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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: Barren-Ground Caribou

Published: January 4, 2020


By Mark Seth Lender


Inuit hunters Jason and Paul search for caribou. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender shares reflections on the warming Arctic, oil and gas development there, and the impacts on caribou and the Inuit people.

Every Inuit I have ever asked about climate talked only about wind. It’s changed, they say. A change in the wind means a change in sea ice. It makes things unpredictable. If the sea ice breaks up when you’re on it, it is your death.

The unpredictable weathers are doing the caribou no good. All change is bad for them.

But most of the problem right now is not the chaos in the climate but direct human disturbance, exploration for oil and mining, the roads that follow, the extraction itself and all these activities entail. In 2016 the government of Nunavut – over the objections of local Inuit hunters – decided to expand extractive enterprise into the midst of the Qamanirjuaq Herd calving area. As one of the objectors said, “Mining comes and mining goes. The Caribou have been here thousands of years.”

The great Canadian caribou herds are in precipitous decline. The George River Caribou, once 800,000 strong, has fallen to perhaps 8500 and yet the indigenous governments of the affected provinces, notably Labrador, refuse to have them listed as “Endangered.” As of this writing (Fall 2019) the Porcupine Herd is holding its own in large part because calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are protected. In a matter of weeks that protection will cease, and the oilmen will begin their dirty work.

Listen to Mark Seth Lender read his Barren-Ground Caribou essay

Mark Seth Lender's website

Mark’s fieldwork and travel are arranged by Destination: Wildlife.

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