Climate change and terrestrial wildlife management in the Canadian North

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This is Section 11.3.2 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Lead Author: David R. Klein; Contributing Authors: Leonid M. Baskin, Lyudmila S. Bogoslovskaya, Kjell Danell, Anne Gunn, David B. Irons, Gary P. Kofinas, Kit M. Kovacs, Margarita Magomedova, Rosa H. Meehan, Don E. Russell, Patrick Valkenburg

Historical conditions and present status (11.3.2.1)

In comparison to ecosystems at lower latitudes in Canada most ecosystems in the Canadian Arctic are considered functionally intact, although the consequences for marine ecosystems of contaminants introduced from industrial activity to the south and climate-induced thawing are not known. Most threats typical for elsewhere in the world – such as habitat loss through agriculture, industry, and urbanization – are localized. Introduced species primarily associated with agriculture at lower latitudes are scarce, or largely confined to areas near communities. Invasive wildlife species from the south, such as moose and snowshoe hares, are primarily restricted to the tundra–forest interface. Within most arctic ecosystems, resource use through hunting is the most conspicuous influence that people have on wildlife with the exception of localized resource extraction and expanding tourism. Among the factors that can influence arctic wildlife, hunting is potentially the most manageable and its quantitative assessment needed for management is feasible. Although hunting is not currently considered a threat to terrestrial wildlife in the Canadian Arctic, it has recently interacted with other factors such as weather to locally reduce caribou abundance on, for example, some arctic islands[1]. Managed hunting is considered an important part of wildlife conservation through its emphasis on sustainability of harvest. Hunting, however, poses a threat when it causes or contributes to undesired declines or through interaction with other species with detrimental consequences. The latter is especially relevant in marine systems where knowledge of ecosystem relationships and processes are less well understood than they are for terrestrial systems. Hunting remains inextricably part of the long relationship between indigenous people of the Arctic and their environment, and they see themselves as part of the arctic ecosystems within which they dwell[2].

Fluctuations in caribou numbers over decades in the Canadian Arctic have been a frequently reiterated observation in indigenous knowledge (e.g., [3]), and this parallels archaeological evidence from western Greenland[4]. The increased hunting that followed European colonization, with the introduction of firearms and commercial hunting, accentuated or over-rode natural fluctuations in caribou numbers and contributed to the so-called caribou crisis of low numbers between 1949 and 1955[5]. Subsequently, the herds of barren-ground caribou increased five-fold. The number of caribou on the mainland tundra in four of the largest herds (Bathurst, Beverly, Qamanirjuaq, and Bluenose) was estimated at 1.4 million in the mid-1990s and numbers are believed to be remaining relatively stable.

Historically, muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) were sufficiently numerous to be an important part of the indigenous culture on the mid-arctic islands, but were less so on the mainland until a brief pulse in commercial hunting for hides in the late 1800s and early 1900s[6]. However, sharp declines in muskox numbers on the Northwest Territories (NWT) mainland followed unregulated commercial trade in muskox hides. Muskox numbers quickly collapsed and within 30 years only a handful of scattered herds remained on the mainland. Muskox hunting was banned between 1917 and 1967, after which populations had started to recover by the 1970s when subsistence hunting was resumed under quotas. Numbers of muskoxen in the NWT and Nunavut have been recently estimated at about 100,000 on the arctic islands and about 20,000 on the mainland[7].

Hunting was not the cause of all known historic wildlife declines – muskoxen virtually disappeared from Banks and western Victoria Islands in the late 1800s, before European influences. Inuvialuit elders have memory from their youth of an icing storm that encased vegetation in ice and many muskoxen died on Banks Island[8]. Muskox numbers rebounded on Banks Island from a few hundred to 3,000 by 1972 and to 64000 by 2001[9].

The number of polar bears killed by hunters increased with European exploration and trading in the Canadian Arctic. Hunting for hides was not significant until the 1950s when prices climbed in response to market demands. Snow-machines were becoming available in the 1960s, leading to increased hunting and stimulating international concern over sustainability of the polar bear harvest. In 1968, regulations imposed quotas to reduce hunting of polar bears. Canada has about 14,800 polar bears of the entire arctic population of 25,000 to 30,000 bears[10].

