Modeling relationships between wolves, elk, caribou, and fire to aid caribou recovery in the Canadian Rockies National Parks
Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are listed as threatened within Alberta under the Wildlife Act and nationally under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Banff and Jasper National Parks maintain populations of woodland caribou, although numbers in both parks have declined since the 1980s. Caribou declines outside of the national parks are thought to be related to habitat loss and increased mortality associated with resource extraction industries. For instance, forestry reduces habitat directly by cutting mature timber stands favored by caribou, while linear features (i.e. seismic lines and roads) associated with the oil and gas industry increase their exposure to predation. The cause of declines within the national parks, where resource extraction does not occur is less clear, however may also be related to predation and habitat loss. Parks Canada is mandated to use prescribed fire to maintain a natural disturbance regime and may rely on fire as a tool to manage outbreaks of Mountain Pine Bark Beetle.
While fire can improve habitat for some species (i.e. elk and grizzly bear), it may be detrimental to species that rely on older seral stage forests, (i.e. caribou). Less direct effects of fire on caribou are also possible when caribou herds come into contact with greater numbers of predators whose populations have been buoyed by increased total numbers of prey. Fire can influence caribou directly by altering habitat quality, and indirectly by influencing habitat use and movement patterns of other ungulates species and predators. The goal of this project is to provide Parks Canada with guidelines to optimize benefits from fire (e.g., providing habitat for grizzly bear, reducing mountain pine beetle attack risk) while minimizing negative effects on woodland caribou.
Dr. Hugh Robinson, Post doctoral fellow
Parks Canada (Jasper, Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks)
University of Calgary
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development
British Columbia Ministry of Environment
Project Duration: 2007-2009