Boreal Woodland Caribou

Boreal woodland caribou (boreal caribou) have come to represent the wild things and places that people across Canada want to protect. The continued persistence of boreal caribou across the landscape is an indicator of boreal forest health.

In Manitoba, there are two ecotypes of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) that exist: boreal and forest-tundra. Boreal woodland caribou are listed as threatened under Manitoba’s Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act and the federal Species at Risk Act.

Human disturbance impact boreal caribou through habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and alteration. Activities such as forest harvesting create temporary loss of habitat, while other human activities can create permanent habitat loss. Linear features such as roads, trails, seismic lines create easier access into caribou habitat making them more vulnerable to predation.

Manitoba is committed to undertaking boreal caribou management through a comprehensive, collaborative and accountable provincial program. Through management unit range plans, management decisions will balance the demand for boreal forest resource use with boreal caribou conservation.

The Province is committed to made-in-Manitoba management efforts that are directed at ensuring boreal woodland caribou remain part of the wildlife mosaic.

Boreal Caribou Recovery in Manitoba

Caribou management efforts and monitoring projects have occurred within Manitoba for over 40 years and have been instrumental in survival of the species. These projects have encompassed collaring of caribou, recruitment surveys, distribution surveys and genetic analysis. The intent of these efforts has been to enhance the knowledge base for the species, to generate baseline data for furthering our ability to mitigate development impact and to ensure the species remains as an integral component of Manitoba’s wildlife mosaic.

Manitoba's Boreal Woodland Caribou Recovery Strategy (2015) guides boreal caribou conservation and recovery within the province. Manitoba’s recovery strategy is a comprehensive strategy that applies to the current distribution of boreal caribou. It recognizes that there are many challenges to boreal caribou conservation. The boreal forest provides many important cultural, economic and social benefits. Many of those benefits can put boreal caribou and their habitat at risk. The recovery strategy concluded that due to relatively high levels of human-caused habitat disturbance and fragmentation, boreal caribou populations were at higher risk of decline and potential extirpation.

Manitoba is committed to undertaking boreal caribou management through a comprehensive, collaborative and accountable provincial program. Through the development of a provincial range planning guidance document and individual management unit range plans, management decisions will balance the demand for boreal forest resource use with an emphasis on boreal caribou conservation.

By building on existing partnerships with industry, Indigenous governments, non-government organizations and academia the recovery of boreal caribou will be enhanced.

The federal government has created a national recovery strategy for boreal woodland caribou (2012, amended in 2020) and in 2018, released an Action Plan for boreal caribou. Visit the federal Species at Risk Public Registry website at:
Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Boreal population (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Canada
Action Plan for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal Population, in Canada: Federal Actions

These strategies outline that in order to achieve self-sustaining woodland caribou populations, provincial jurisdictions must protect, and in some cases increase, critical habitat within identified caribou ranges. Critical habitat includes the need to ensure that at least 65 per cent of each caribou range is undisturbed by human or natural disturbance events, and that caribou biophysical habitat features are adequately conserved and managed.

Range Planning in Manitoba

The provincial Recovery Strategy for Boreal Woodland Caribou (2015) formed the starting point for woodland caribou recovery planning in Manitoba. Under the strategy, Manitoba committed to developing individual management unit range plans for all nine boreal caribou management units as part of the province’s caribou recovery planning framework. Management unit range plans will outline management initiatives that will help meet the objectives identified in both the federal and provincial strategies, include measures to manage boreal caribou populations, protect habitat and provide for the dynamic habitat requirements of boreal caribou across their range.

In addition to management unit range plans, a provincial action plan will be developed to provide provincial guidance on management initiatives and approaches that will be incorporated into individual management unit range plans.

Manitoba’s approach to boreal caribou range planning is focused on; developing landscape management strategies that conserve large suitable habitat and core use areas over space and time; achieving and maintaining a minimum of 65% undisturbed habitat within MU’s; and provide the biophysical habitat attributes necessary for caribou persistence. Manitoba is committed to a long-term, comprehensive approach to protect boreal caribou populations and habitat. Range planning will reasonably accommodate human activity on the landscape while placing a priority on boreal caribou habitat protection.

Management unit range plans represent an important step in the recovery planning effort for boreal caribou in Manitoba. They will provide direction for effective landscape management to ensure there is an adequate amount of quality habitat for self-sustaining boreal caribou populations. Additionally, management unit plans will provide the necessary information to evaluate the effective protection of boreal caribou habitat and instill the confidence that the efforts being taken are adequate to maintaining self-sustaining populations. These plans will establish an information baseline for all boreal caribou populations regarding their status, distribution and important habitat through a review of what we know of these populations to date.

The planning process will be comprised of three components; management unit range assessments, range plan development and engagement. Management unit range assessments will provide the baseline information on the current state of boreal caribou populations and habitat along with the associated risks. Results from assessments will help guide range plan development and aid in the prioritization of important areas in need of conservation.

The development of management unit plans will provide guidance on how land use will be managed over time and space to ensure adequate amounts and distribution of habitat is preserved. Together the management unit range assessments and range plans will be used to assess the broader cumulative effects across the boreal caribou range which may provide a basis for the management of other boreal species. The focus is on reducing human-caused disturbance, altering the pattern of disturbance and maintaining adequately-sized patches of undisturbed and connected high-value caribou habitat across and between boreal caribou management units, to provide a dynamic state of suitable habitat.