Present wildlife management arrangements and co-management (11.3.2.2)

The federal and territorial governments responded to the wildlife declines in the NWT during the first half of the 20th century with well-meaning but mostly poorly explained regulations that restricted hunting. These regulations largely ignored local knowledge and emphasized hunting as a threat, which alienated indigenous hunters and left them feeling bitter. Those feelings still influence discussions about hunting, although changes in management practices as a result of establishing new management regimes in recent years may be reducing mistrust[11].

Co-management is a type of regime that has emerged in response to such conditions of conflict and mistrust to shift power and responsibility to boards comprising wildlife users, as well as government representatives. Co-management agreements establish boards of user representatives and agency managers, and typically have authority for wildlife management subject to conservation, public safety, and public health interests. Although overall authority for management is vested in the appropriate government ministry and/or indigenous governing organization, co-management boards make day-to-day decisions on wildlife and are valuable in assessing problems, achieving regional consensus, and making recommendations to user communities, management agencies, and government policy-makers. Co-management potentially helps to ensure that indigenous ecological knowledge is included in wildlife management, although there is debate over its effectiveness in this regard[12]. Under land claims legislation, the territorial government determines a total allowable harvest using species-specific methods and recommends to the boards the allowable harvest for species that are regulated. If the total allowable harvest exceeds the basic needs levels, then the surplus can be allocated to non-beneficiaries or for commercial wildlife harvest, including sale of meat and guided hunts for non-resident sport/trophy hunters.

The NWT and Nunavut territorial governments use a variety of methods for determining allowable harvest. Differences in methodology are a complex of practicality, species life history, and management history. For caribou and muskox harvest management, pragmatic flexibility often takes precedence over application of theory[13]. Aerial surveys are used to track caribou and muskox population trends. For barren-ground caribou, the survey findings have not been used to limit subsistence hunting, although they have been used to set quotas for commercial use. In a few instances, communities voluntarily took action to reduce hunting on some arctic islands, based on hunter reports of decline in caribou numbers. In contrast to caribou, muskoxen are hunted under an annual quota based on a 3 to 5% harvest of the total muskoxen estimated within the management unit. The local community decides whether the quota is for subsistence or commercial use.

Managing polar bears has taken a different direction from managing caribou and muskoxen, at least partly because tracking polar bear abundance is logistically difficult and prohibitively expensive. The total allowable harvest is based on modeling the maximum number of female bears that can be taken without causing a population decline[14]. The flexible quota system, allowing sex-selective hunting, assumes that the sustainable annual harvest of adult females (greater than two years of age) is 1.6% of the estimated population, and that males can be harvested at twice that rate. Within the total annual quota, each community is allocated a maximum number of males and females. If the quota of females killed is exceeded, the total quota for the subsequent year is reduced by the exceeded amount. During the period 1995–1996 to 1999–2000 the average annual harvest of polar bears in Canadian territories, combined with harvest statistics reported in Alaska and Greenland, was 623 animals while the sustainable harvest estimate was 608[15]. Communities and territorial governments developed and jointly signed Local Management Agreements in the mid-1990s that provide background, provide for use of both scientific and traditional knowledge, and provide the procedure for estimating population size and establishing the annual harvest quota.

Progress has also been made in developing co-management for other marine mammals, notably the small whales in the eastern and western Canadian Arctic. Conservation and management of the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) in Alaska and the NWT is through the Alaskan and Inuvialuit Beluga Whale Committee, which includes representatives from communities and governments as well as technical advisors[16]. However, only representatives from beluga hunting communities vote on hunting issues. In the eastern Arctic less progress has been made toward co-management for narwhal (Monodon monoceros) partly because of a failure to involve fully the Inuit hunters[17]. Advisory and co-management boards and agreements are not necessarily a guarantee of widespread hunter support[18]. Klein et al.[19] compared caribou management under the Beverly–Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board with management of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd in Alaska through a statewide Board of Game. They concluded that information was not flowing effectively from user representatives on the co-management board to the user communities, thus the users did not feel as involved in management of the caribou as in Alaska where regionally based biologists collecting data for management had more interaction with the users.

