Bumble bee in Fort Smith, NWT (Photo:  Jody Pellissey, WRRB) Bumble bee in Fort Smith, NWT (Photo: Jody Pellissey, WRRB)

NWT Species at Risk Update

The WRRB met with other members of the Conference of Management Authorities (CMA) in Fort Smith, NWT, on May 2-4, 2017 to discuss a number of wildlife species including barren-ground and boreal caribou, grizzly bears, wood bison and bats.  At the meeting, the CMA reviewed the NWT Species at Risk Committee (SARC)’s 2017 assessments of the status of grizzly bear, five bat species, Porcupine and barren-ground caribou in the NWT. 

Photo:  Group photo.  CMA members in Fort Smith.  WRRB Executive Director and CMA Chair Jody Pellissey is at far left in the front row.

CMA Decision on Adding Wood Bison to the NWT List of Species at Risk

In April 2017, the CMA decided to add Wood Bison to the NWT’s Species at Risk list as a Threatened species.  Wood bison face a number of serious threats in the NWT, including infectious disease, habitat loss, predation and human-caused mortality. In addition, their overall population size in the NWT is quite small (an estimated 2,500 animals in total) and there is clear evidence of population decline.  Read more

The CMA presented its signed consensus agreement to the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) on April 13, 2017.  The Minister is required to add wood bison to the NWT List of Species at Risk within three months of receiving the consensus agreement.  Once listed as ‘threatened’, a recovery strategy must be developed for wood bison within two years. 

SARC 2017 Species Assessments

Based on the best available traditional, community, and scientific knowledge, SARC met in April, 2017 and assessed the grizzly bear, little brown myotis and northern myotis as species of special concern in the NWT.  It also assessed barren-ground caribou (Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East, Bathurst, Beverly, Ahiak, and Qamanirjuaq herds) as threatened in the NWT. 

SARC considered Porcupine caribou separately as a geographically distinct population and assessed it as not at risk in the NWT, but recommended these caribou be considered for re-assessment if there is evidence of any future declines.  The Porcupine caribou herd’s range includes northern Alaska, northern Yukon and the northwest edge of the NWT. 

This map shows the barren-ground caribou herds that are entirely or partially in the NWT.  Note that range distribution for each herd is dynamic and changes slightly annually. 


Range of barren-ground caribou herds derived from satellite data. This map is provided for illustrative purposes only.  GNWT / ENR

Grizzly bears were assessed as special concern based on their small numbers, their low reproductive rates, their need for large home ranges and winter dens, and other factors, all of which make them vulnerable to the effects of threats, such as habitat loss, and less resilient.

Little brown myotis (sometimes called the little brown bat) and northern myotis (sometimes called the northern bat) were assessed as special concern because of their high vulnerability to the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome. White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that has wiped out populations of bats elsewhere in North America, and could reach the NWT in one or two decades.  

Barren-ground caribou were assessed as threatened because of dramatic population declines in most herds and multiple threats, including climate change, predation, industrial development, and forest fires. These threats and others interact with each other and add up over time to create cumulative effects which are considered unprecedented. 

Consultations for Proposed Listing of Species

Before the CMA decides whether a species should be added to the NWT List of Species at Risk, each of its members will consult with the communities in its jurisdiction.  The WRRB and the Tłı̨chǫ Government, for example, will meet with community members in each of the Tłı̨chǫ communities in Fall 2017 to share information and  to hear people’s comments.  Fact sheets have been prepared for each of the species that is being considered for listing as a species at risk. They provide information on the species, its status assessment, what’s next in the Species at Risk process, frequently asked questions and other questions to focus discussion during consultations.     

You can read the fact sheets for the species that are found in Wek’èezhìı here:

Barren-ground Caribou

Grizzly Bear

Little Brown Myotis

For more information, NWT status reports and assessments of these species can be found here

Tour of Wood Buffalo National Park

A special event was also planned for CMA members –a tour of a red-sided garter snake hibernaculum (a winter den for hibernation) and a hike around a karstland loop in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Photo:  Garter snake.  The Red-sided garter snake is known to occur only in the Fort Smith area.  In fact, these garter snakes are the furthest north that reptiles are found in Canada.  (Jody Pellissey, WRRB)

Photo: karst landscape.  Karst landforms are created by water sinking and circulating underground, eroding bedrock and over the course of thousands of years, leaving behind caves, natural bridges, and sinkholes.  These crevices and caves provide ideal places and temperatures for hibernating Red-sided garter snakes.  (Jody Pellissey, WRRB)

FACT BOX:  What’s in a Name?  Little Brown Myotis and Northern Myotis

  • Both little brown myotis and northern myotis species belong to the same scientific genus “Myotis” (mouse-eared bats).  Little brown myotis’s full scientific name is Myotis lucifugus.  Not surprisingly, it has brown fur, darker on the back than the undersides. The northern myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) looks very much like the little brown myotis, but has longer ears, a longer tail, and a larger wing area.
  • Their species names are also interesting.  “Lucifugus” is Latin for “fleeing the light” and “septentrionalis” is Latin for “of the north; boreal”.  The latter name includes the Latin word “septem” or “seven”.  In this case, it refers to the seven stars of the Big Dipper which dominate the skies of the North. 

FACT BOX:  NWT Species at Risk Committee (SARC)

  • SARC, established by the Species at Risk (NWT) Act, is an independent committee of experts responsible for assessing the biological status of species at risk in the NWT.
  • Moise Rabesca is the WRRB’s appointed representative on SARC.  Moise sits as an expert from the Tłı̨chǫ knowledge perspective.
  • Boyan Tracz, Wildlife Management Biologist for the WRRB, serves as an Alternate on SARC. 
  • Details of SARC’s 2017 assessments and more information on grizzly bears, bats, and barren-ground caribou can be found on the NWT species at risk website:  www.nwtspeciesatrisk.ca
  • For more information on SARC’s activities, here’s the latest SARC annual report.

FACT BOX:  NWT Conference of Management Authorities (CMA)

  • The members of the CMA are the wildlife co-management boards and governments that share management responsibility for species at risk in the NWT.
  • CMA members work together to make consensus decisions on listing, conserving, managing, and recovering species that may be at risk of disappearing from the NWT.
  • Jody Pellissey, Executive Director for the WRRB, is the CMA Chair.  Grant Pryznyk, WRRB Chair, is a CMA member. 
  • For more information on the CMA’s activities, here is the latest CMA annual report