Spring 2022 Series – Complete

There are currently no upcoming webinars.

In this bi-weekly webinar series, audience members from across Canada and diverse organizations join us to explore the latest research and Indigenous ways of knowing regarding caribou ecology and recovery in Canada—from the mechanisms of caribou declines to potential recovery options.

Scroll to check out previous webinars:

Testing the efficacy of linear restoration for caribou recovery in the Birch Mountains, Alberta Partnering for Restoration Success

Eric Neilson, Ryan Grandjambe, Ryan Abel, Lorne Gould, Dani Degenhardt, Cynthia Chand

Effective restoration and monitoring of biodiversity on working landscapes requires sustained efforts from multiple sectors, stakeholders and rights holders. Importantly, such efforts are not legal, justified or effective without the inclusion of Indigenous partners and leadership. In addition to adhering to legal obligations and benefiting local communities and Indigenous Nations, Indigenous leadership can increase the effectiveness of restoration and monitoring efforts. Firstly, monitoring restoration effectiveness requires knowledge of both the landscape and human disturbance. Indigenous Knowledge provides insight into variation in land cover, expertise on a range of land use and biological factors and experience from multiple spatio-temporal scales. Secondly, Indigenous Nation members that spend time on the land provide increased capacity for monitoring and data collection. For instance, use of traditional territory by members of Indigenous Environmental Guardian programs, which aim to monitor and protect biodiversity and cultural practices, provides access to potential experimental control sites, increased sample sizes, and facilitates increased sampling over longer durations and seasons. Woodland caribou (caribou) are listed as Threatened in Canada and many local populations are decreasing in abundance. Linear disturbances such as seismic lines reduce caribou habitat quality because predator use of lines increases caribou-predator encounters and caribou mortality. Site-level restoration techniques such as mounding, line blocking and tree-planting reduce access of linear features by caribou predators and facilitate long term linear restoration. However, the effort needed to reduce caribou-predator encounters across spatial scales remains uncertain. In 2022, Alberta Environment and Parks will restore linear features in the Red Earth Caribou Range (RECR), including the Birch Mountains, which intersects Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN) reserve land and traditional territory. FMFN is collaborating with Golder Associates Ltd. and Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. to assess restoration effectiveness in the RECR. The Canadian Forest Service is collaborating with FMFN’s Environmental Guardian program to provide additional estimates of restoration effectiveness and the effort required to scale up restoration to protect caribou across their range. We will measure the presence of large and medium sized mammals and vegetation cover on linear features before and after restoration using wildlife cameras and field sampling. The FMFN Environmental Guardian program has deployed an array of cameras across the study area, providing important insight into the broader mammal community in the area, additional spatial sampling coverage, and potential control sites for the project’s experimental design. We will present details of combining information from the Environmental Guardian program and the landscape experiment and discuss the value of conservation and restoration project partnerships with Indigenous Nations.

Forecasting climate-sensitive landscape change reveals habitat shifts and population uncertainty for northern boreal caribou

Frances Stewart

Climate-induced northern forest change may be severe, altering resources for boreal caribou. Mitigating the conservation challenges associated with caribou could be dampened through forecasts of future habitat conditions based on climate-sensitive processes, and linked to models of wildlife habitat suitability and population change. Using SpaDES – a novel ecological forecasting framework – we forecast habitat and population parameters for five boreal woodland caribou monitoring areas across 90 years of climate-driven landscape change in the Northwest Territories. Our forecasts suggest habitat suitability may increase in certain areas, but that population growth rates may remain the same. These results provide anticipated population changes, and an adaptable framework, to aid caribou recovery planning within the rapidly shifting context of northern landscape change.

Testing operational innovations to maximize linear restoration outcomes: A field study in NE Alberta

Matthew Pyper, Jason Barrie, Jesse Tigner

Restoration of linear features is gaining significant momentum in the context of caribou conservation, and there is significant focus on this topic within the academic literature. However, the cost of operational linear restoration is incredibly high (often exceeding $10-$12,000/km) and the pace of implementation is slow. To further understand the long-term role of restoration in the caribou conservation toolbox, it’s important for operational trials to focus on new innovations in treatment delivery.

With funding from Emissions Reduction Alberta, Cenovus Energy Ltd. recently undertook an operational field trial to test a wide range of new restoration equipment. The trial consists of low-cost agricultural implements (harrows, box blade, and disc); a custom designed tow-behind drum; and a Bracke three row mounder attached to a custom designed carrier. Within lowland sites, three different types of mounds were also tested, including testing a bucket custom designed for restoration.

Treatments were delivered in the fall of 2021 and the initial focus of the trial was on documenting site conditions before and immediately after treatment. Data was also collected on the operational efficiency and speed of treatment delivery.
Initial results indicate that tow behind implements, specifically the agricultural disc and the box blade, show surprising promise with respect to treatment speed and quality of microsites created. Within lowland sites, upright mounding and use of the custom designed bucket also show promise based on data collected to date. Future monitoring will focus on tree and vegetation response to the treatments and will track sites for up to three years post-treatment to assess ecological outcomes.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation Tâdzié/Atihk Stewardship Plan

Susan Leech, Anne Hervieux, Lori Cyprien

For generations, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) have stewarded the lands and waters of their territories in northeastern Alberta. Boreal woodland caribou—tâdzié in Dené; atihk in Cree—are an integral part of the boreal muskeg ecosystem and are key to sustaining the culture and way of life of these Nations. The disappearance of tâdzié/atihk and the lack of an effective range plan to protect critical habitat is troubling. Recently, ACFN and MCFN jointly entered into a Conservation Agreement with the Federal Government to develop their own stewardship plan. The Tâdzié/Atihk Stewardship Plan was developed with guidance from Dené and Cree knowledge holders, upholds and respects the fundamental rights of ACFN and MCFN to steward their territories, and meets federal range planning requirements. Knowledge holders identified a target of 80% undisturbed habitat by 2061, with 100% undisturbed calving grounds, for tâdzié/atihk populations to recover to the extent that the Nations can rely on tâdzié/atihk for subsistence and cultural practices. The plan uses Indigenous knowledge and western science to identify and map three management zones within the study area: protection, restoration, and active management. The plan also identifies management actions to be undertaken in the zones. Based on habitat recovery modelling, the proposed arrangement of these zones across the study area generally achieves undisturbed habitat targets within the four ranges in 40 years; additional management actions to consolidate development and manage access within the Active Management Zones will further accelerate habitat improvements.

