Leaf River

  • Range: 663,810 km2
  • Herd size (2018): 187,000, a drop from over 600,000 in the early 2000s.

The migration of the Leaf River subpopulation is approximately 1000 km, one of the longest known for caribou. The herd moves between the southwest and northeast of the Ungava Peninsula in Nunavik (northern Quebec) in the spring and fall.

A thriving sport-hunting business was once attached to this herd, but the sport hunt ended in 2018. The herd was also hunted commercially between 1994 and 2002.

Inuit communities have suggested that muskoxen displace the caribou from some sectors.

The Quebec government has attempted to protect the calving area of the herd with a legal designation that prohibits any human activity that may negatively affect caribou habitat between May 15th and July 15th. However, the area protected does not always coincide with the area being used for calving.

Related news

Quebec Cree and Innu leaders agree to reduce caribou harvest after summer wildfires

Cree and Innu leaders are reducing the number of caribou that Innu hunters can harvest from the Leaf River herd on Cree lands to 50, from a previously agreed figure of 300. The reduction is due to concerns about the impacts of recent forest fires in the herd's range. "...we must offer the caribou the opportunity to recover and adapt, especially amid growing climate challenges." said Chief Daisy House, of the Cree community of Chisasibi.The Leaf River herd numbers about 190,000 animals, down from imore than 600,000 in 2000.  
26 January 2024 | cbc north

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

Wild Cam: Camera collars reveal caribou survival rates in Quebec

This blog post talks about a study of calf survival rates in the Leaf River herd in northern Quebec. The study found 67% of cales made it through from spring to fall. The study used camera collars, and the post has a couple of brief videos embedded.
10 August 2021 | The Wildlife Society

Innu caribou hunt sparks debate over territorial and hunting rights in Quebec

A 2:32 video story about an Innu hunt of the the Leaf River Caribou herd in northern Quebec. Other First Nations question the right of the Innu to hunt caribou in this region, although they don't seem to question the sustainability of the hunt.
18 February 2021 | APTN

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

Population monitoring: Leaf River migratory caribou herd

The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) has released updated population information on the Leaf River migratory caribou herd. As of November 2018, the data show that the population is still declining.
13 December 2018 | CNW Quebec

Related resources

Evidence of migratory coupling between grey wolves and migratory caribou

An academic paper examining movement of wolves following caribou herds in Northern Quebec.

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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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"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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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.

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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Maps of the Leaf River Herd Migration

This site has monthly maps of the migration of the Leaf River herd for 2017-2018.
Government of Quebec (2018)

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Biological status report of migratory caribou, Leaf River herd

A lengthy 2016 government of Quebec report on the Leaf River herd
Government of Quebec (2016)

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