How do co-management arrangements help to meet the goals of sustainability in conditions of climate change? Experience with Canadian co-management arrangements demonstrates that these systems can be critical tools for tracking the trends in climate change, reducing human vulnerabilities, and facilitating optimal human adaptation to impacts in single-species management. Trust relations growing from formal co-management arrangements also provide conditions from which innovative ecological monitoring and research involving local/traditional knowledge and science add to the system’s capacity to cope with change. In short, a focus on biological aspects of wildlife management should be complemented with institutional considerations to understand their full effectiveness in addressing the possible impacts of climate change.

Co-management is defined both with respect to institutional features of an arrangement[20] as well as by outcome of sharing of decision-making authority by local communities of resource users and agencies in the management of common pool resources[21]. Power-sharing arrangements can emerge through informal relations between parties (e.g., regional biologists and local hunters), as a result of formal agreements, or, as is most common, from a combination of de jure and de facto relations. Structures for co-management of wildlife therefore differ from conventional state resource management systems in which decision-making is bureaucratically organized and driven primarily by the principles of scientific management. As well, co-management differs from local control in which a resource user community pursues self-determination, largely independent of external parties. In practice, these arrangements result in considerable latitude in the range of authority and responsibility exercised by resource users[22].

In the Canadian Arctic, formal co-management has become a common feature of the political landscape either through constitutionally entrenched land-claims agreements or as stand-alone arrangements. Implementation is typically directed through boards of users and agency representatives that are advisory to government ministers, agencies, local communities, and various indigenous governance bodies. In most cases, co-management agreements have been struck to specify community rights to hunting and provide a meaningful role for indigenous subsistence users in management decision-making. In several cases they have proven critical in achieving compliance when facing scarcity of resource stocks (e.g., Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) of Banks Island and co-management system of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement).

What is the significance of co-management to sustainability? Meeting the goals of sustainability requires that resource managers, local communities, and other parties cooperate in resource management. These management functions typically include ecological monitoring and impact assessment, research, communication between parties, policy-making, and enforcement. As a part of this process, there is a need for adequate and integrated knowledge at multiple scales of population regulators, habitat relationships, and potential impacts of human activity, including harvesting, on the population[23]

Hunting as a threat to wildlife conservation (11.3.2.3)

Hunting can become a threat to wildlife conservation if population size changes unpredictably in response to environmental perturbations or density dependent changes (unless the population size is closely monitored and hunting is adjusted quickly). Most large mammals in the Arctic are relatively long-lived and thus somewhat resilient to interannual environmental variability that may result in loss of a single age class through breeding failure or heavy mortality of young animals. However, extreme conditions such as icing of vegetation or deep snows restricting access to forage may result in near total mortality across age classes[24] or rarely, regional extirpation of populations or subspecies[25]. Muskoxen are large-bodied grazers capable of using low-quality forage during winter and with a predominantly conservative lifestyle. Thus, they are adapted to buffering some of the consequences of variable weather and forage supplies[26]. Caribou, in their much greater range of latitudinal distribution (muskoxen are rarely found in the boreal forests) are less strongly coupled as a species by feedback loops to their forage[27]. However, their more energetic life style, associated with their morphology and behavior, predisposes them to feeding selectively for high-quality forage, necessitating extensive movements and often long seasonal migrations between the barren grounds and the boreal forests[28]. Long migrations may be an evolutionary strategy that buffers localized variables in forage quality and availability, which may be weather-related. Icing of vegetation in winter and fires on winter ranges in summer are examples of these weather-related influences on winter forage availability. Caribou are vulnerable to other aspects of weather that affect quality and availability of forage on calving grounds, the level of insect harassment and parasitism, and in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, freedom of inter-island movement. In the northernmost arctic islands, environmental variability becomes more significant as many processes are near their limits of variability, such as plant growth, which plays a large role in determining herbivore reproduction and survival. Consequently, annual variation in population attributes such as pregnancy rates and calf survival is high. For example, Thomas[29] documented annual pregnancy rates of between 0 and 80% for Peary caribou and the range in calf production and survival between 1982 and 1998 was 23 to 76 calves per 100 cows for caribou on Banks Island[30]. The amount of environmental variability may exceed the capability of large mammals to buffer changes and lead to unexpected surges in recruitment or mortality. Rate of population change and size will be more unpredictable and thus hunting will be at more risk of being out of phase with the population trend. Changes in caribou numbers on Banks Island is an example of hunting accelerating a decline likely to have already been underway in response to an environmental change (severe snow winters). Caribou declined from 11,000 in 1972 to perhaps less than 1,000[31].