Linking woodland caribou abundance to forestry disturbance in southern British Columbia, Canada

Kyle Lochhead

The decline of many woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) populations is thought to be linked with habitat disturbances resulting from industrial development, including timber harvesting and its network of haul roads. Defining a disturbance-abundance relationship offers a tool to assess and potentially manage for the influence of disturbance on caribou abundance. Defining this relationship is challenged by limited historical land use and abundance data, the choice of a disturbance measure, and variability in the relationship between subpopulations and across different habitat types (core vs. matrix habitat). For 12 subpopulations of woodland caribou within the southern mountain population, we linked longitudinal caribou abundance data with historical forestry disturbances simulated from forest harvest data. We compared disturbance measures estimating the proportion of forested area commercially harvested with even-aged, regeneration treatments (cutblocks) and converted to roads for transporting timber within subpopulation-specific core and matrix habitats as predictors of caribou abundance. Non-linear mixed models provided evidence that disturbances in matrix habitats negatively influenced caribou abundance, with the effects in core habitat being variable between subpopulations. Of the disturbance types evaluated, the best predictors included roads buffered by 50 m (R50), cutblocks ≤80 years old, and the cumulation of cutblocks ≤80 years old plus roads buffered by 50 m. The top-ranked model was composed of R50 present in core and in matrix habitats. This model predicted a 42% (95% CI = 33–51%) reduction in caribou abundance for every 1% increase in matrix R50 (holding core R50 constant). We recommend that in addition to existing protections of core habitat, few if any new roads should be built in core habitat, and that timber harvest in matrix habitat should be designed to minimize the establishment of associated roads.

Collaborative research and monitoring of migratory Eastern Cape Chruchill caribou: linking Wapusk National Park and an Indigenous Conservation Protected Area

Matt Webb, Russell Turner, Derek Leask, Jessica Lagimodiere, Riley Bartel, Ryan Brook and Connor Staub

The Cape Churchill caribou herd, part of the Eastern Migratory caribou population, resides along the western coast of Hudson Bay and has been largely unstudied. However, they are locally important to hunters and visiting tourists, as well as an ecological keystone species as a grazer and prey source. As a product of the 2020 Beyond Borders Caribou Workshop, we developed a collaborative team of academic researchers, Parks Canada staff, and Manitoba Métis Federation staff. Our on-going efforts have focused on developing and fortifying relationships and identifying common goals centered around caribou conservation and the greater ecosystem. The summer range of the Cape Churchill herd is almost completely protected by Wapusk National Park, however the winter range is largely unprotected, existing outside of the park boundaries. The development of a proposed Indigenous Protected Conservation Area (IPCA), led by the Manitoba Métis Federation is a priority goal of our group, with caribou being its focal species. Our objectives are to: (1) monitor the Cape Churchill herd annually to estimate population composition and long-term trends, (2) develop and monitor a grid of n=97 trail cameras on summer range to characterize caribou occurrences, group size, arrival and departure dates to and from seasonal ranges, (3) continue our 23 years of intensive habitat monitoring, (4) monitor the impacts of fire on the winter range using remote sensing, (5) study wolf occurrences in relation to caribou on summer range, (6) incorporate local and traditional knowledge, and (7) engage local and Indigenous youth and elders.

Habitat Restoration: Why Indigenous Partnerships Matter

Paula Bentham

Input from Indigenous communities into restoration programs is critical, yet such input is often sought after planning is complete. In contrast, we present a case study of a partnership approach to habitat restoration planning. In 2021, Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN), Golder, and Al-Pac partnered to develop restoration plans for ~1600km of seismic lines within the Red Earth Caribou Range. This area overlaps with the traditional territories of the FMFN, McMurray Métis (Local #1935) and Fort McKay Métis Nation; importantly, it also includes the Moose Lake 10KM Management Zone extending from FMFN’s Moose Lake reserves as identified in the Moose Lake Access Management Plan (MLAMP). Given the significant cultural importance of this area, restoration requires close collaboration to design a plan that reflects the ecological, cultural, and spiritual significance of the area for current and future traditional use.

Early engagement with ongoing communication was of utmost importance to ensure input and local knowledge was used in an iterative process to inform the plan. Land knowledge holders provided inputs through a series of workshops, mapping exercises and field reconnaissance. The Project provided an opportunity to advance both the goals of restoration as well as goals of the MLAMP, including incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge and recognizes rights and interests across the area. The partnership approach was critical; having FMFN lead engagement facilitated frequent, repeated, and culturally appropriate engagement with land users including Elders, knowledge holders, land users, trappers and leadership. The plan could not have been completed without their expert knowledge.

Using causal analysis to advance caribou recovery research and policy

Steve Wilson

Much of our foundational knowledge about caribou is based on observational and quasi-experimental studies. This can lead to biased predictions of the benefits of management actions, due to statistical over- or under-control, selection bias and misapplication of synthetic variables. Causal analysis is a method that is used in other disciplines to improve inferences when robust experimental designs are infeasible or unethical. It can identify causal relationships in observational data based on a set of identification rules, if strong assumptions are met. The approach has theoretical advantages over standard regression techniques and makes assumptions more explicit. I apply the method to several case studies to demonstrate how causal analysis can be used to reduce biases and improve policy recommendations for caribou recovery.

Previous sessions:

Disentangling the influence of anthropogenic habitat alteration from climate on expanding white-tailed deer populations in western Canada

Melanie Dickie

White-tailed deer have become increasingly common within caribou range in northern Alberta, and have been linked with an increase in wolf densities. Previous studies have speculated that habitat alteration and climate change will combine to influence deer and caribou populations. However, the relative contributions of these impacts are difficult to quantify, primarily because climate and landscape alteration co-vary across much of Canada – winters become more severe and lands less altered by humans at increasing latitudes. In spite of decades of research on caribou and the species implicated in caribou declines, a study design in which gradients in landscape alteration and climate are replicated across large areas has not been available because of inherent confounds across space and time. We will present preliminary results from our work in progress that leverages the contrast in anthropogenic habitat alteration between Alberta and Saskatchewan to disentangle the influence of climate, habitat productivity, and human habitat alteration on white-tailed deer densities using camera traps.

