the equator to the poles, terminating in the cold, glaciated latitudes as “grotesque ice age giants”. Large predators do not. They evolve no grotesque ice age giants comparable to the woolly mammoths among elephants, or the massive-antlered giant deer among deer, the giant sheep, or anything else for that matter as grotesque as ourselves. Is there a more grotesque animal than man? And we did it twice, once as Neanderthal and once as Modern Man. Moreover, herbivores readily form dwarf species under poor ecological conditions such as in rainforests, deserts or predator-free oceanic islands, and they differentiate rapidly into new subspecies as they disperse geographically into new habitats. Predators form no dwarfs, on islands or otherwise. Nor do they segregate sharply into swarms of regional subspecies. Large herbivores do that - and so do humans. Also, our bursts of speciation coincide in time with those of African antelope.

Humans grow small canine teeth, not the large combat-canines typical of apes. Canine reduction is a signature of a common anti-predator adaptation, called the “selfish herd”. In such unrelated individuals cluster together in the open as protection against predation. Herbivores form “selfish herds”, predators do not. Herbivores may “evolve away” huge combat-canines, as shown not only by us, but by deer, horses, rhinos and half a dozen extinct families of large mammalian plant eaters. Carnivores reduce no canines!

Our ancient herbivore root is still reflected in our taste preferences, for when we eat meat we flavor it liberally with plant poisons (pepper, chili, sage, thyme, curry etc). Apparently meat does not really taste “good” till it tastes of “plant”! We also have the herbivore’s craving for salt. So, watch what you reach for next time you get a sizzling steak!

While we may have evolved as hunters, we did not evolve like predators. …

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Effects of Wolf Predation on North Central Idaho Elk Populations

Idaho Department of Fish and Game, April 4, 2006, Effects of Wolf Predation on North Central Idaho Elk Populations

Full text [here] (2.3 MB)


Gray wolves (Canis lupus) were reintroduced into Idaho in 1995 and listed as an experimental nonessential population under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Thirty-five wolves were reintroduced and by 2005, an estimated 512 wolves (59 resident packs and 36 breeding pairs) were well distributed from the Panhandle to southeast Idaho. In February 2005, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) modified the 10(j) rule which details State options for management of wolves impacting domestic livestock and wild ungulates (Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulation for Nonessential Experimental Populations of the Western Distinct Population Segment of the Gray Wolf [50 CFR Part 17]).

The provisions of the 10(j) rule fall short of allowing the states’ preferred management tool of regulated hunting. However, under Section (v): “If gray wolf predation is having an unacceptable impact on wild ungulate populations (deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, antelope, or bison) as determined by the respective State and Tribe (on reservations), the State or Tribe may lethally remove wolves in question. In order for the provision to apply, the States or Tribes must prepare a science-based document that: 1) describes what data indicate that ungulate herd is below management objectives, what data indicate there are impacts by wolf predation on the ungulate population, why wolf removal is a warranted solution to help restore the ungulate herd to State or Tribal management objectives, the level and duration of wolf removal being proposed, and how ungulate population response to wolf removal will be measured; 2) identifies possible remedies or conservation measures in addition to wolf removal; and 3) provides an opportunity for peer review and public comment on their proposal prior to submitting it to the Service for written concurrence.”

This document supports the State’s determination that gray wolf predation is having an unacceptable impact on a wild ungulate population. Specifically, this document reviews the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) evaluation of the effect of wolf predation on an elk population below state management objectives. The document includes a review of elk population data, the cause-specific mortality research being conducted on elk, the wolf population data, and the modeling conducted to simulate impacts of wolf predation on elk using known population parameters. Additionally, this report identifies remedies and conservation measures that have already been attempted to reduce impacts of the multiple factors influencing the current elk population status, and identifies management actions and objectives to improve and monitor elk populations in the Lolo Zone.

This evaluation addresses the criteria outlined under 10J SEC. (v) and provides detailed information on the following topics:

1. What is the elk management objective?

Management objectives for elk in the Lolo Zone (Game Management Units [GMU] 10 and 12) is to maintain an elk population consisting of 6,100 – 9,100 cows and 1,300 – 1,900 bulls. Individual GMU objectives for the Lolo Zone are: 4,200 – 6,200 cows and 900 – 1,300 bulls in GMU 10; and 1,900 – 2,900 cows and 400 – 600 bulls in GMU 12. Population objectives for GMU 17 are 2,400 – 3,600 cows and 650 – 975 bulls. Objectives are based on the Department’s best estimate of elk habitat carrying capacity and acknowledge a reduction in habitat potential from the conditions observed in the 1980s. In 1989, the Department estimated 16,500 elk in the Lolo Zone. Current cow and bull objectives (7,400) are 60% of the 1989 estimate of 12,378 cow and bull elk. In 2006, the Department estimated 4,233 cow and bull elk in the Lolo Zone.