North of Banks Island is the range of the Peary caribou, which are only found on Canada’s high-arctic islands. Trends in Peary caribou numbers are only available from the western high-arctic islands where numbers have fluctuated within a long-term decline from 26,000 in 1961 to 1,000 by 1997[32]. In 1991, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada classified caribou on the high-arctic and Banks islands as Endangered based on the steep population declines during the 1970s and 1980s.This was believed to have been caused by climatic extremes – warmer than usual autumn storms causing dense snow and icing, which limit access to forage[33].

Institutional circumstances that may lead to wildlife vulnerability to hunting start with limitations in the ability to detect population declines. Detecting declines in caribou or muskox numbers partly depends on recognizing trends in population size[34]. The aim is to conduct regular surveys, but high costs and large survey areas have increased survey intervals to the extent that population changes have been missed. For example, the inter-island caribou population of Prince of Wales and Somerset Islands was considered to be relatively stable between 1974 and 1980 (estimated at 5,000 caribou in 1980). In the early 1990s, Inuit hunters reported seeing fewer caribou on those two islands, which triggered a survey, but not until 1995. The survey revealed that caribou had declined to less than 100[35].

 

caption Fig. 11.4. Throughout the Arctic, traditional modes of transport (a) have been largely replaced by mechanized all-terrain vehicles (b) that permit people in many regions of the Arctic to range more widely for subsistence hunting. While this spreads wildlife harvest over greater areas it also requires more extensive survey of the status of wildlife populations as a basis for wildlife management. (Source: Photograph by D.R. Klein)

 

Problems with detecting population declines are not just technical. Hunters frequently distrust survey techniques and disbelieve the results, especially when declines in caribou are reported[36], but the same may be true for muskoxen and hunted whales[37]. Disbelief stems from historical relationships that have involved poor communication, as well as cultural differences in relying on abstract concepts and numbers as opposed to personal observation. Further differences arise over interpretation of factors causing declines – for example, whether caribou have moved away from the survey area or whether numbers declined because deaths exceeded births[38]. However, merging information derived from scientific investigation and existing weather records with information gleaned from indigenous hunters is increasingly employed as a tool in monitoring wildlife population response to climate change[39].

Socio-economic factors can affect the vulnerability of wildlife to hunting. The two territories of NWT and Nunavut have been described as having a "Fourth World" economy[40] with the indigenous population often forming enclaves within the larger communities that are economically dominated by the North American society. The growing human population in the north, nevertheless, remains heavily dependent on hunting and fishing[41]. At present, wage earning provides the cash needed for the purchase and operation of equipment and supplies necessary for hunting and fishing, which have become highly dependent on mechanized transport[42] (Fig. 11.4), which in turn creates the need for at least part-time work. However, wage-earning opportunities are relatively limited, shifting the emphasis to commercial use of wildlife and fisheries, but the distinction between subsistence and commercial use is by no means simple. In West Greenland, for example, small-scale sales of minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and fin whales (B. physalus) were considered necessary to maintain cash flow to purchase supplies for subsistence hunting[43]. But managing for commercial use that is not focused on maximizing profits is inconsistent with systems for management of commercial harvest. Clark[44] explained the economic rationale for the ease with which commercial harvesting can lead to over-harvesting, especially for long-lived species with low rates of reproduction.

Finally, a mixture of concern and defensiveness exists in response to "outside" (i.e., southern Canada and elsewhere) views or opinions about wildlife harvest and management. In a workshop on future action over the endangered Peary caribou, this was recognized as a serious issue[45], especially in the context of allowing caribou hunting while considering reduction of wolf predation through translocations or other predator control methods. Response to "outside" opinions stems partly from previous experience with some organized animal rights activists and some who see hunting as a threat to animal welfare or conservation. Indigenous hunters, who view their dependency on local resources as sustainable in contrast to the heavy dependency by southern urban dwellers on nonrenewable resources, perceive such urban-based organizations as a threat to their way of life. This view has proven to be the case, for example in the movement against seal hunting that led to the European Common Market’s ban on seal skins, which resulted in a substantial loss of income from sealskins in some Inuit communities[46].

