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Woodland Caribou


Woodland Caribou Alberta is currently host to some of the most extensive research and management of Woodland Caribou in North America.  Research activities date back to the early 1970s, but the majority of work on caribou in northern Alberta has occurred in the last 10 years.

Woodland Caribou were designated as a threatened species in Alberta as a result of reductions in distribution, declines in regional populations and a threat of further population declines associated with human activities.  As of July 1996, the provincial populations were estimated to be between 3600 and 6700 caribou.  While populations dynamics often exhibit annual variation in survival of adults and juveniles, the trend for most caribou ranges studied in Alberta is one of decline.  In some cases the declines may be offset by periodic years of high survival.  However, juvenile survival rates have been in a range whereby statistical overestimates in calculating adult survival (due to low sample size in some years) may provide inappropriate optimism.  The longer term sustainability of caribou populations in Alberta is uncertain given rapidly expanding human activities on and near caribou range.  The current extent of linear developments has reduced habitat effectiveness on 28% to 70% of the habitat in the major northern caribou ranges assessed.  Reductions in industrial activity and associated human activity are not anticipated within Alberta's caribou ranges in the foreseeable future.

The collaborative research and management activities being undertaken by the various regional standing committees have dramatically increased our knowledge of caribou ecology.  It is now critical to build our knowledge base beyond basic ecology to better understand the effects of industrial activity on caribou and their habitat.  Essential studies are now underway using GPS and GIS technology to simultaneously evaluate caribou and human use of the same caribou range.  We also need a better understanding of the effects of logging on lichen ecology and predator-prey dynamics.  Synthesizing all information on caribou ranges in the form of cumulative effect assessments is another essential element of ongoing research programs.  Innovative census techniques need to be developed to enable wildlife biologists to improve their estimates of the size of caribou populations.  Concurrent with the aforementioned research projects, periodic monitoring of caribou population dynamics must continue on each caribou range.

Research alone will not ensure the continuation of Alberta's caribou populations; current land use guidelines must be reviewed, improved, implemented, and adhered to.  In some cases guidelines have yet to be created to manage certain aspects of industrial activity.  In areas of west central Alberta, where caribou and forestry companies are in direct competition for the same land base, it is essential that long term habitat supply issues are addressed.  Similarly in both northern and west central ranges, the issue of habitat degradation resulting from linear corridors needs to be addressed within a habitat supply framework.  As multiple land-use activities are being conducted simultaneously on the same land base, there must be better coordination of operations among stakeholders.  An obvious step to minimize the direct and indirect effects of all types of industrial activities is to minimize the size, distribution, amount, standard, and duration of linear corridors.  Benchmark areas should be given serious consideration within the suite of land management alternatives.  

Reprinted from Alberta Wildlife Status Report No. 30 (2001), with permission from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development

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