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By Joseph Hosmer, Chair; Paul Babaz and Ed Curtis, Vice-Chairs

The continued and rapid decline of Newfoundland's woodland caribou population, island-wide, has biologists concerned about the survival of the species. Caribou numbers have dropped more than sixty percent in the past eleven years, resulting in reduced annual harvest quotas and even closure of hunting in some herds. The Avalon herd was closed a few years ago and the Grey River herd will be closed to hunting this fall.

In response to this decline, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced their investment of $15.3 million towards a new five-year predator/prey research and management strategy. This announcement in February of 2008 represents the largest conservation initiative in the history of woodland caribou, and one of the largest in the history of North American wildlife management.

Safari Club International members voiced their serious concern of the declining caribou herds and in the past year helped initiate a partnership with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. SCI Foundation has recently committed $250,000 to the government's predator/prey research and management strategy. Additionally, SCI Foundation, currently the only NGO involved, has been invited to participate on the project's research advisory panel.

This focused research on predator/prey relationships will help clarify the influence predators have on caribou recruitment. Previous studies have shown that predators are the primary cause of the caribou population decline. In the 1980s and 90s, calf survivorship was between 60-70 percent. More recent information indicates that less than 10 percent of collared calves are surviving past one year of age and calf survivorship has dropped to near zero in some areas of Newfoundland. Predators such as black bears, lynx, and coyotes are identified as being responsible for the majority of calf predation-related mortality.

Sophisticated radio-telemetry and GPS equipment will be used to determine the causes of mortality and survivorship of caribou adults and calves. GPS collars will also be deployed on predators, including bears, lynx and coyotes. Behavior and habitat use of both caribou and their predators will also be monitored throughout the experiment.

Information from this research will guide decision-makers on the extent of intervention needed to proactively improve calf survivorship by reducing the influence of predation.

Understanding the relationship between predators and prey is essential for wildlife managers to make science based decisions with managing wildlife. This is the fundamental concept engrained in the SCI Foundation North American Conservation approach.