Local warming bad news
for hunters, herds

by Ian Elliot
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 10/97) - Some Northerners may have basked in this fall's unseasonably warm weather, but it could mean trouble for wildlife in the North.

And that's not cause for celebration in the hunting department.

The effects of the warm spell have the potential to disrupt the established migration patterns of game, reduce the quality of furs and possibly produce fewer and more poorly-nourished animals if wildlife gets frozen out of some of the food stocks on which they depend.

With caribou, the most important large mammal in the Northern food chain, the current weather could cause a layer of ice to form over the lichens they eat.

If ice forms as a result of melting and is then covered by a blanket of insulating snow, it becomes difficult for the animals to break through to their winter feed.

"The biggest threat in this weather is that a layer of ice will form," said Ray Case, manager of technical services for the territorial government's wildlife and fisheries branch.

There will not be a large-scale starvation, he says, but caribou will certainly avoid migratory areas that have a layer of ice underneath the snow. Those areas could form mostly in the southern regions, where the temperature rose above freezing last week.

"What that may mean, for instance, is that we might not see any caribou around Yellowknife this winter."

The same factors could make life more difficult for bison, though they may not be immune from the effects. Bison eat sedge, grass which grows at the edge of the forest or beside the road, and use their massive heads to break through the snow cover.

"Bison are versatile enough that we don't expect a mass die-off or anything that would require an emergency food supply," he said.

He added that the department would like to hear reports from anyone who spots undernourished animals or those in bad condition.

The weather could also cause some problems for trappers who count on animals developing their prime winter coats, which bring a higher price.

Prime fur does not usually develop until after the first really cold spell, generally in early December, and that could be delayed somewhat if the warm weather persists, he said.

The warm weather is already affecting some hunters, who have found that the ice on lakes and rivers is not yet strong enough to support the snowmachines they use to travel to fall camps.