Wildlife: Endangered species Checking the animals
Conservation, research aims for balance with Mother Nature

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (OCT 07/96) - An agreement between federal, provincial and territorial governments last week to develop legislation for Canada's 253 endangered species is particularly important for the North.

Considered one of the world's richest wildlife areas, the Arctic is predicted by scientists to be one of the first areas to experience adverse effects of global warming.

The North has already begun to experience the effects of global warming with increased precipitation. This increase in precipitation has had a dramatic impact on caribou populations.

"The caribou in the high Arctic are in real trouble," says Anne Gunn, a caribou biologist with the Department of Renewable Resources.

She sights an increase in snowfall over the past few years as a contributing factor to the decreasing number of caribou in some areas of the North.

More than 450 caribou were lost on Bathurst Island last year because of the increased volume of snow.

Edmonton biologist Frank Miller found the carcasses last summer, some still standing in ice and snow where they were digging for food.

Gunn says there may have been more lost.

"It's anyone's guess as to how many more may have died looking for food," she says.

There are more than 1.6 million caribou across the NWT, but this number is in question because of shifts in populations.

Gunn says the trend in caribou populations seems to be that herds in southern NWT are increasing and herds in the high Arctic are getting smaller.

She admits it's difficult to know what to do about the decreasing numbers.

She also believes this trend will have an effect on other animals like muskox and wolves.

As a food source for the wolves, decreasing numbers of caribou may also affect their population.

Gunn says the overall effect is difficult to assess, but any disruption in the food chain has some impact.

Legislation for endangered species will also be important for two-thirds of the world's polar bears that roam across Canada's north and Alaska. Their population is estimated at 12,700, and live within 14 sub-populations in the North.

Mitch Taylor, a polar bear biologist, says the population is closely monitored to prevent the danger of extinction.

"Inuit groups are focusing on the conservation of polar bears by reducing their quotas," he says. "Their efforts have increased protection of the animal."

"Hunters and trappers have also contributed to this protection," he adds.

While he says conservation efforts are improving across the Arctic, there is a lot of work left to be done.