Predicting patterns of terrestrial lichen biomass recovery following boreal wildfires

Geneviève Degré-Timmons and Ruth Greuel

Increased fire activity due to climate change may impact the successional dynamics of boreal forests, with important consequences for caribou habitat. Early successional forests have been shown to support lower quantities of caribou forage lichens, but geographic variation in, and controls on, the rates of lichen recovery has been largely unexplored. In this study, we sampled across a broad region in northwestern Canada to compare lichen biomass accumulation in ecoprovinces, including the Saskatchewan Boreal Shield, the Northwest Territories Taiga Shield, and Northwest Territories Taiga Plains, divided into North and South. We focused on the most valuable Cladonia species for boreal and barren-ground caribou. We developed new allometric equations to estimate lichen biomass from field measurements of lichen cover and height; allometries were consistent among ecoprovinces, suggesting generalizability. We then used estimates of lichen biomass to quantify patterns of lichen recovery in different stand types, ecoprovinces, and with time following stand-replacing fire. We used a hurdle model to account both for the heterogeneous nature of lichen presence (zero inflation) and for the range of abundance in stands where lichen was present. The first component of the hurdle model, a generalized linear model, identified stand age, stand type, and ecoprovince as significant predictors of lichen presence. With a logistic growth model, a measure of lichen recovery (time to 50% asymptotic value) varied from 28 to 73 yr, dependent on stand type and ecoprovince. The combined predictions of the hurdle model suggest the most rapid recovery of lichen biomass across our study region occurred in jack pine in the Boreal Shield (30 yr), while stands located in the Taiga Plains (North and South) required a longer recovery period (approximately 75 yr). These results provide a basis for estimating future caribou habitat that encompasses some of the large variation in fire effects on lichen abundance and vegetation types across the range of boreal and barren-ground caribou in North America.

Alberta’s Moose Lake Access Management Plan: Potential to Support Indigenous Rights and Caribou Critical Habitat Requirements

Michael Evans and Carolyn Campbell

This joint presentation by representatives of Fort McKay First Nation and Alberta Wilderness Association will describe the vision and significance of Alberta’s landmark 2021 Moose Lake Access Management Plan. We will also outline how the Plan sets enforceable limits on ‘buffered’ industrial disturbance, discuss implementation aspects, and make links to Alberta caribou sub-regional planning opportunities.

Predators, prey, and harvest blocks in west-central Alberta caribou ranges

Tracy McKay

The links between habitat disturbance, primary prey, shared predators, and decreasing caribou populations are well established, and long-term solutions for caribou recovery will require management to reduce primary prey within caribou ranges. Young forest stands provide habitat for deer, moose and elk, and identifying attributes of forest harvest blocks associated with habitat use, occupancy, and co-occurrence of primary prey and predators could inform forest management practices to decrease spatial overlap between these species and caribou. We used camera and vegetation data collected in harvest blocks during 2018 – 2020 in four west-central Alberta caribou ranges (Little Smoky, A La Peche, Redrock Prairie Creek, and Narraway) to assess: 1) occurrence and co-occurrence of primary prey and predators in relation to habitat and harvest block characteristics, and 2) use of harvest blocks by primary prey in relation to block characteristics and silviculture practices.

We did not detect caribou at any cameras in harvest blocks. Elk and moose occupancy increased with abundance of specific forage species in the block and deciduous forest in the surrounding area. Mule deer occupancy increased with forest age in the surrounding area, and white-tailed deer occupancy decreased with increasing harvest blocks in the surrounding area. Black bear occupancy was influenced by vegetation within blocks, while occupancy of grizzly bears and wolves was influenced by surrounding anthropogenic disturbance. The direct influence of specific forage species on occupancy suggests that altering the amount of preferred forage within blocks could directly impact wildlife use of harvest blocks. Our results also indicate that the surrounding habitat influences wildlife use of harvest blocks at the site level. We also found black bear occupancy was higher when white-tailed deer were present, and grizzly bear occupancy was higher when mule deer were present. These results suggest that deer may be important food sources for bears in our study area, with potential implications for the spatial overlap of bears and caribou within caribou ranges.

In our analysis of the use of harvest blocks in relation to block characteristics and silviculture practices, we found that elk, moose, and white-tailed deer used blocks with higher abundance of specific forage species, and moose, mule deer, and white-tailed deer used blocks with lower densities of pine planted. Most forage species are considered as competitors for planted tree species, and these results suggest that silviculture methods used to control specific forage species and establish high densities of pine could meet forestry goals and reduce primary prey use of harvest blocks.

Our results indicate it is important to include both the characteristics within and surrounding harvest blocks when considering predator and prey distribution. In addition, the relationships we observed in multi-species models illustrate that higher local occupancies of prey species could directly increase spatial overlap of bears and caribou, resulting in increased caribou predation risk. Finally, our results suggest that specific forestry practices could directly influence primary prey use of harvest blocks.

The National Boreal Caribou Knowledge Consortium – Advancing conservation through collaborative knowledge sharing, generation and mobilization

Tatyana Flick and Matthew Boeckner

The National Boreal Caribou Knowledge Consortium (NBCKC), which launched in 2018 under Canada’s federal action plan for boreal caribou, is a forum for collaborative knowledge sharing, knowledge generation, and knowledge mobilization to support boreal caribou conservation and recovery. Members of the NBCKC represent federal, provincial and territorial governments, Wildlife Co-Management Boards, Indigenous Peoples, communities and organizations, industry, environmental non-governmental organizations, and academic researchers. This initiative brings together a diverse network of knowledge holders, practitioners and decision makers to inform action through its Working Groups, the Indigenous Knowledge Circle, and by developing tools such as the Canadian Conservation and Land Management (CCLM) Knowledge Portal. In this webinar we will introduce the NBCKC, highlight the power of collaboration and the unique opportunities that emerge when people commit to working together to leverage our collective strengths for conservation action. To learn more about the NBCKC and how you can get involved email the NBCKC Secretariat at cnscb-nbckc@ec.gc.ca .

Follow this link to begin exploring the repository of newsletters, guidance documents, best practices, tool kits and other resources that have been developed collaboratively by the NBCKC and housed on the CCLM boreal caribou sub-portal.

