Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y092259

    Enhancing the resiliency of the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou to the current Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak
Project lead: Morgan, Don (Bulkley Valley Centre for Natural Resources Research and Management)
Contributing Authors: Cichowski, Deborah B.; Morgan, Don
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
The range of the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou (rangifer tarandus caribou) population coincides with an area that is experiencing an unprecedented mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae; MPB) outbreak in central British Columbia (Eng et al. 2005, Cichowski and Banner 1993). This caribou herd belongs to the west-central metapopulation, which is part of the declining Southern Mountain population of woodland caribou and have been designated as threatened (NCTAC 2004, COSEWIC 2005). The caribou rely on mature forest to provide winter range. Areas of mature forest provide their preferred food, terrestrial lichens, and it provides security cover from predators, mainly wolves and bears (Seip and Cichowski 1996, Cichowski and McLean 2005). In addition, large contiguous areas of mature forest allow caribou to shift their use of the landscape, within and between years, making their location and movement less predictable to predators. Changes in forest structure, resulting from the current MPB outbreak, could alter habitat availability and cause a shift in the predator-prey dynamics in the caribou’s winter range. Moose and deer potentially benefit from an increase in young seral forest, and with an expanded prey base the number of wolves may increase. This increase in the density of wolves can compromise the viability of local caribou populations (Wittmer et al. 2005).

There is a pressing need for forest managers to determine appropriate strategies to enhance, as best as possible, the adaptive capacity of the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou to the current MPB outbreak. Information is required on what areas are appropriate for forest salvaging activities and road building and which are not, and on where stand tending can lead to an accelerated recruitment of good caribou habitat (Bunnell et al. 2004). However, there are numerous uncertainties associated with this issue. For example, there are uncertainties about the post MPB structural composition of caribou habitat, including the length of time for MPB killed stands to fall down, the potential shift in sub-canopy vegetation from lichen mats to other cover types (Williston and Cichowski 2004), and at what point do these stands no longer provide adequate caribou habitat and how fast do they recover (Coates et al. 2006). Compositionally, there are shifts in forest pattern and age structure that may suit other ungulates, risking a shift in predator-prey dynamics that may compromise the viability the caribou population (Bunnell et al. 2004), but it is unclear how this dynamic may unfold.

The goal of this project is to evaluate current woodland caribou habitat, how it is being modified by the current MPB outbreak, and which forest management strategies have potential to enhance the resilience of the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou population; all in the context of landscape change, ecological and wildlife response uncertainties, and current knowledge gaps. The approach will use collaborative modeling; influence diagrams (McNay et al. 2006), and scenario analysis techniques (Peterson et al. 2003) to capture existing research and opinions on caribou and habitat ecology. Scenario analysis and assessment is a systematic way of gaining insights into complex and uncertain futures (Peterson et al. 2003). The results of this project will be applied by engaging resource managers in the Nadina and Vanderhoof Forest Districts, including forest licensees, Morice-Lakes Innovative Practices Agreement (IFPA) participants, the government ministries of Environment, Forests and the Integrated Land Management Bureau, and First Nations. Input from resource managers and First Nations will be solicited through workshops to describe the project and to develop forest management scenarios. Project results will be applied in the development of Recovery Action Plans for the northern caribou in the SMNEA. As well, the Nadina Forest District will use the caribou, moose and deer seasonal habitat maps generated from the project to inform operational forestry activities as part of the Forest Stewardship Planning process.

Literature Cited
Bunnell, F., K. A. Squires, and I. Houde. 2004. Evaluating effects of large-scale salvage logging for MPB on terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates: Mountain Pine Beetle Initiative Working Paper 1. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Victoria, B.C. 57 p.
Cichowski, D. B., and A. Banner. 1993. Management strategy and options for the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou winter range. B.C. Min. For., Land Manage. Rep. No. 83., Victoria, B.C., Canada. 48 p.
Cichowski, D., and N. MacLean. 2005. Tweedsmuir-Entiako Caribou Population – Technical Background Information Summary. Prepared for Ministry of Environment, Smithers, B.C. 199 p.
Coates, K.D., DeLong, C. Burton, P.J., and Sachs, D. 2006. Abundance of Secondary Structure in Lodgepole Pine Stands Affected by the Mountain Pine Beetle. Interim Report for Chief Forester, March 13, 2006. Bulkley Valley Centre for Natural Resources Research & Management, Smithers, B.C. 22 p.
Eng, M., J. Hughes, T. Shore, B. Riel, P. Hall, and A. Walton. 2005. Provincial level projection of the current mountain pine beetle outbreak. Victoria, B.C., Canada. [online] URL:
McNay, R. S., Marcot, B. G., Brumovsky, V. and Ellis, R. 2006 - in press. A Bayesian approach to evaluating habitat for woodland caribou in north-central BC. Canadian Journal of Forestry Research.
Northern Caribou Technical Advisory Committee (NCTAC). 2004. A strategy for the recovery of northern caribou in the Southern Mountains National Ecological Area in British Columbia. B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. 108 pp.
Peterson, G. D., G. S. Cumming, and S. R. Carpenter. 2003. Scenario Planning: a tool for conservation in an uncertain world. Conservation Biology 17(2):358-366.
Seip, D. R., and D. B. Cichowski. 1996. Population ecology of caribou in British Columbia. Rangifer 9:73-80.
Williston, P. & Cichowski, D. 2004. The response of caribou terrestrial forage lichens to forest harvesting and mountain pine beetles in the East Ootsa and Entiako areas: Annual Report – 2003/04 – Year 3. A report to West Fraser Sawmills, Fraser Lake, BC, and the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Smithers, BC. 41 pp.
Wittmer, H. U., A. R. E. Sinclair, and B. N. McLellan. 2005. The role of predation in the decline and extirpation of woodland caribou. Oecologia 144:257-267.


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Updated August 16, 2010 

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