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GRRB Wildlife Projects

Since the GRRB was established, we have been involved in various wildlife projects within the GSA. Most of the research we conduct is related to management issues or monitoring of wildlife in the GSA. Our staff is trained to conduct research projects and we also actively collaborate with partner agencies and organizations (Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories; Yukon Government; Parks Canada; Ducks Unlimited; Fisheries & Oceans Canada, etc.) and university researchers. 

Ongoing Projects

  • Dall Sheep, Grizzly Bear and Wolf Project
  • Furbearer Community-Based Monitoring
  • Small Mammal Transects
  • Hare Pellet Count Monitoring
  • Wolverine and Wolf Carcass Collection

Completed Projects (by species)

  • Barren-Ground Caribou
  • Woodland Caribou
  • Moose
  • Dall Sheep
  • Muskox
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Black Bear
  • Wolf
  • Wolverine
  • Furbearers
  • Small mammal (vole species, mice, etc.)
  • Snow-Shoe Hare
  • Waterfowl

For a complete listing of GRRB Wildlife and other WSF funded research projects, download the GRRB WSF Research Products 1993-2009 PDF (74Kb)

For a complete listing of GRRB-related Wildlife publications, visit the GRRB Wildlife Research Publications page.


Studies on Caribou in the Gwich'in Settlement Area

Mountain Caribou Survey in Northern Mackenzie Mountains (of the GSA)
In 2000, the GRRB undertook research into mountain caribou in the North Mackenzie Mountains by utilizing aerial surveys and ground classifications. In two aerial surveys, 450-550 caribou were observed and mixed groups of 20-100. The groups were located along the front mountain ranges between Cranswick River & Ramparts River. The ground survey observed 546 caribou with 360 successfully classified (of which ratios existed of 45 calves per 100 cows and 200 bulls per 100 cows). The study also discusses the low harvest levels of caribou, generally secure habitat, endangered species rankings and future research.

Fall Movements of Porcupine Caribou Herd near Dempster Highway in GSA
Porcupine caribou is the most important traditional food for subsistence by harvesters in the GSA. Thus, in order to keep their populations healthy, the Board researched their annual fall migration (to their winter range), centering on where they must cross the Dempster Highway southwest of Fort McPherson. Hunting practices in the area have created controversy and effected the herd's traditional migration routes. Controversy is based on concern that shooting the lead animals may cause the herd to change migration routes and possibly abandon their regular winter ranges.

Boreal Woodland Caribou Studies:

  • Boreal Woodland Caribou in Lower Mackenzie Valley:
    Between April 2002 and end of March 2003, the GRRB and Dept. of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (and in 2004 the University of Alberta joined the project) conducted a study into woodland caribou in the Lower Mackenzie Valley. The study was implemented due to the lack of scientific knowledge available, the threats to caribou habitat from oil & gas development, the potential for road & hydro development, increased tourism/human activity, forest fires and climate change. Seasonal movements and habitats are also discussed in the study.
  • Movements & Distribution of Boreal Woodland Caribou in Sahtu, Gwich'in and Inuvialuit Settlement Areas:
    The GRRB and Dept. of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (RWED) implemented a project to collect baseline ecological information on the boreal woodland caribou. To date, minimal data has been collected on the species in their northern range. Traditional knowledge on the caribou was also gathered. Data accumulated will be useful in both research and management of the species.

Moose Aerial Survey

Who:   Catherine Lambert (GRRB), Jozef Carnogursky (GRRB), Marsha Branigan (ENR, GNWT)
            Observers from each community (names to be determined soon)
When:  Workshops completed in February 2006; Survey in March 2006.
Where:  Northern half of the GSA, including areas of high use by the communities, and corridor of the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project Pipeline.

Moose Aerial SurveySummary:  Moose (Alces alces; Dinjik in Gwich’in) is a year-round resident of the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA) and an important food species for the Gwich’in people and other northerners. Because the last aerial moose surveys in the GSA were conducted over five years ago and were confined to relatively small areas, the actual regional moose density, composition (bull:cow and cow:calf), and population trends were unknown for most of the GSA.  To update our knowledge of this population and contribute to its long-term monitoring, we conducted an aerial moose survey over 17,260 km2 of the GSA at the end of March 2006.  We used a random stratified sample design, in which we (1) selected the survey area; (2) stratified the area into high and low moose density grid cells, assisted by harvesters and elders; (3) randomly selected about 14% of the grid cells; (4) flew over 170 grid cells of 5’ by 2’, to detect, count and classify each moose present in the selected cells.  Two community observers were hired to assist us in completing the survey.  We spotted a total of 141 moose, and calculated a coarse density of 2.09/100 km2 for the totality of the region surveyed.  Bull to cow ratio was 78:100, and calf to cow ratio was 52:100.  Moose density was highly heterogeneous and varied between ecoregions identified in the Gwich’in Land Use Plan.  We found higher moose densities in the Mackenzie Delta (4.69/100 km2), the British-Richardson Mountains (3.78/100 km2), and the Peel River Plateau (3.04/100 km2), and lower –and declining- densities in the Great Bear Lake Plain (1.07/100 km2) and Fort McPherson Plain (0/100 km2).  We also surveyed a 10 km corridor of the proposed Mackenzie Gas Pipeline, for which we estimated a density of 2.31 moose/100 km2, indicating that the pipeline corridor might overlap the home range of approximately 42 moose in the GSA.  While conducting the survey, we incidentally documented the presence and location of 141 barren-ground Porcupine caribou (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), 34 woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), 15 Dall’s sheep (Ovis dalli), 12 muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus), one lynx (Lynx rufus) and 17 wolves (Canis lupus).  We recommend the use of the ecoregions to delimit survey boundaries when planning future moose surveys in the GSA.

