Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Service Proposes to List Dolphin and Union Caribou as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act

August 30, 2021


Christina Meister,, (703) 358-2284

After conducting a thorough species status review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the Peary caribou, the northernmost subspecies of caribou, does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the Dolphin and Union caribou, which is endemic to Victoria Island and the Canadian mainland, may warrant federal protection. Therefore, the Service is proposing to list the Dolphin and Union caribou as threatened under the ESA.

Both Peary caribou and Dolphin and Union caribou live in harsh northern environments and rely on sea ice for migration. Climate change, specifically melting sea ice, has severely impacted their ability to reach their breeding, feeding and wintering grounds. However, because Peary caribou are located farther north than Dolphin and Union caribou, the impacts of climate change differ between the two caribous. As sea ice declines in the Dolphin and Union caribou’s habitat, new trade lanes are opening for shipping traffic. Long-term sea ice loss compounded by the breaking up of sea ice could result in increases in mass drowning events for this caribou.

An additional threat to Dolphin and Union caribou is the formation of hard snow that blocks access to food and influences the caribou’s movement patterns. Climate change is expected to cause heavier and more frequent snowfall events, more variable weather patterns, freezing rain and increased layers of hard snow that could lead to increased starvation events.

Historically, hunting had a major impact in the decline of both caribous. In the early 20th century, hunting resulted in the near extirpation of the Dolphin and Union caribou, with sightings declining to fewer than 30 in the 1920s. Since then, management of caribou herds in Canada has improved. This is partly thanks to a harvest quota system that was developed by Canadian federal and state wildlife officials in partnership with local indigenous communities. Currently, the Service does not consider sport hunting to have a negative impact on these caribous.

Because sport hunting is no longer a significant threat to these mammals, the Service is proposing a special rule for the Dolphin and Union caribou under section 4(d) of the ESA. The 4(d) rule would allow the import and export of certain Dolphin and Union caribou into and out of the United States for scientific purposes or to enhance the status of the subspecies in the wild.

The Service is accepting comments regarding this proposed listing through Monday, November 1, 2021. Following the comment period, the agency will evaluate all information before making a final listing determination. To read the proposal and obtain information on how to submit comments, visit and search for docket number FWS–HQ–ES–2019–0014. 

More information about Dolphin and Union caribou can be found here:

The Service makes ESA listing determinations using the best available scientific and commercial information. The ESA requires the Service to list species as endangered or threatened regardless of which country the species lives in. Although the ESA's prohibitions regarding listed species apply only to people within the jurisdiction of the United States, the ESA can generate conservation benefits such as increased awareness of listed species, research efforts to address conservation needs, or funding for in-situ conservation of the species in its range countries.

To learn more about the Endangered Species program’s Branch of Delisting and Foreign Species, visit:

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