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Snowmobilers Not Responsible For Caribou Decline: Outfitters

Published online: Dec 28, 2011 News
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By The Western Star

Deer Lake, Newfoundland and Labrador - Local outfitters suggest different reasons for the decline in caribou numbers, but snowmobiling, they say, is not one of them.

A recent column in the St. John's Telegram suggests that disturbance by snowmobiles are playing a role in the declining numbers of woodland caribous because they have to dig down through the snow to find food in winter.

When they are disturbed, they have to move on and start over again, wearing them down and making them more susceptible to predators.

The column mentions that some are stating coyotes as the reason for the decline.

Howley outfitter Ray Broughton is one of those. He maintains these are not your average coyotes from the American southwest. In fact, he said, they aren't 100 per cent coyote.

"What we have here is a hybrid coyote that has bred with the eastern timber wolf, " he said. "We've taken coyotes upwards of 65 pounds, so to me they aren't coyotes, they're little wolves, this is a very efficient predator."

He said these types of coyotes prey on caribou in much greater numbers are able to kill a lot more than they would if they were regular coyotes, which weigh much less.

"If it's the snowmobilers, to me on a scale from one to 10, I'd give it a one in terms of effect (on caribou)" he said. "Maybe there could be a factor from the weekend cowboys and the young riders with high performance machines but even then, not much."

Daniel's Harbour outfitter Leander Brophy said he doesn't believe snowmobiling has much of an effect as well, and blames government interference for the declining numbers.

"They let the population get too high, they were protecting them and it turned into overprotection," he said. "They were not issuing enough licences and (the caribou) overgrazed and overfed."

Brophy said the coyotes aren't helping, and bears are a factor as well.

"The government is talking about a high mortality rate on calves and fawns, and the ones they're collaring, it's averaging out to 50 per cent bear kill and 50 per cent coyote kill," he said. "There are snowmobilers are chasing them, I don't agree with them doing that, but in my opinion it's overgrazing that is killing off the caribou."

Government reports show the coyote may have showed up in Newfoundland as late as 1985, and a coyote carcass was first discovered in 1987 in Deer Lake according to one government publication that was released in 2006.

"Coyotes range of expansion have gone from the United States all the way up here, how did they got here is a good question," he said. "Since 1985 the population has just exploded."

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