Moose Surveys:
Moose densities in the GSA are among the lowest recorded in North America. It is not understood if this is natural or if there are factors that keep the population from increasing to it's carrying capacity. A number of moose surveys have been carried-out in the GSA since 1996 to estimate the abundance and composition of moose in the region, for example: 

  • Moose Survey in the Fort McPherson Region of GSA:
    An aerial moose survey was conducted by the GRRB in November 2000 in the Fort McPherson area of the GSA. Of 70 moose observed, 59% were bulls, 29% cows and 13% calves and (9 calves and no twins). All moose found were in river valley habitats. The high calf to cow ratio indicated healthy population growth in the area and the average annual subsistence harvest over six previous years was 6.2 moose/year.
  • Moose Harvest Survey:
    A Moose Harvest Study was initiated in September 1998. Hunters were asked to supply information on moose harvested. This information, along with the resident and non-resident harvest information, helped biologists understand how many moose are killed annually (and the effects the harvest had on moose population). After analysis, it was found that males made up 81% of the reported harvest and the most common age averaged 4 yrs. old.

  • Survey of Mooose Abundance & Composition (in the Artic Red River Region of the GSA:  
    The GRRB undertook moose research in the Red River area in November 1999. The study included 67 moose observed (5.5 per 100 sq. kms) over the entire study area and 40 moose in suitable/seasonal habitat (17.6 per 100 sq. kms.). Of the observed moose, 46% were bulls, 27% cows, 18% calves and 9% yearlings (11 of the cows were observed with calves). 13 moose were harvest in the study area 1993-99 indicating a healthy annual harvest rate of 2.4% of estimated population size. The study also discusses problems utilizing the "Gasaway Technique" for research.

Dall's Sheep
Dall's Sheep
Dall's Sheep

Dall's Sheep Research In The GSA
The Northern Richardson Mountains' Dall's Sheep Habitat Ecology Project:
Dall's sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) are found in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska and British Columbia. Within the Northwest Territories, Dall's sheep have populations in the northern Richardson Mountains and the Mackenzie Mountains. This study focuses on the northern Richardson Mountains' population. Dall's sheep are hunted for subsistence purposes by Gwich'in people within the northern Richardson Mountains, and are a valued species for sport hunting in North America. The Dall's sheep population within the northern Richardson Mountains' is an isolated population that fluctuates noticeably. There is also a possible future increase in harvest and human activities. This three-year project, completing in winter 2005-06, will provide information on Dall's sheep-habitat relationships, such as seasonal range, movements, possible corridors and description of seasonally selected habitat, of which there is currently limited information. Additionally, the information will be useful in the development of a co-operative interjurisdictional management plan that is being developed to ensure the sustainable management of the Richardson Mountain's Dall's sheep population.

Dall's Sheep Surveys:
A number of surveys on Dall's sheep have been conducted over the past number of years in conjunction with the Dept. of Resources, Wildlife & Economic Development (RWED). The Dall's sheep population in the Richardson Mountains is largely unhunted at present, however, various plans are underway to increase hunting in the area. Thus, Dall's sheep surveys provide important data on exact sheep populations.

Dall's Sheep & Traditional Knowledge Project:
A project on Dall's sheep and traditional Gwich'in culture was conducted with data supplied by Gwich'in Elders and other beneficiaries. Project findings are currently being analyzed and a report will be available in early 2005.

Dall Sheep, Grizzly Bear and Wolf Project

Who:   Catherine Lambert Koizumi (GRRB, University of Alberta)
            Dr. Andrew E. Derocher, University of Alberta
            Marsha Branigan, ENR GNWT
            Ehdiitat, Gwichya, Nihtat and Tetlit RRC

Note: This multidisciplinary project benefits from the collaboration between many partners and involves several components.