Additional threats to wildlife conservation (11.3.2.4)

The risk that hunting can become unsustainable and cause or contribute to population declines may lie in the unexpected[47]. The unexpected ranges from shortcomings in data collection or predictive models, to environmental changes accumulating in unanticipated ways not encompassed by traditional knowledge. Within this context, this includes threats to wildlife from outside the Arctic, such as atmospheric transfer of contaminants and climate change, even if there is uncertainty as to how those threats may unfold in practice. However, management of use of wildlife and associated conservation of wildlife is most difficult in the absence of available methods to monitor both the harvest levels and the status of the populations that are harvested.

Global climate change and the atmospheric transport of contaminants are factors that are already affecting some arctic populations. Global warming in the near future is projected to trigger a cascade of effects[48]. Evidence consistent with projections of global climate change in the western Arctic includes Inuvialuit reports of ecological changes such as the appearance of previously unknown birds and insects following trends of warmer weather[49]. Along the mainland central arctic coast, Inuit are expressing concerns for the deaths of caribou crossing sea ice as freeze-up is later and break-up earlier than before[50].

Sustainability of wildlife for hunting can be affected by influences of climate change on the hunted populations. For example, an increased difficulty in finding winter forage is likely for caribou on the western arctic islands if warmer temperatures bring a greater frequency of freezing rain and deeper snow. Annual snowfall for the western high Arctic increased during the 1990s and the three heaviest snowfall winters coincided with Peary caribou numbers on Bathurst Island dropping from 3,000 to an estimated 75 caribou between 1994 and 1997. Muskoxen declined by 80% during the same three winters[51].

Atmospheric and aquatic transport of contaminants has resulted in contaminants reaching detectable levels in arctic wildlife[52], although effects on population ecology are poorly understood. Although many contaminants that may be detrimental to living organisms are of anthropogenic origin, many derive from natural sources. Persistent organochlorine compounds are carried in the atmosphere, but cadmium is almost entirely from natural sources and mercury is from ocean degassing, natural breakdown, and atmospheric and anthropogenic sources[53]. Bioaccumulation of contaminants can reach levels in marine mammals that pose threats to humans who consume them, especially pregnant and lactating women and their infants (see Chapter 15).

If global warming imposes increased environmental stress on wildlife it is likely to interact with contaminants. For example polar bears, at the top of the marine food chain, accumulate contaminants by eating ringed seals (Phoca hispida) and other marine mammals. Relatively high levels of organochlorine compounds and metals are found in polar bears, with relatively strong regional patterns[54]. In female polar bears, although the existing body levels of organochlorine compounds may be sequestered effectively when fat reserves are high, the sequestration away from physiological pathways may be inadequate during a poor feeding season[55]. On western Hudson Bay, there is a trend for female bears to have less fat reserves as sea ice break-up occurs progressively earlier, forcing them ashore where they are required to fast for increasingly longer periods[56]. How contaminants in marine systems may change with a changing climate, and what may be the consequences for wildlife and the humans who consume wildlife is not understood, yet an understanding of the nature of the threats posed by contaminants in arctic systems and the processes and pathways involved is critical for the management and conservation of arctic wildlife.

 

Chapter 11. Management and Conservation of Wildlife in a Changing Arctic Environment
11.1 Introduction
11.2 Management and conservation of wildlife in the Arctic
11.3 Climate change and terrestrial wildlife management
    11.3.1 Russian Arctic and sub-Arctic
    11.3.2 The Canadian North
    11.3.3 The Fennoscandian North
    11.3.4 The Alaskan Arctic
11.4 Management and conservation of marine mammals and seabirds in the Arctic
11.5 Critical elements of wildlife management in an Arctic undergoing change

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Citation

Committee, I. (2013). Climate change and terrestrial wildlife management in the Canadian North. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbed447896bb431f690f68