Caribou population and distribution




Caribou are important ecologically and culturally. Many people in Yukon rely on caribou for subsistence and spiritual well-being. Conserving and protecting key caribou habitat—rutting areas, migration corridors and winter range—is important for herd health and abundance.

Caribou herds that cross jurisdictional boundaries require a coordinated approach to their management. For example, the Porcupine caribou herd has a range which covers Yukon, Alaska, and the Northwest Territories.


Woodland caribou. Cameron Eckert.



What is happening?


There are two subspecies of caribou in Yukon: woodland and barren-ground caribou.

Woodland caribou
  • In 2014, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada designated all woodland caribou in Yukon as a Species of Special Concern.
  • Of the 26 woodland caribou herds present in Yukon, two are increasing in size, 11 are considered relatively stable and three are declining.
  • The declines in Yukon herds and across the circumpolar north may be due to environmental changes, natural population cycles, or human influences such as harvest and development.
  • Population trends are unknown for 10 of the woodland caribou herds.
  • The Ibex caribou herd is expanding its range to the north, south and west. Information collected by the Department of Environment and by members of the public indicates that this herd is now being seen in areas where it has not been observed for many decades, particularly west of Kusawa Lake.
Barren-ground caribou
  • In Yukon, all of the barren-ground caribou herds, Fortymile, Nelchina and Porcupine, are increasing in size.
  • In the winter of 2012/13, the Fortymile caribou herd dramatically increased its Yukon range, substantially expanding its recent range both east and north. This movement of Fortymile caribou into Yukon was unprecedented and it remains to be seen whether it will be a regular or one-time occurrence. At roughly the same time, the Nelchina herd also began moving into Yukon during the winter months. Its range in Yukon overlaps significantly with the Fortymile herd.


Figure 1: Distribution of caribou herds in Yukon, 2014



Taking action


  • The Department of Environment monitors several caribou herds each year in order to assess overall status and trends.
  • A recovery plan for woodland caribou populations has been developed under the federal Species at Risk Act.
  • Harvest management plans are also developed for the Fortymile and Porcupine caribou herds in collaboration with co-management partners.

Data quality

  • Caribou herd population status is usually determined through aerial surveys.
  • The Government of Yukon has modified its approach over the past few years to use aerial surveys in combination with collared or marked animals.
  • This approach has increased the precision of population estimates as well as provided additional information on seasonal ranges and habitat use.


Collared caribou are key for monitoring the Fortymile caribou herd. Scott Cameron.