George River

  • Herd size (2022) 7,200 (98% decline since 2001)

The historic range of the George River herd was almost 100,000 km2, from the eastern shore of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, and the Atlantic coast line in Labrador. That range shrank by about 85% from the late 1990s to the 2010-14 range. It is now almost entirely in Labrador.

The steep decline is blamed largely on degradation of the caribou habitat by an unsupportably large population in the early 1990s, compounded by the factors found in the ‘threats’ section of this site. after a slight bounce back in 2020, the herd once again delined in 2022. In a 2022 news release, the provinical government noted that there was little human development in the cribou range, and that wold numbers are low. It added, "the continued illegal harvest of George River caribou by a relatively small number of people continues to delay and threaten herd recovery".

COSEWIC has recommended listing of the eastern migratory caribou as endangered. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador decided not to list the George River herd provincially “ the specific request of Indigenous governments and communities in Labrador...”.

Hunting of this herd by non-Indigenous people is now banned. The Cree and Inuit that share the herd have adopted voluntary bans on hunting. In 2022, Innu hunters who also used the herd were "gifted" the opportunity to take caribou from the Leaf River herd on Cree territory.

Related news

Nearly $4.8 million to track migratory caribou in the context of climate change

A news release announcing multi-million dollar funding that will sponsor a project to research migratory caribou on the Ungava peninsula in Nunavik (Quebec). The "Caribou Ungava" project has been active since 2009; the new funding will take it to 2029. The project is to focus on five main areas of research: 1) the dynamics and connectivity of migratory caribou populations with forest and mountain caribou populations; 2) mitigation of the impacts of territorial development; 3) determinants of habitat use and change; 4) health indicators of caribou and their boreal and northern competitors; 5) the ecology of black bear and musk ox interacting with migratory and expanding caribou on the Ungava Peninsula.
10 May 2024 | laval university

Elder passing on traditional caribou hide scraping with grandmother's tool

Web story and also 10:39 audio piece about an Innu woman who is passing on the skills of prepring a caribou hide to students at a school in Sheshatshiu in Labrador. in the audio you hear the voices of the instructor and students. People in the community traditionally hunted the George River herd, but that herd has declined by 98% since 2001, and now sits at about 7,200 according to the latest count. The caribou skin used by the class came from Quebec.  
24 April 2023 | CBC

Valérie Courtois on what she hopes will come out of COP15: “to save the world”

A feature article on Valérie Courtois, Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. The article talks about the "COP 15" meeting of the United Nations Convention on Bioversity, but also focuses on the decline of the George River caribou herd, noting that climate change and industrial development on the herds range may affect its ability to recover.
12 December 2022 | Canadian Geographic

The George River caribou herd is still vulnerable — but the newest census has cause for optimism

A news story based on a release from the government of Newfoundland nad Labrador showing that the George River herd has declined again after a slight rise in numbers two years ago. The story notes that despite the decline in numbers, more adult caribou were present in the last count, and that is some cause for optimism about the herd's future.
28 November 2022 | cbc

Sharing the Bounty

A news story discussing the "Traditional Mutual Understanding" between Cree and Innu First Nations giving Innu hunters permission to harvest up to 300 caribou from the Leaf River herd on Cree territory this winter. The story outines some of the protocols to be followed in the hunt.
23 February 2022 | Toronto Star

Cree and Innu sign agreement over caribou harvest in Cree territory

A news story about the agreement between Cree and Innu First Nations allowing Innu communities to hunt caribou on Cree territory. The Innu communities can take 2300 caribou this year under the terms of the agreement. the caribou come from the Leaf River herd. The George River herd on which the Innu communities had previously relied is at only one percent of it's peak recoreded population in 1990, and hunting the herd is banned. "For us, this community hunt will not only meet a need for our Elders' food security, but also perpetuate a sharing relationship that dates back to time immemorial," said Chief Mike McKenzie, Chief of the Innu community of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam and spokesperson for the nine Innu communities.
31 January 2022 | CBC North

George River caribou herd shows first population gain in over 25 years

A news story about an increase in the George River herd. The herd has increased to an estimated 8,100, up from 5,500 in 2018. The herd's historical population peak was an estimated 750,000 caribou. A ban on hunting the herd remains in place.
16 October 2020 | CBC

Nunavik pushes for its right to manage and harvest region’s caribou

The organization that represents Inuit in Nunavik (Northern Quebec) is working on an Inuit-led management plan for caribou in the region. They are concerned that the province does not recognize the priority of Inuit in hunting the caribou, and that federal government conservation planning does not distingush between the three herds in Nunavik. The herds in question (George River, Leaf River and Torngat Mountain) are all classified as Eastern Migratory Caribou.
21 July 2020 | Nunatsiaq News

