Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y093065

    Use of adaptive management to mitigate risk of predation for woodland caribou in north central British Columbia
Project lead: McNay, Scott (Resources North Association)
Author: McNay, R. Scott
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in the Southern Mountain National Ecological Area were designated “threatened” by COSEWIC in 2002, were added to the Species at Risk Act Schedule 1, and are a species at risk under the Forest and Range Practices Act in BC. Caribou are also commonly considered to be a leading indicator of biodiversity and ecosystem health in the boreal and sub-boreal forests (e.g., see ENGO programs such as Caribou Nation , Grey Ghosts , and Staring at Extinction ). In the late 1970s, the BC government sensed potential mismanagement of caribou after observing apparent decline in populations coupled with annual harvests exceeding 1,500 animals (McGregor 1985). After curtailing hunting, caribou populations continued to decline and now, despite current legal protection, the rate of decline indicates extirpation for many herds in a matter of decades (Wittmer 2004). The common denominator in this decline was considered by Messier et al. (2004) to be increased ungulate (other than caribou) populations that lead to increased numbers of predators and, hence, increased predation on caribou. Under those conditions caribou apparently suffer more incidental predation from wolves than would otherwise occur (Begerud 1983, Seip 1992, Racey et al. 1999). The increased mortality is exacerbated because caribou are possibly more susceptible to wolf predation than other ungulates (Seip 1991, Seip 1992, Thomas 1995). Increases in non-caribou ungulate populations (e.g., moose, deer, and elk) have been related to the abundance of young seral forests resulting from logging (Hatter 1950, Wallmo 1969, Spalding 1990, 1992, Rempel et al. 1997, Rettie and Messier 1998). Roads and other linear corridors may also benefit predator search rates and allow predator’s access to caribou in places that would otherwise be inaccessible (Jalkotzy et al. 1997; Bradshaw et al. 1997, James and Stuart-Smith 2000, Dyer et al. 2001). Corrective measures to reverse the decline of caribou therefore must mitigate predation either by managing early seral forest conditions, roads and linear corridors, non-caribou ungulates, predators, or a combination of these. Historic evidence of successful mitigation techniques is limited but some research has led to the general conclusion that reducing predation may be able to stabilize caribou populations (Seip 1992, Hayes et al. 2003, Boertje et al. 1996). Specific projects have focused on managing wolves directly (Elliot 1985, Janz 1989, Youds and Roorda 2001, Hayes et al. 2003, Boertje et al. 1996). Based on this information Recovery Implementation Groups (RIGs) consider that, where recovery of caribou can be shown to be biologically feasible through habitat management, management of predation will likely be required in the short-term while habitat is being restored (MCTAC 2003, Seip 2005, BCTAC In Prep. , McNay et al. In Prep. ). This supposition is not new but the importance of non-caribou ungulates and efficacy of predation mitigation techniques remains largely unreported for north-central BC. Provided there are places where predation mitigation can support caribou recovery, the efficacy of managing predation risk is therefore circumstantial and anecdotal. We proposed a science-based comparison of predation mitigation using a combination of Habitat Supply Modeling (HSM) and adaptive management. On the basis of previous studies from radio-collared caribou, moose, and wolves in three caribou herd areas, we are able to opportunistically compare efficacy of recent predation mitigation activities in an adaptive management framework. Regulated wolf trapping has occurred and is continuing in one caribou herd area while an enhanced moose harvest has been implemented in another caribou herd area. The third caribou herd area is being used as a spatial control where no special management of moose or wolves has occurred. We also use a HSM (Caribou Habitat Assessment and Supply Estimator – CHASE; McNay et al. 2003) developed under previous Forest Science Program funding to guide adaptation of predation mitigation activities.

The specific research question being addressed is – can current policy (regulating trapping of wolves) be effectively and efficiently used to mitigate predation of woodland caribou thereby providing opportunities for implementation of longer-term (habitat-based) recovery strategies? The purpose of the research is to assess efficacy of predation mitigation techniques, reduce predation effects on local herds of woodland caribou, and provide knowledge to inform decisions about recovery of caribou throughout their range in British Columbia. The management issue being addressed by this work is ultimately focused on recovery of species at risk but has local application for conservation of local caribou herds through integrated management of timber, critical caribou habitat (i.e., legally designated ungulate winter ranges), and predators. Results are expected to be applied through recovery planning actions, General Wildlife Measures, and development of policies associated with regulated trapping. Outcomes include (a) support for Government in meeting BC’s obligations as a signatory to the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, (b) sustainable northern caribou herds, and (c) greater certainty around resource development and management plans.

There have been no significant departures from the original project plan although we have been less successful in collaring wolves than anticipated. To augment collection of information on wolves, we have applied for, and obtained, additional collaborative funding to monitor wolf distribution through scat and track transects and/or by use of hair traps.
Related projects:  FSP_Y071065FSP_Y082065


Executive summary (0.1Mb)
Contrasting experiences in adaptive management (6.6Mb)

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Updated August 16, 2010 

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