Range Plan Engagement

Engagement in support of caribou range planning in Manitoba will seek to;

  • Establish Discussion Tables consisting of representatives from Indigenous communities, industry, academia, non-government organizations and municipalities to facilitate meaningful discussions that will inform the planning process;
  • Engage participants at locally held meetings and/or through other forums to share information on desired outcomes, current state of habitat and populations, specific interests of particular participants and possible management scenarios to achieve self-sustaining boreal caribou populations;
  • Establish a web-based public engagement interface (EngageMB) to solicit broad public input.

Engagement will assist in creating a balanced plan that addresses conservation concern for boreal caribou and the need for economic opportunities.
Engaging with industry, Indigenous communities and other interested parties is key to the development of balanced management unit range plans. These plans will guide how to maintain and restore caribou habitat through:

  • better forest management practices;
  • ensuring that new or other industrial development does not pose a risk to caribou;
  • managing linear features (roads, trails, etc.) across the landscape; and
  • planning for future land use that sustains caribou range and a healthy boreal forest.
Contribute to Range Planning

Manitoba invites those interested in woodland caribou conservation to provide input in the various opportunities of range planning.

To learn more about where caribou range planning areas are, see the Caribou Range Planning Area Map.

Questions? Comments? Please send an email to the Boreal Caribou Planning Team


Report a Woodland Caribou Sighting

Your help is appreciated in reporting any sightings of woodland caribou or signs of caribou activity.


Biology and Natural History

Boreal Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)

Species Status
Provincial Assessment (MESAC):
Endangered—September 1994
Provincial Listing (MESEA):
Threatened—April 2006
Federal Assessment (COSEWIC):
Federal Listing (SARA):


  • Boreal caribou coats are typically brownish with a creamy white neck. Boreal caribou are generally darker than the other subspecies and ecotypes.
  • Caribou are the only members of the deer family where both males and females grow antlers. Mature bulls typically grow large antlers with cow antlers being shorter and have fewer points.
  • Caribou have large crescent-shaped hooves that make walking on snow or bogs easier. The hooves are also used to dig through the snow for lichens and other ground food.


  • Boreal caribou are a medium-sized member of the deer family. Boreal caribou are generally bigger than the other subspecies and ecotypes.
  • Adult bulls can weigh up to 250 kilograms (550 pounds), but average size is about 180 kilograms (250 pounds).
  • Adult cows average about 115 kilograms (250 pounds).


  • In Manitoba, there are two ecotypes of woodland caribou, that differ mainly by their migration habits:
    • Eastern Migratory ecotype (Coastal caribou) - undertake long migrations (200 kilometres) between their forested winter range and coastal summer range.
    • Boreal ecotype—may undertake long or short seasonal migrations ranging from 15-100 kilometres, but remain within the boreal forest year-round.
  • Boreal caribou occur in a broad geographic area across the boreal forest region of Manitoba.
  • Boreal caribou are widely dispersed in the boreal zone from approximately Black Lake area in the southeast to the Lynn Lake area in the northwest.
  • The historical southern extent of boreal caribou in Manitoba was to the Manitoba/Minnesota border.
  • Boreal caribou no longer occur south of the Winnipeg River in southeastern Manitoba.
  • Woodland caribou are migratory, but their movements are not as extensive as those of the barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus).
  • Boreal caribou have relatively large home ranges and travel in groups from 1-2 up to 30-40 animals in the winter.


  • Boreal caribou generally inhabit lichen-rich areas of the boreal forest, preferring mature pine, black spruce and tamarack forests intermixed peat land complexes.
  • Boreal caribou tend to avoid aspen or other similar broadleaf forest stands and young stands regenerating after logging or fire.
  • Large tracts of undisturbed habitat are required for boreal caribou to spread out on the landscape to avoid disturbances and reduce predation.


  • Boreal caribou preferred winter foods are lichens that grow in trees and on the ground, found in spruce, pine and tamarack forests. Caribou will crater through the snow to find lichen on the ground.
  • During the summer, their diet is more varied. Leafy, soft-tissue plants, poplar, willow leaves, mushrooms, and various forbs are consumed. However, lichen still remains a major part of the diet (25-35 per cent).
  • During the winter months, lichen makes up 60-70 per cent of their diet.


  • During the fall rut (mid to late October), boreal caribou gather in groups to breed.
  • Starting in the spring, mature bulls begin to grow large antlers that they use during the breeding season to defend their group of female caribou from other males. Mature bulls usually drop their antlers during early winter. Younger bulls tend to retain their antlers until late winter.
  • Caribou calves are usually born between mid may and late June.
  • Female caribou typically have their calves alone and widely dispersed over the summer range. Female caribou will generally drop their antlers just before or just after giving birth.
  • Boreal caribou cows do not breed until they are two-and-a-half years old and usually only produces one calf per year.
  • Boreal caribou productivity is low compared to other members of the deer family, which breed at a younger age and often produce twins.

Conservation and Management

Boreal caribou habitat can be threatened by human-caused and natural disturbances such as logging, mining, construction of linear features, recreational activity, fires and forest disease. Linear developments facilitate the movement of predators and increase the potential for human disturbance, which can impact caribou on the landscape. Activities that alter habitat may cause an increase in moose and deer abundance in caribou ranges resulting in increased predation on caribou by wolves.

Wolves are the main predators of boreal caribou, but other predators may include black bears, lynx, wolverines and humans. Caribou avoid predators by spacing out over large landscapes and not bunching up in any one place, making them harder to find. Disturbance to their habitat give predators a hunting advantage and has a negative effect on caribou populations.