A Holistic Approach to Restoration in FNFN Territory: By Us, For Us

Katherine Wolfenden, Jesse Tigner, and Susan Leech

Climate change is expected to increasingly impact populations of woodland caribou and much focus has been placed on how a warming climate has facilitated the northward expansion of apparent competitors (e.g., white-tailed deer) and novel predators (e.g., coyotes). Climate change, however, may also exert effects on caribou populations that are not mediated by predation. Here, we used data from 21 populations in western Canada to assess the demographic response of woodland caribou to annual variation in a suite of meteorological and phenological metrics. Caribou populations in Canada and globally are declining as a result of several factors. In western Canada, boreal caribou declines are ultimately driven primarily by industrial land uses within and adjacent to caribou range. These areas also overlap traditional lands of Indigenous communities, who have stewarded their territories and all the values contained within them for generations. Despite this long-held role, ecological and conservation perspectives generally focus on the science of caribou recovery, without considering the complexities and nuances of First Nations’ perspectives of land and species conservation, or the economic opportunities and ramification of land use, policy, and conservation decisions.

In this talk we discuss ongoing caribou conservation and restoration projects undertaken by us, the Fort Nelson First Nation. Specifically, we will focus on three main themes in this talk. First, from a policy and governance perspective, we will discuss how several projects came to be within the context of Federal and provincial caribou policy, and how and why conservation decisions were made from the FNFN perspective. Second, from a nuts and bolts perspective, we will discuss practical delivery of habitat restoration treatments in remote locations in winter and summer seasons, economic opportunities generated from a restoration economy, and local partnerships created to generate new business opportunities. Third, we will discuss results and outcomes of vegetation and wildlife response to restoration activities, including variation in vegetation response to summer and winter restoration deliveries and treatments. We will conclude with our broader vision and next steps in ongoing restoration.

Demographic responses of threatened woodland caribou to annual variation in meteorological and phenological conditions

Craig DeMars

Climate change is expected to increasingly impact populations of woodland caribou and much focus has been placed on how a warming climate has facilitated the northward expansion of apparent competitors (e.g., white-tailed deer) and novel predators (e.g., coyotes). Climate change, however, may also exert effects on caribou populations that are not mediated by predation. Here, we used data from 21 populations in western Canada to assess the demographic response of woodland caribou to annual variation in a suite of meteorological and phenological metrics. Recent research on other ungulate populations suggests that climatic variation may have minimal direct impact on low-density populations such as woodland caribou because per-capita resources may remain sufficient even in “bad” years. We tested this prediction by relating climatic variation to juvenile recruitment and adult female survival, two vital rates with high influence on caribou demography.

Contrary to the low-density/low-impact prediction, we recorded relatively strong effects in both rates, though explained variation across all demographic models was low, suggesting that factors other than adverse climatic conditions had a greater influence on caribou demography during our monitoring period (1994–2015). In general, juvenile recruitment was more affected by variation in growing season conditions in the year prior to birth, responding positively to longer, more productive growing seasons and negatively to those that were warmer and drier. Adult female survival, in contrast, was more affected by winter conditions, responding negatively to colder and more variable winters during the monitoring year and up to three years prior. Given these unexpected results, we discuss alternative explanations as to why these woodland caribou populations did not conform to the low-density/low-impact prediction. The demographic effects we recorded have direct implications for caribou conservation, highlighting the increased relevance of recovery actions when adverse climatic conditions are more likely to negatively affect caribou demography.

Wild forest reindeer returns to its historical range – first releases from breeding enclosures in a Finnish reintroduction project

Sakari Mykrä-Pohja, Milla Niemi & Pekka Kilpeläinen

The Finnish wild forest reindeer Rangifer tarandus fennicus occurred throughout Finland still in the 17th century. It was gradually hunted to nationwide extinction by the 1920s but started to re-establish in the 1950s. Nowadays it occurs in Finland and the Western parts of Russia. The total world population is about 4000 individuals. The overall trend has been negative. In 2016, Finland and the EU started a seven-year conservation project WildForestReindeerLIFE. One of the actions is a new reintroduction into two areas in the subspecies’ historical range. This will be carried out through captive breeding and soft releases. Founders both from zoos and from the wild have been moved into two enclosures since autumn 2017. The first calves were born in May 2018. During the autumn 2019, we released 17 individuals of varying age and origin. Eight of them were born in the enclosures. Based on the GPS-tracking, camera traps and field observations, the released animals have mainly stayed close (< 1 km) to the enclosures. In one site, young males made two short-term explorative trips about 20 km distance from the enclosure. In the other site, adult zoo-born female with her calf explored the landscape for some days before settling down near the enclosure. Especially young zoo-born males have been tamer than expected. Near the breeding enclosures, their flight distance could be as short as a few meters, whereas away from the enclosure it appears to be longer. We’ll follow the behavior of released animals in the coming years.

Seasonal patterns of mortality for boreal caribou in the southern Northwest Territories

Allicia Kelly

Seasonality is an important component in shaping the dynamics that influence ecosystems, including mortality. We investigated temporal patterns of mortality in the boreal ecotype of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in the southern Northwest Territories. Survival data were collected from 423 adult female caribou tracked by radio collars between 2003 and 2018, 172 of which died during the study from predation (106), non-predation (i.e., starvation), (15), harvest (11), accidents (3), or unknown causes (37). We used generalized additive mixed models to evaluate temporal patterns of mortality across the year. We found that probability of mortality followed a trimodal pattern with three peaks, one during pre-calving, one in mid-summer, and a smaller peak in late autumn, with a 6-fold difference in mortality risk between the lowest and highest periods of the year. Mortality risk was higher overall from late spring (pre-calving) to mid-summer than it was from late summer until the end of winter, despite decreasing for about 6 weeks post-calving. We explored potential factors contributing to mortality risk at different times of the year.

