7 April 2017

The Barren Ground Caribou

There are seventeen different herds of caribou scattered all across the Canadian north from Labrador to the Yukon.  Most of the herds have a twice annual migration where they over winter in protected areas south of the tree line. Come spring they head north to calf and spend the summer. The herd that migrates past Arctic Haven Lodge, the Qamanirjuag caribou, over winter in northern Saskatchewan and/or Manitoba. In April, depending on the weather conditions, the caribou walk north out of the trees almost all the way to the Arctic Ocean to calf and spend the summer. Our experience has been that in the spring the caribou are like pilgrims “on a mission”.  They walk northward with a purpose in groups of 10 to several thousand. They arrive in a rush and in two weeks it is all over, the are gone. During the summer there are always a few resident caribou around the lodge, ones that for whatever reason decided that it was not necessary to walk so far! In the fall, as they migrate back south, the situation is different. The caribou are healthier looking, they stroll along, feeding and taking their time. No rush at all. 

In December 2016, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, a body made up of about 50 scientists, classified the Barren-ground caribou as “Threatened”.  The Baffin Herd has lost 98% of it population in less than 20 years. The Bathurst herd is only 5% of the population in the 1980s. The Qamanirjuaq herd, still perhaps the healthiest, is down to 250,000 animals, about a 40% decline.

There are various reasons and theories for the decline. Climate change with warmer winters produce more snow making it difficult to feed, and rain creates layers of ice that are hard for the caribou to penetrate. Thinner ice makes migrations across water dangerous and difficult. Industrial development and human traffic has increased. Hydroelectric dams and roads disrupt migration. Mineral exploration is also a disruption.

 

Finally there is unregulated hunting with almost no harvest information. The new-age phenomena of selling caribou meat via Facebook and the Internet drives hunting that is not for personal consumption. This practice is un-wittingly aided by northern airlines that offer discounted rates for shipping “country” foods such as caribou meat, seal meat, fish and more. This practice is decimating the caribou herds. People are now selling meat over Facebook as a source of revenue. Without any proper management in place, the caribou populations will soon become extinct.

Richard Weber

Co-Founder and Host at Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge, Richard Weber started working in the field of arctic tourism with the world’s first commercial North Pole trek in 1993, and conducted hiking and kayaking trips on Baffin Island. Richard has a distinguished, unparalleled polar pedigree spanning decades, with a history of polar “firsts” and record-breaking accomplishments.

Richard is a renowned polar explorer, having completed more than 60 Arctic, North and South Pole expeditions, and more successful treks to the North Pole than anyone in history. He has achieved diverse polar “firsts”, including the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada, and in the North Pole; the first snowshoe trek; first guided unsupported trek; first commercial trek; and the only trek to the North Pole and back without resupplies.

Richard Weber has recently been appointed to the Order of Canada for his "pioneering work as an explorer, adventurer and advocate for Arctic research and preservation" by the Governor General of Canada. This honor recognizes Richard's 30 years of polar exploration, two arctic lodges and countless expeditions across all Polar Regions. 

Other Accomplishments

Member of the Order of Canada
Co-authored two books on his polar adventures – Polar Attack: From Canada to the North Pole, and Back – and – Polar Bridge, The Soviet Canadian Trans-Arctic Expedition
Completed his 7th journey to the North Pole, starting from land, 2010
Completed the Steger International Polar Expedition in 1986
Completed 1988 Polar Bridge Expedition
Completed 1993 North Pole Dash,  first commercial North Pole Expedition
Completed 1995 Weber-Malakhov Expedition; first and only unsupported trek to the North Pole and back
Completed North Pole classic 2006, unsupported
2009 Guinness World speed record to the South Pole; 2010 Guinness World speed record to the North Pole
Two Meritorious Service Medals 
Three medals from Russian and Soviet governments 
Member of Canada’s National Cross Country Ski Team for seven years
Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Vermont

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