America’s Last Woodland Caribou Herd Is Down to Just Three Animals
By Jason Bittel
Most people associate reindeer with the North Pole. And it's true, the animals also known as caribou tend to live in remote, wintry landscapes most Americans will never see. But did you know that caribou once roamed as far south as Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont and New York? And that the Selkirk woodland caribou herd still spends part of each year in Idaho and Washington?
Well, three of them do. Because that is all that remains of the Selkirks. By next week, next month or next year, the Lower 48's last remaining reindeer could be gone forever, making a sad irony of the animal's nickname, the "gray ghost."
Several kinds of caribou inhabit the world's northern stretches (see "Mapping a Future for Boreal Caribou"), but the ones that spend time in the Pacific Northwest belong to an endangered subspecies commonly known as woodland caribou. This spring, aerial surveys confirmed that only three females remain in the Selkirk herd, named for the mountains that span the border between British Columbia and Washington. There were around 12 individuals in 2016, down from 50 in 2009.
Even if each of the Selkirk trio is pregnant—and there's no evidence to suggest that this is true—the herd is a whisper away from disappearing forever.
Worse still, just two weeks after the approaching demise of the Selkirk herd became public, researchers announced that another group, known as the South Purcells herd, found a bit to the north in British Columbia, are in similar straits. Aerial counts identified just four individuals (three females and a male), where last year there were 16. "When you get in a situation of such small herds, it's not unusual to expect a dramatic decline at some point," said Chris Johnson, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Northern British Columbia.
Sadly, this is not the first time a caribou herd has died out. Over the past decade, Johnson, who lives in the city of Prince George, watched this happen with two other caribou herds practically in his own backyard. "We saw it coming," he said. "They got smaller, smaller, smaller. And then you go and do a survey, and it's like, 'Hey, look at that. They're gone.'"
A similar fate befell the woodland caribou herd in Alberta's Banff National Park. The herd dwindled to a point where a single avalanche wiped out its last remaining members in 2009. Poof.
The losses aren't so surprising, said Candace Batycki, a program director for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, given what the animals face as they travel across their range. Their fate is the culmination of several ecological threats—deforestation, habitat fragmentation, climate change—occurring across Canada. "Here we have an animal that roams around, uses different habitats, is always on the move, doesn't really do well with roads, needs old growth forests, and is very, very shy," she said.
Woodland caribou once enjoyed the protection that dense forestlands provided them from wolves and mountain lions. The subspecies ranges about in much smaller groups than their cousins on the tundra, which roll hundreds of thousands deep on the open plains. This makes snagging a woodland caribou as a snack much more difficult, and the animals' ability to forage through deep snow dissuades many predators from even bothering with them.
But these days, timber, mining, and oil and gas operations have punched holes in the gray ghosts' habitat, letting in competitors like moose and deer as well as predators. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, as much as 70 percent of Alberta's oil sands reserves are found within caribou habitats. In 2014, the Canadian government enacted a species recovery plan that set aside more than five million acres of mountainous caribou habitat. Unfortunately, Johnson said, the valleys below these high mountain escapes are "really chopped up" by logging and residential areas. Protecting large expanses of boreal forest, however, is definitely a step in the right direction, especially since other conservation approaches are falling short.
As the habitat degradation continues, some other strategies have tried to help woodland caribou by actively removing predators from their habitat and by capturing and relocating pregnant females into maternity pens, which provide some safety until the offspring are big and strong enough for the wild. Maternity pens, however, are labor- and resource-intensive affairs—and are not sure bets. The whole catch-and-release process can jack up the animals' stress levels, which may cause low birth weights. In 2014, just two out of nine calves survived their time in a pen in Revelstoke, Canada. In 2016, that number rose to four out of ten. While those odds may still beat the 20 percent to 25 percent survival rate calves experience in the wild, at least one environmental group said the pens cause more harm than good.
Of course, setting up maternity pens for the Selkirk herd at this point would be like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Sadly, unless the herd is combined with another—an idea that has received a fair amount of talk for years—its three remaining females will be the last woodland caribou to tread below the Canadian border.
But the Selkirks and other lost woodland herds needn't die out for nothing. Their losses send a message on how to save the rest of their kind, the continent's remaining 51 woodland caribou herds. Their survival requires intact forests within which to roam, hide, and thrive. The answer, in fact, is quite obvious. Woodland caribou need woodlands.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
- Taiwanese Humpback Dolphin Gets Protected Under U.S. ... ›
- Wolves Are Losing Ground to Industrial Logging in Southeast Alaska ›
- New Doc on Nearly Extinct Vaquita Features Sea Shepherd ›
- What’s Really Behind Dwindling Numbers of Woodland Caribou? - EcoWatch ›
A rare yellow penguin has been photographed for what is believed to be the first time.
- World-Renowned Photographer Documents Most Remote ... ›
- This Penguin Colony Has Fallen by 77% on Antarctic Islands ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Stuart Braun
We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.
But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.
- Could IKEA's New Tiny House Help Fight the Climate Crisis ... ›
- Los Angeles City-Owned Buildings to Go 100% Carbon Free ... ›
- New Jersey Will Be First State to Require Building Permits to ... ›
By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.