Recovery actions for woodland caribou: Predicting and testing the efficacy of habitat restoration

Melanie Dickie

Anthropogenic habitat alteration via land conversion directly reduces habitat availability and disrupts ecological processes. Western Canada’s boreal forest has undergone rapid landscape change as a result of human expansion and resource development. Resulting habitat loss and alteration is hypothesized to be the ultimate cause of boreal woodland caribou declines, one of the most high-profile species at risk in Canada’s boreal forest. While a variety of recovery actions are being employed to recover caribou populations, habitat restoration has been identified as a necessary and important management tool. Restoration is required to restore ecological processes to address the ultimate cause of caribou declines, habitat loss and alteration, as well as the proximate cause, unsustainable predation rates as a result of human-mediated changes to predator-prey dynamics. While the importance of conducting habitat restoration is clear, the effectiveness of restoration treatments is not well understood. Given the spatial extent of these disturbances and the cost of habitat restoration treatments, it behooves researchers and managers to predict and monitor the effectiveness of restoration treatments. Here we explore the predicted success of restoration for recovering caribou populations using predator-prey simulations, and empirically test the effectiveness of restoration treatments. We present a multiple-lines-of-evidence approach for understanding caribou, moose, wolf and bear response to habitat restoration treatments aimed to restore the functional and ecological processes in northeastern Alberta. Understanding behavioral and population-level responses to restoration treatments is necessary to ensure successful recovery and adaptive management.

Indigenizing Science

Morgan Hrycak

Environmental and biological sciences are often siloed from examining Indigenous-related concerns, which can compromise Indigenous rights. Learning about braiding Indigenous ways of knowing and Western Science can be an invaluable way to strengthen relationships and facilitate project support (e.g. on caribou conservation projects). This presentation series will provide perspectives on Indigenous Knowledge and bioethics, decolonizing genomic science, and harvesting rights.

  • Part 1: Perspectives on Bioethics and Research Implications will focus on examples of Indigenous Knowledge, bioethical considerations of scientific research, governance of Indigenous community data, and science communication principles. By knowing these topics, Western scientists can better understand Indigenous concerns on-the-ground. For more information about references used in this presentation, please see the References for Indigenizing Science-Bioethics and Research Implications.
  • Part 2: Chronic Wasting Disease will focus on the decolonization of genomic science, harvesting rights, and the science behind prion diseases. Chronic wasting disease is a fatal nervous system disorder affecting cervids, such as deer and moose. However, Canada’s caribou populations are considered at high risk for this disease. Due to Indigenous connections to the land, understanding chronic wasting disease from Indigenous perspectives can help in understanding and managing the spread of this disease. For more information about references used in this presentation, please see the References for Indigenizing Science Chronic Wasting Disease.

Movement, energetics, and demography of Norwegian reindeer

Rebecca Viejou

In Norway, reindeer are fragmented into roughly 23 wild populations and 76 semi-domestic herding districts.  The variation in forage quantity, migratory behaviour, and demography across these populations provide an opportunity to examine the causes and consequences of migration.  In this presentation, I will summarize the results of three studies with the following research goals:

  1. Use forage biomass, digestibility and energy data, and previously defined landscape models of vegetation and geoclimatic variation to develop maps of summer and winter digestible energy across Norwegian reindeer ranges.
  2. Use GPS locations of 304 wild reindeer trajectories to test a series of predictions that follow from the forage quantity hypothesis for migration.
  3. Use 15 years of population data for 43 semi-domestic herding districts to test the basic assumption that migrations provide a demographic benefit.

The results of this work suggest that access to winter ranges with high digestible energy may be an important driver of the large-scale seasonal movements of reindeer, with measurable demographic consequences.

Science to inform policy: Linking population dynamics to habitat for threatened species in Canada

Cheryl Johnson

You can find the published manuscript for this presentation here.

Boreal forests provide numerous ecological services, including the ability to store large amounts of carbon, and are of significance to global biodiversity. Increases in industrial activities in boreal landscapes since the mid‐20th century have added to concerns over biodiversity loss and climate change. Boreal forests are home to dwindling populations of boreal caribou Rangifer tarandus caribou in Canada, a species at risk that requires large, undisturbed landscapes for persistence. In 2012, the Canadian government defined critical habitat for boreal caribou by relating calf recruitment to disturbances. Some have questioned whether the recruitment relationship can be extrapolated beyond the environmental conditions represented in the analysis.

We examined the effects of human disturbances and fire (alone and in combination) on variation in recruitment and adult female survival using data from 58 study areas in Canada. Top models were used in aspatial scenarios of landscape change to evaluate the efficacy of the critical habitat definition in achieving the recovery objectives for boreal caribou in two contrasting landscapes: Little Smoky, dominated by high levels of human disturbances, and the northern boreal shield of Saskatchewan (SK1), dominated by fire.

The top recruitment model suggested the negative effect of fire was three to four times smaller than human disturbances. The top adult female survival model included human disturbances only. These results re‐affirm that human disturbances are the primary factor contributing to boreal caribou declines.

Our aspatial scenarios suggested that undisturbed habitat would have to increase to ≥68% for Little Smoky to maintain a self‐sustaining population of boreal caribou with some degree of certainty. In contrast, the SK1 population was self‐sustaining with 40% undisturbed habitat when fire disturbance predominates, but could become vulnerable with increases in human disturbances (8%–9%).

Policy implications. Boreal caribou are listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Our results suggest that the 65% undisturbed critical habitat designation in Canada’s boreal caribou Recovery Strategy may serve as a reasonable proxy for achieving self‐sustaining populations of boreal caribou in landscapes dominated by human disturbances. However, some populations may be less or more vulnerable, as illustrated by the scenarios in a landscape dominated by fire (SK1). Continued population monitoring will be essential to assessing the effectiveness of land management strategies developed for boreal caribou recovery, especially with climate change.

Let it grow? Moose response to habitat disturbance in caribou ranges

Laura Finnegan

Boreal caribou winter range in the Central Mackenzie Valley, NWT: What is it, where is it, and how can we manage for it proactively?

Jesse Tigner

Using forecasting tools to inform recovery actions for woodland caribou: a comparison of the tested and the untested

Mariana Nagy-Reis & Chris Johnson

A recurring challenge for resource managers and decision makers is quantifying the trade-offs associated with alternative recovery actions for species-at-risk. Provincial and federal agencies have either employed or planned to employ recovery actions to halt precipitous declines in woodland caribou populations. Nonetheless, testing the efficacy of such actions on the ground is difficult due to insufficient time and limited replication. Here we showcase two modeling approaches developed independently to quantify trade-offs associated with tested and untested recovery actions for woodland caribou, including Linear Feature Restoration/Deactivation, Maternal Penning, Predator Exclosure, Conservation Breeding, Wolf Reduction, and Moose Reduction. More specifically, we compare the estimated costs and demographic benefits associated with each action and discuss knowledge gaps, limitations of tested recovery actions, and uncertainties associated with untested actions. The two case studies demonstrate the utility of forecasting tools to inform recovery actions and guide decisions by explicitly estimating trade-offs associated with actions, which ultimately can be used in structured-decision making approaches to help bridge the gap between management and science.