2. Data used to evaluate populations in relation to management objective.

IDFG biologists use aerial surveys to monitor elk populations throughout the state, including GMUs 10, 12, and 17. Surveys are designed to provide a statistically and biologically sound sampling framework. Biologists generate estimates (and confidence intervals) of population size, age ratios (e.g., calves:100 cows) and sex ratios (e.g., bulls:100 cows) from the survey data. Current status of elk populations are: 2,276 cows and 504 bulls in GMU 10; 978 cows and 475 bulls in GMU 12; and 2,076 cows and 486 bulls in GMU 17.

3. Data that demonstrate the impact of wolf predation.

Elk survival rates were estimated using radio-collared animals. A total of 64 adult cow elk were captured, radio-collared, and monitored in GMUs 10 and 12 in 2002-2004 (90 elk-years). Combining samples across areas and years produced point estimates of annual elk survival (includes all mortality sources) ranging from 75% to 89%, with a 3-year weighted average of 83%. More recently, survival from March 2005 through February 2006 was 77%.
Nine of 25 (36%) mortalities among adult cow elk from January 2002 through March 2006 were attributed to wolves. Wolf-caused mortality was not detected during 2002 or 2003; whereas 1 death was attributed to wolf predation in 2004 and 8 through 1 March 2006. Three additional losses resulted from predation, but species of predator could not be determined; 4 were attributed to mountain lions; and 9 were attributed to factors other than predation (e.g., hit by a vehicle, harvested, disease) or cause of death could not be determined.

Similar survival and cause-specific mortality data for elk in GMU 17 does not exist because of logistical difficulties with capture and monitoring of elk in designated Wilderness.

IDFG used the available data and assumptions based on peer-reviewed literature to simulate the impacts of wolf predation on elk populations in north-central Idaho. All simulations revealed a lack of cow elk population growth in the presence of wolf predation. Most simulations suggest moderate to steep declines in abundance caused by wolf predation. Regardless of the approach we used to model elk populations, all simulations used suggest wolves are limiting population growth.

4. Why wolf removal is warranted.

Several factors may have contributed to the elk population decline in the Lolo Zone, including harvest management, habitat issues, and predation. The Department and collaborators have aggressively addressed each of these factors for a number of years. Nevertheless, the Lolo Zone does not meet state management objectives. Without an increase in cow elk survival, the Lolo Zone elk population is unlikely to achieve management objectives.
The available data indicate that wolf predation is, at a minimum, partly additive and likely contributes to low adult female elk survival. Based on our evaluation and analysis, the State has determined that wolf predation is having an unacceptable impact on elk populations in the Lolo Zone. This evaluation demonstrates that wolves play an important role in limiting recovery of this elk population and that wolf removal is warranted as allowed under the 10(j) rule.

Management of most big game populations is accomplished through regulated harvest by hunters. A reduction in wolf numbers in the Lolo Zone would ideally be accomplished through regulated take by sportsmen rather than by state or federal agencies, and all alternatives for removal would be explored.

5. Level and duration of wolf removal.

During year one, we propose to reduce the wolf population in the Lolo Zone by no more than 43 of the estimated 58 wolves (75% reduction) that currently occupy the zone. The first year reduction represents about 8% of the estimated 512 wolves present in Idaho in 2005. The wolf population will be maintained at 25-40% of the pre-removal wolf abundance for 5 years. Concurrently, we will monitor elk and wolf populations. After 5 years, results will be analyzed and a peer-reviewed manuscript will be prepared that evaluates the effect of fewer wolves on elk population dynamics.

6. How will ungulate response be measured?

We will monitor the performance of elk populations in GMUs 10 and 12 with ongoing statewide research efforts on elk and mule deer and within the context of Clearwater Region wildlife management activities. The information will include fecundity, age/sex-specific survival rates, and cause-specific mortality rates. We will use aerial surveys to monitor elk populations in GMUs 10, 12, and 17. In GMUs 10 and 12, complete surveys will be scheduled for 2006, 2008, and 2010. In GMU 17, complete surveys will be scheduled for 2007 and 2010. Composition surveys will be flown in intervening years. In GMUs 10 and 12, we will document elk survival rates and cause-specific mortality factors from samples of radio-marked adult cow and calf elk.

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