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Canadian caribou species wins Endangered Species Act protection

The population of Dolphin and Union caribou has plunged 89% since 1997.

(CN) — Just in time for Christmas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday added two species of caribou or “reindeer” to its list of federally protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

Dolphin and Union caribou — also written as “Union-Dolphin caribou” — are a distinct population of barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) native to Canada. As such, the service’s endangered listing only restricts trade in Dolphin and Union caribou in the U.S. and no critical habitat has been designated.

Initially, the service proposed to list the species as threatened, but new information highlighted a 75% decline in the animal’s population between 2015 and 2018. This decline became evident again in 2020, only 3,800 animals remained — an 89% decrease from 1997 populations.

Climate change remains the biggest threat to the species, which migrate across sea ice from wintering grounds to calving grounds on Victoria Island. Many fall through the ice due to inadequate formation, and increased shipping activity doesn't help the species either as ships break apart sea ice and increase the risk of drowning.

“This listing reflects the growing extinction crisis and highlights the importance of the ESA and efforts to conserve species before population declines become irreversible,” said Fish and Wildlife Director Martha Williams in a statement. “Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world and addressing it is a priority challenge for the Administration.”

Hunting pressure also negatively affects the Dolphin and Union caribou, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. As of Jan. 12, 2023, all personal and commercial imports and exports, excluding those accompanied by permits for research and educational purposes, will be prohibited.

“I’m grateful that the service acknowledged Dolphin and Union caribou are at risk of extinction and gave the population the Endangered Species Act’s strongest protections,” said center scientist Dianne DuBois in a statement. “I hope the agency also uses every resource available to tackle the climate crisis and ensure these animals’ ancient migration for years to come.”

The final rule to list the Dolphin and Union caribou under the Endangered Species Act will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday.

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