Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y113186

    Identifying factors affecting the succession of terrestrial lichen communities in the Omineca Region of north-central British Columbia
 
Project lead: Scott McNay (Resources North Association)
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
Description:
In the Omineca region of BC, Government has implemented ungulate winter range (UWR) legislation to manage low-elevation pine-lichen woodlands on more than 133,430 ha of forests used by woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). Woodland caribou are: a species at risk under the Forest and Range Practices Act in BC, are commonly considered to be a leading indicator of biodiversity and ecosystem health (e.g., see ENGO programs such as Caribou Nation, Grey Ghosts, and Staring at Extinction), and depend on UWRs with abundant terrestrial lichens for their over-winter survival. Legally designated UWR in the Omineca was stratified into units of terrestrial lichen habitat within which management direction is focused on the maintenance of forage. It was assumed that forage could be maintained using a 2-pass, 140-year rotation of forests where disturbance from logging would “restart” the ecological succession of terrestrial forage lichens (Province of BC 2005). Development of management direction was, at the time, limited in ecological scope and taken from resource conditions prior to attack by the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae; MPB). After 3 years, implementation of UWR policy in the region is now considered to have been impeded by 2 fundamental assumptions: 1) all sites with terrestrial lichen follow the same ecological succession trajectory and 2) pine-lichen woodlands have sufficient economic viability to attract industrial development. In a recent workshop (Whittaker and Wiensczyk 2007), domain experts from around BC acknowledged considerable variation in succession trajectories of lichen-plant associations both within and between 3 broad regions of the province; the Chilcotin, the Entiako, and the Omineca. Current management direction for UWRs in the Omineca does not take this ecological variation into consideration. Discussion at this workshop also focused on the fact that MPB attack is replete in these regions and the effect of MPB-killed timber on UWR value is still unclear (Cichowski 2007). For example, in the Omineca, uncertainties such as “shelf life” of MPB-attacked pine, current economic factors in the industry, and policy constraints will likely lead to avoidance of UWRs by licensees; hence, largely due to the MPB, the tools assumed to manage UWRs may not be as available as initially expected.

Active management of UWRs is crucial to the long-term supply of habitat for caribou. Lack of management was predicted to lead to mid-term shortages in the supply of UWR (McNay et al. 2006; Sulyma 2001). We seek to undertake research that synthesizes several aspects of UWR ecology building new understanding of relationships among site factors, terrestrial lichen abundance, MPB-killed timber, and snowpack development. With this new knowledge, a second phase of research is focused on the relationships between fire and lichens to test management for regenerating terrestrial forage lichens. Outcomes are expected to improve local UWR management and aid the persistence of caribou populations by: a) distinguishing UWRs that require active management from those that do not; b) specifying management options for sites requiring active disturbance; c) improving the understanding of regional differences in UWR ecology; and d) improving the understanding of the likely response of caribou to MPB-attacked range.

Over the past years we have completed activities that 1) document current conditions of lichen communities at several sites so that long-term comparisons can be made to evaluate a) the impacts of MPB (Sulyma and McNay 2009), b) the use of prescribed fire (Sulyma and McNay 2009, Sulyma et al. 2010), and c) the impacts of forest harvesting (Sulyma and Sulyma 2006); 2) provided base information to develop short-term indicators for monitoring the success of restoration treatments (Haughian et al. 2009); and, 3) provide tools for identifying lichen sites most in need of restoration treatments (Sulyma and McNay 2009, Sulyma et al. 2010, Sulyma 2010). These activities relied on an improved understanding of lichen ecology in the Omineca Region and a subsequent synthesis of the recently acquired information will provide guidance for future resource management activities in northern caribou winter ranges.
Related projects:  FSP_Y091186FSP_Y102186

    Deliverables:

Executive summary (84Kb)
Wildlife Infometrics news bulletin - April 2011 (0.3Mb)

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Updated May 25, 2011 

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