Application of integrated population models for conservation of at-risk caribou populations

Mark Hebblewhite

Population monitoring can take many different forms, and monitoring elusive and endangered species frequently involves a variety of sparse data from different sources. Small populations are often hard to sample precisely and without bias, so when estimates of vital rates like survival or recruitment point to conflicting population trends, it can be hard to determine which is more correct. Integrated Population Models (IPM) provide an applied statistical framework to reconcile different types of data together in a unified population model. IPMs help reconcile discrepancies between different data types, missed years, and often lead to increased precision in trend estimates as well. IPM models can also be used to evaluate efficiency of recovery actions. Finally, the process of developing IPMs also often improves the science of database management, sampling designs, and highlights challenging assumptions and ways of improving efficiency.

In this webinar, we highlight three case studies of the application of IPM modeling to the question of trend monitoring of threatened or endangered caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Alberta, Jasper National Park, and the Central Group of Southern Woodland caribou. All three case studies brought together dozens of biologists, managers, data scientists, and modelers to developed customized Bayesian IPM models to aid trend estimation, and reconcile differences amongst conflicting trends from different data types. In Alberta, we developed a R Shiny App (Eacker et al. Wildlife Society Bulletin) to aid Alberta caribou biologists in the data management processes to efficiently estimate caribou trends across the province using the Hatter-Bergerud R-M Equation. In Jasper National Park, we worked with Park Biologists to integrate data from data from juvenile recruitment surveys, telemetry-based survival, aerial population counts/mark-resight data, and non-invasive capture-recapture DNA data to better understand population status and trend of the South Jasper Local Population Unit. Finally, in the Central Group, we worked with local biologists and First Nations to develop IPMs for the Quintette and Klinse Za that helped test for efficacy of management and recovery actions. IPMs provide a useful, flexible tool for biologists to monitor populations and provides a valuable example of the benefits of integrated population modeling approaches for endangered species management and recovery.

30 years of change: Linking habitat, predators and alternative prey to explain recruitment variations of an endangered caribou population

Martin-Hugues St-Laurent

Woodland caribou populations suffer from habitat modifications and most are currently in decline. It has been suggested that the conversion of old-growth coniferous forests into early-seral stages has increased cervid abundances, which have, in turn, stimulated a numerical response of predator populations, ultimately threatening caribou populations via a habitat-mediated apparent competition mechanism. Using a long-term dataset (1984-2012) of the Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou population, we quantified changes in habitat structure and in interspecific interactions triggered by apparent competition between moose and caribou via the responses of two incidental predators, coyote and black bear. We also documented calf recruitment rates and analysed temporal trends in this vital rate. Our results show that the loss of high-quality habitat for caribou in the area surrounding the Gaspésie National Park varied from -30 to -56%, while the gain of preferential habitat for predators varied from +3 to +66%, mainly driven by logging. Inter-annual variations in autumn calf recruitment were mostly affected by the proxy of regional abundance of coyotes, which was highly correlated with moose and black bear proxies of abundance. The increase in coyote abundance in the Gaspésie Peninsula following anthropogenic habitat modifications seems to be the main mechanism responsible for the current decline in this caribou population. Our analyses revealed some impacts of habitat alteration and the complexity of the resulting trophic cascades. Moreover, we pointed out that an 802-km2 protected area is not enough to prevent the decline of a caribou herd if we drastically increase the disturbance level in the surrounding matrix.

Density-dependent social behaviour: from individuals in groups to populations

Quinn Webber

Density dependence is a key population ecology parameter that can influence variation in life-history, morphology, and behaviour. Caribou population density is known to fluctuate through space and time. In Newfoundland, caribou occupy approximately 14 distinct sub-populations, and since the late 1990s, nearly all of these sub-populations have experienced declines in population size. In this talk, we outline three potential behavioural outcomes of the drastic change in population density observed for Newfoundland caribou. First, based on a thirty-year dataset of caribou group size observations collected during aerial surveys, we found that groups varied in size both spatially and temporally. In contrast to our expectation, groups decreased in size as a function of increasing population density, while groups tended to be larger in winter compared to summer, presumably as a result of seasonal access to foraging opportunities. Second, we examined the role of the social environment to determine whether reproductive success varies for caribou that form calving aggregations during parturition compared to those that give birth solitarily. We found that approximately 80% of caribou in the Middle Ridge herd give birth within a social calving aggregation, but there was no difference in reproductive success between animals that gave birth on, or off, the calving ground. However, when only considering caribou on the calving ground, we found that animals living closer to the periphery of the social aggregation had lower reproductive success than those at the core of the social aggregation. Finally, we found that social network strength and habitat specialization were density-dependent, while more social individuals were habitat generalists. However, habitat specialization had a greater effect on fitness, where habitat specialists had higher fitness than habitat generalists, but only at high density. Our work on caribou in Newfoundland addresses questions about the density and context dependence of social behaviour and provides a theoretical framework for future studies to address similar questions. We broadly integrate aspects diverse ecological fields, including socioecology, spatial ecology, movement ecology, and conservation biology.

Habitat loss on seasonal migratory range imperils an endangered ungulate: implications for redefining critical habitat for mountain caribou

Sara Williams

Using a telemetry location dataset spanning 1981 – 2018, we tested for changes in prevalence of migratory tactics (resident, migrant) over time, switching between tactics, shifts in seasonal space-use including migration corridors, and survival consequences of migrant and resident tactics for 237 adult female endangered woodland mountain caribou in one population in western Canada. Over more than three decades, the proportion of individuals displaying annual migration to the low elevation forested winter range declined from nearly 100% to 38%. Correspondingly, there was a strong switch away from being migrant to being year-round residents at high elevation. These behavioral changes corresponded to abandonment of low elevation winter ranges in association with increasing levels of anthropogenic land uses, including forestry and oil and gas developments. Furthermore, there were no identifiable migration corridors to target for migratory route protection. Shifts in migratory behavior translated to lower survival rates, particularly for caribou demonstrating resident tactics, consistent with recent declines of the caribou population. That migrants switched to residency in their largely undisturbed summer range, despite lower survival, indicates maladaptive habitat selection consistent with recent patterns of mountain caribou extirpations.