Researchers watching the balance between Nunavik’s wolves and caribou

The Quebec government is responding to reports of increasing wolf predation on the Leaf River herd by satellite collaring wolves to track their level of caribou predation. The story also mentions that the provincial government is working on a management plan for the Leaf River herd.
26 May 2020 | Nunatsiaq News

First Nation bans Indigenous harvest of declining caribou herd in northern Quebec

The Cree Nation Government has voted in favour of a ban on Cree hunters harvesting caribou from the George River herd, whose numbers have seen a decline of 99 per cent since 2001.
8 January 2020 | Radio Canada International

Related resources

Inuit Co-management Led Research

A web page (with further links) documenting variousinitiatives undertaken by the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board that focus on caribou. The three herds covered are the George River herd, The Mealy Mountain herd, and the Torngat Mountain herd, all of which occur in Nunatsiavut territory (Labrador, Canada). The page provides a useful overview of the relationship of local Inuit with caribou, and provides insight into "co-management led research".

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Format: web

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Honouring the ways of our ancestors, the Cree and Innu Nations sign a traditional understanding built from the customary values of sharing, sustainable harvest and respect for the caribou

This 3 page news release outlines the terms of an agreement between the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee (James Bay region of Northern Quebec) and the Innu Nation of Québec on sharing caribou resources in the region. The release notes, "In the last decade, the many Indigenous nations that depend on caribou for their food security and the preservation of their culture have been significantly impacted by the decline of caribou populations, especially those depending on the George River herd - last estimated in 2020 to have dropped to 8,100 animals." The agreement gives the nine Innu communities access to caribou in Cree territory, up to 300 animals in 2021-22.

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Format: web

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Update on the global status of wild reindeer and caribou

This online article gives a relatively brief overview of the status of wild caribou and reindeer around the circumpolar world. There are some bright spots, but, "At the global scale, the historical trend continues with declining abundance and contracting distribution for most Rangifer populations." The global population of wild caribou and reindeer is estimated ar 2.43 million, down from 2.8 million in 2016.

Public Advisory: George River Caribou Population Remains at a Vulnerable Low

A brief news release from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador on the results of a count of the George River caribou herd. The count, conducted jointly with the Government of Quebec and the Nunatsiavut Government, found that the herd had declined again after a slight rise in numbers two years ago. It now stands at an estimated 7,200, a 98% drop from its numbers on 2001.

"You can never replace the caribou": Inuit Experiences of Ecological Grief from Caribou Declines

A 59-page academic paper on the effects of caribou declines on Inuit in Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut (Labrador). The paper discusses their grief and cultural loss.
American Imago, Volume 77, Number 1, Spring 2020, pp. 31-59 (2020)

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“We’re Made Criminals Just to Eat off the Land”: Colonial Wildlife Management and Repercussions on Inuit Well-Being

This academic article looks at management of the Mealy Mountain Herd of woodland caribou in Nunatsiavut (Labrador), and the impacts of the management on Inuit in the nearby community of Rigolet. While the herd is not not covered by this site, the article raises issues of the exclusion of local people from meaningful input into management of the herd that have echoes across the northern caribou range. It concludes, "...the multi-generational and enduring negative effects of exclusionary and discriminatory Western management policies, enacted with little to no Indigenous involvement or consideration, is clear in this research, and illustrates not only the limitations of many western approaches to wildlife management, but the need for rectification and redress."

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Format: web

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Aerial Survey of the George River Caribou Herd - July 2020

A 15':30" movie of a powerpoint presentation on the 2020 survey of the George River Caribou herd. The survey estimates the herd is up to 8,100 from 5,500 in 2018. Most of the increase is thought to be due to a higher calving rate. The "results' section starts about 7':47" in. This is the first time time in 20 years that herd numbers have trended upwards.
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (2020)

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Format: video

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Where to spend the winter? The role of intraspecific competition and climate in determining the selection of wintering areas by migratory caribou

A 2019 academic paper on the effects of competition between different caribou herds in choosing winter ranges. The paper focuses on the George River and Leaf River herds.

Innu Nation threatening future of George River caribou

A news release from the Nunatsiavut Government talking about the strained relations with the neighboring Innu over hunting of the George River herd.
Nunatsiavut Government (2018)

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Human disturbance effects and cumulative habitat loss in endangered migratory caribou

A 2018 academic paper to assess the effects of human disturbance on barren-ground caribou herds. This study focuses on the Leaf River and George River herds in northern Quebec and Labrador. The paper finds caribou do avoid human disturbance but makes no findings on the impacts to the health of the two herds
Université Laval (2018)

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Format: pdf

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