When: Start in spring 2006 – End in 2009
Where: Richardson Mountains

Dall's Sheep Grizzly Bear

Summary:   The Richardson Mountains are home to a variety of wildlife species and possess a high cultural, conservation and hunting value for the Gwich’in people.  Dall sheep (Divii, Ovis dalli dalii) in the Richardson Mountains have been declining steadily since 1997, and several hypotheses have been postulated to explain this decline; from climate change to diseases, predation, competition with other ungulates, habitat loss, and human disturbances.  This project investigates the causes of the decline, with an emphasis on the impact of grizzly bears (Shih, Ursus arctos), and wolves (Zhoh, Canis lupus), two common predators in the Richardson Mountains.  By monitoring the three species simultaneously in the study area, we aim to (1) acquire baseline information on Dall sheep, grizzly bear, and wolf populations; (2) increase our understanding of sheep predation by grizzlies and wolves; (3) evaluate the impact of climate change and habitat characteristics on the interactions between the three species; and (4) determine the impact of other ungulate species abundance and distribution on Dall’s sheep predation.  Additionally, this study will document the Gwich’in Traditional Knowledge about the interactions between Divii, Shih and Zhoh. Methods used to complete this project include GPS collars, fatty acids signatures and stable isotope analyses, behavioural observations of Dall sheep, and interviews with harvesters and elders on Divii, Shih and Zhoh interactions.  This project started in April 2006 and was completed in 2009. 

Dall Sheep Aerial Survey

Who: Catherine Lambert (GRRB), Marsha Branigan (ENR GNWT), and Dorothy Cooley (Yukon Government)
When: August 2006
Where: Northern Richardson Mountains

Summary:  An interjurisdictional management plan for Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) in the Richardson Mountains is currently being drafted, and the knowledge of this population status is necessary to the adoption of relevant management strategies.  Past aerial surveys were conducted in June of 1984, 1985, 1986, and 2001; and in August of 1991, 1997, and 2003.  The latest estimates revealed that this population is currently declining, and suffer from low recruitment rates, as evidenced by a low lamb:ewe ratio, a low lamb survival rate, and a very old age structure.  To verify the current abundance, structure, and recruitment rate of the Dall’s sheep population in the Richardson Mountains, we propose to fly over the survey area and complete an aerial census of this population.  The survey would be completed in August, in approximately 35 hours of helicopter.  The resulting information will allow us to determine the current status of the population and make appropriate management recommendations for the benefit of this population, as well as of all users.

Furbearers Community-Based Monitoring

Who:   Ehdiitat, Gwichya, Nihtat and Tetlit RRC
Brian Dokum and Catherine Lambert (GRRB)
When: Fall and Winter 2006-2007
Where: Traditional and used hunting and trapping areas in the GSA, as determined by selected users.

BeaverSummary: It has recently been suggested in some communities that beavers may interfere with muskrat populations by deteriorating muskrat habitat quality.  As there is currently no monitoring system in place to estimate furbearer abundance and distribution in the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA), this assumption is difficult to assess.  Moreover, since the end of the Gwich’in Harvest Study, very little information has been collected for other furbearer species, such as martens, fishers, otters, wolverines, wolves, foxes, and lynxes.   To verify the interactions between beavers and muskrat, and to gain baseline information on the other furbearer species of the GSA, we propose to launch a community-based monitoring program.  We will allocate four GPS in each community, which will be distributed to active land users (hunters or trappers).  Those land users will record their observations of beavers and lodges, muskrats, martens, fishers, otters, wolverines, wolves, foxes, and lynxes, as they travel on the land and perform their usual hunting and trapping activities.  This project will result in the creation of a multi-species database on distribution and abundance of furbearers in the GSA, and will provide some insights related to the interactions between beavers and muskrats.  

Small Mammal and Hare Research

HareRed Backed Vole

Who: Staff from GRRB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT
When: Almost every year since 1990
Where: Within the Inuvik municipal boundaries

Summary:  We have been collecting population trend information, based on pellet count along transects, on snowshoe hares around the Inuvik area. This is part of a Northwest Territories-wide study on snowshoe hare population changes. We also monitor small mammal density by conducting trap transect.  In 2005, the most abundant species collected in the small mammal survey was the northern red-backed vole, distinguished by its bright red hair along its back (see photo).  In the NWT, small mammal and hare surveys have been conducted each year at specific sites since 1990, with hares generally surveyed in late-spring, early-June, and small mammal surveys in August. Small mammals and hare play key roles in both arctic and boreal ecosystems. Their rise and fall reflects similar patterns in their predators and ecosystems.

The NWT Small Mammal Surveys in 2007 and 2008 have been part of an International Polar Year project called Arctic Wolves: Arctic Wildlife Observatories Linking Vulnerable Ecosystems. Please visit the IPY link for more information about this project.

For more information, including project results by region and location, please visit

Waterfowl Research in the GSA
The GRRB has helped initiate/fund a number of research projects on water fowl (in conjunction with Dept. of Resources,Wildlife and Economic Development and Ducks Unlimited). Studies uncover valuable baseline information which will help in management plans and future research. many water fowl are also an important food source in Gwich'in culture. In addition, the GSA contains wetlands that are among the most important breeding sites for white winged fowl in North America.

Rat River Biodiversity, Cultural and Historical Assessment
In 1999, the Board conducted a biodiversity and cultural assessment (traditional and historical use) of the Rat River watershed after the four Gwich'in communities of Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik identified it as a proposed protected area for its wildlife and cultural significance.The Rat River watershed area has been used for centuries as an important harvesting area and travel route. Along with many cultural sites, numerous camps also exist along the lower Rat River. Fishing, hunting, trapping and berry picking are still carried out today. The study also identified the area as home to hundreds of species of plants, fish, mammals and birds.



Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board