Continental and regional patterns in caribou resource selection across a wide gradient of fire frequency

Eric Palm

Boreal caribou living in an area shaped by natural disturbances: insights into the ecology and conservation of the species from where we know the least

Clara Superbie

The decline of boreal and mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) is widely believed to be a result of anthropogenic and natural disturbance by means of disturbance-mediated apparent competition (DMAC). Here, landscape disturbance increases the abundance of browsing ungulates by reducing the seral age of forests, promoting predator numbers, and in turn heightening predation risk to caribou. However, research on the species has mostly focused on where caribou have been impacted by significant industrial disturbances, in relatively productive southern boreal and mountain systems. Yet, about 2/3 of the Canadian caribou population exists principally in northern taiga and shield habitat where logging is absent, and where other industrial activities are quasi-inexistent. In such wildfire-dominated ecoregions of low productivity, we know very little of how DMAC acts as a limiting factor to caribou. Here, we propose to summarize some of the results coming out of 6-years of research on the ecology of caribou living in the northern boreal shield of Saskatchewan. We propose to discuss if DMAC applies as a threat in this population and investigate how caribou and their predators respond to fire but extremely low levels of linear features. Put in perspectives with recently published studies on the topics, we raise questions about how to best protect northern caribou units which may serve as sources to southern caribou populations. Answers to these questions are important to both theoretical and applied ecology, including how we might improve caribou conservation.

Caribou habitat restoration: A trial in northeastern Alberta

Shannon O’Dwyer

Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) are a threatened species federally and provincially in Alberta. Habitat restoration is critical to maintaining suitable habitat to support healthy populations. Current reclamation criteria in Alberta do not support practices that facilitate the restoration of low productivity black spruce and lichen-dominated ecosystems which are important predator refuge and foraging habitats for caribou. At a steam assisted gravity drainage facility in northeastern Alberta, a trial program was developed to recover caribou habitat on six well sites in bog or fen habitats. The six sites underwent habitat restoration in 2014 with each site split into quadrants with four treatment types: i) inverted mound, planted with black spruce seedlings and transplanted reindeer lichen mats, ii) non-inverted mound, planted with black spruce seedlings and transplanted reindeer lichen mats, iii) planted black spruce seedlings and transplanted reindeer lichen mats, and iv) a control area with no mounding, planting or lichen transplantation. Results over three monitoring events have shown promising results. Success of the treatments was measured by health of lichen mats, height and density of seedlings, and overall ground cover of vegetation species. It was found that mounding treatments appear to be returning the OSE wells back to caribou habitat more quickly than the planting only and control treatments. Mounding treatments give planted black spruce seedlings a head start and have taller trees than the planting only treatment.

Partial Cutting: Changing the timber harvest paradigm in Alberta to conserve mountain caribou

Kirby Smith

Mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are classified as threatened in Canada. In May of 2018, the Government of Canada released an “Imminent Threat Assessment for the Redrock/Prairie Creek and Narraway herds of mountain caribou in west central Alberta, the two most northerly mountain herds in Alberta. The Assessment stated that “the effects of the threats facing the species will make achieving the recovery objectives of the species highly unlikely or impossible without immediate intervention including population and habitat management measures”. These caribou winter ranges are considered 84% (Narraway) and 71% (Redrock/Prairie Creek) disturbed, well above the maximum of 35% recommended in the Recovery Strategy for Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain populations (Environment Canada 2014). Based on results of a 19-year study that examined the effects of partial timber harvest on ground based flora (Vitt et al. 2019), an alternative to clear-cut logging is proposed to reduce the impact of this industrial activity on mountain caribou range. Partial cutting has the potential to maintain the forest in a perpetual “caribou-friendly” condition by preserving lichen cover while not enhancing browse, thereby significantly reducing “apparent competition” between mountain caribou and alternate prey species. Moreover, this approach could still provide logging opportunities with additional jobs while reducing impacts on other species of concern (i.e. grizzly bears, bull trout). Additional work is proposed to examine the socio-economic benefits/drawbacks of partial cutting.

Informing Woodland Caribou Habitat Restoration Strategies Through an Innovation Roadmap

Matthew Pyper

Restoration of legacy seismic lines within woodland caribou habitat has received considerable attention in the last seven years in western Canada. Restoration programs have successfully transitioned from testing techniques at an experimental scale to delivering operational scale programs of up to 350 km per year. However, restoration is extremely expensive, averaging $8,000-$16,000 per kilometre. Clearly, innovation is required to continue to advance operational implementation of restoration programs, and to achieve larger scale implementation at lower cost.
To help guide the identification of innovation opportunities for linear restoration, a series of organizations came together to fund a Restoration Innovation Roadmap. The goal was to facilitate adaptive management within restoration programs and to expedite learnings and efficiencies for future restoration programs. The first phase of this roadmap identified a total of eight key conclusions and opportunities to reduce costs and improve effectiveness were identified. These ranged from ecological knowledge related to successful tree re-establishment following restoration, to operational guidelines such as exploring opportunities to create new microsites using new implements to increase the efficiency and quality of treatments. The second phase identified a series of new technologies and techniques that could significantly increase the efficiency of restoration treatments, while maintaining or improving the ecological effectiveness. A total of 23 potential technologies or techniques were identified that could reduce the costs of restoration treatment delivery while maintaining or improving ecological effectiveness. The core observation from this study is that the cumulative impact of adopting multiple innovations could lead to a significant change in the way restoration programs could be delivered in the future.
The two papers resulting from this project can be accessed here:

A National Network of Adaptive Management and Trophic consequences of terrestrial eutrophication for a threatened ungulate

Robert Serrouya

This webinar has two components:

  1. Launched in June 2018, the National Boreal Caribou Knowledge Consortium (NBCKC) is a forum for collaborative knowledge generation and sharing to support conservation and recovery of boreal caribou. Within the NCBCK, a population management working group was formed (PMWG), as a result of an action identified in the Federal Action Plan for Boreal Caribou. Population management includes actions intended to provide a relatively immediate benefit to caribou numbers, until the legacy of habitat distance diminishes as a result of habitat restoration and protection. The purpose of the PMWG is to discuss the breadth and efficacy of population management actions under various scenarios, and to rapidly disseminate information across jurisdictions.
  2. Changes in primary productivity have the potential to substantially alter food webs, with positive outcomes for some species and negative outcomes for others. Understanding the environmental context and species traits that give rise to these divergent outcomes is a major challenge to the generality of both theoretical and applied ecology. In aquatic systems, nutrient-mediated eutrophication has led to major declines in species diversity, motivating us to seek terrestrial analogues using a large-mammal system across 598 000 km2 of the Canadian boreal forest. These forests are undergoing some of the most rapid rates of land-use change on Earth and are home to declining caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) populations. Using satellite-derived estimates of primary productivity, coupled with estimates of moose (Alces alces) and wolf (Canis lupus) abundance, we used path analyses to discriminate among hypotheses explaining how habitat alteration can affect caribou population growth. Hypotheses included food limitation, resource dominance by moose over caribou, and apparent competition with predators shared between moose and caribou. Results support apparent competition and yield estimates of wolf densities (1.8 individuals 1000 km−2) above which caribou populations decline. Our multi-trophic analysis provides insight into the cascading effects of habitat alteration from forest cutting that destabilize terrestrial predator–prey dynamics. Finally, the path analysis highlights why conservation actions directed at the proximate cause of caribou decline have been more successful in the near term than those directed further along the trophic chain.

Indigenous-led Conservation: Pathways to recovery for the nearly extirpated Klinse-Za mountain caribou

Clayton Lamb

Indigenous Peoples around the northern hemisphere have long relied on caribou for subsistence, ceremonial, and community purposes. Unfortunately, caribou are currently in decline in many areas across Canada. Caribou recovery efforts by Federal and Provincial agencies highlight a complex intersection of legal, economic, ecological, and human-rights issues. In response to recent and dramatic declines of mountain caribou populations within their traditional territory, the West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations (collectively, the ‘Nations’) came together to create a new vision for caribou recovery on the lands they have long stewarded. The Nations focused on the Klinse-Za subpopulation, which had once encompassed so many caribou that Elders remarked that they were “like bugs on the landscape”. The Klinse-Za caribou declined from >300 animals in the 1990’s to only 38 in 2013. In collaboration with Treaty 8 First Nations, Provincial and Federal governments, and scientists, this Indigenous-led conservation initiative paired short-term population recovery actions—predator reduction and maternal penning—with long-term habitat protection in an effort to create a self-sustaining caribou population. Here, we review these recovery actions and the promising evidence that the abundance of Klinse-Za caribou has more than doubled from 38 animals in 2013 to 89 in 2020, representing rapid population growth in response to recovery actions. With looming extirpation averted, the Nations focused efforts on securing a landmark conservation agreement in 2020 that protects caribou habitat over a 7,986 km2 area. The Partnership Agreement was signed in 2020. and the lands will be co-managed by the WMFN, SFN, and Provincial governments. The Agreement provides habitat protection for >85% of the Klinse-Za subpopulation (up from only 1.8% protected pre-conservation agreement) and affords moderate protection for neighboring caribou subpopulations (29-47% of subpopulation area, up from 0-20%). This Indigenous-led conservation initiative has set both the Indigenous and Canadian governments on the path to recover the Klinse-Za subpopulation and reinstate a culturally meaningful caribou hunt. This effort highlights how Indigenous governance and leadership can be the catalyst needed to establish meaningful conservation actions, enhance endangered species recovery, and honor cultural connections to now imperiled wildlife.

Supplemental feeding increases the growth rate of an endangered caribou herd

Doug Heard

Predation has both direct and indirect effects on prey. I considered the possibility that caribou population growth may be limited by summer food because they quit ‘surfing the green wave’, because of the increased risk of wolf predation at lower elevations. If that were the case, then supplemental feeding in might compensate for that limitation and contribute to population growth. To test that hypothesis, we fed high-quality food pellets to free-ranging caribou in the Kennedy Siding caribou herd in central BC, each fall for 7 years, starting in 2015. Beginning in 2016, the Province of British Columbia began a concurrent annual program to promote caribou population increase by attempting to remove most wolves within the Kennedy Siding and the adjacent caribou herds’ ranges. After 4 years, in the Kennedy Siding herd, when both feeding and wolf reduction occurred concurrently, lambda was 1.16 and in the Quintette herd, where the only management action was wolf reduction, lambda was1.08. The higher growth rate of the Kennedy Siding herd was due to higher cow survival (96.2%/yr vs. 88.9%/yr). During the 5th year of this experiment, the Kennedy Siding herd grew at a similar rate as before (λ=1.14) but the numbers in Quintette herd did not change (λ=1.01). On the surface those results lend further support to our previous conclusion that supplemental feeding increased herd growth. However, part of the increase in Kennedy Siding herd numbers may have been due to bulls coming from elsewhere.

New development in genomics methods to inform on caribou population demography

Micheline Manseau

Information on the size, distribution and trend of wildlife populations are key parameters when assessing the status of wildlife species. Quantifying the impacts of natural and anthropogenic activities on these dynamics is also essential in the development of recovery and restoration efforts. New methods using genetic data and advanced computing are becoming more accessible and very effective for studying sensitive species. Genetic data, most often obtained non-invasively by collecting fecal or hair samples, is then used to determine the population genetic structure, the extent of inbreeding and genetic differentiation within and among populations. The data is also used to generate a range of population demographic parameters including population size and trends, survival and recruitment rates, spatially-explicit densities, fitness levels and dispersal rates. New metagenomics methods are also being used to determine a range of health parameters (diet, microbiome diversity, parasites and viruses). In this presentation, I will show examples from projects completed on boreal and central mountain caribou and discuss the value of these methods for producing critical baseline data and ecological inferences that are directly linked to our conservation efforts. I will then discuss the evolution of wildlife monitoring in Canada, the importance of long-term datasets and reflect on future opportunities.