Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project M085226

    The response of caribou terrestrial forage lichens to forest harvesting and mountain pine beetles in the East Ootsa and Entiako areas
Project lead: Cichowski, Deborah (Bulkley Valley Centre for Natural Resources Research and Management)
Contributing Authors: Cichowski, Deborah B.; Williston, Patrick; Haeussler, Sybille
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
The Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou population summers in the North Tweedsmuir Park area, and winters in the Entiako and East Ootsa areas. During winter, caribou select mature lodgepole pine forests where terrestrial lichens are abundant, and forage primarily by cratering through the snow to obtain terrestrial lichens. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has recently listed all caribou in the Southern Mountains National Ecological Area (SMNEA), which includes the Tweedsmuir-Entiako population, as Threatened. The Recovery Strategy for Northern Caribou in the SMNEA in BC identifies research on the effects of mountain pine beetles (MPB) on Northern Caribou as a priority. One of the greatest threats currently facing most Northern Caribou populations in BC and Alberta is the impact of the extensive MPB epidemic. Since this scale of MPB attack has been unprecedented on caribou ranges in recent history, until this project was initiated in 2001, there was no information available on the effects of MPB on caribou, making it difficult to develop management prescriptions that minimize impacts to caribou. Because the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou population is the first caribou population to experience the current MPB epidemic, information collected on the Tweedsmuir-Entiako population will benefit all Northern Caribou populations in BC and Alberta. The current MPB epidemic was detected in the East Ootsa and North Tweedsmuir Park areas in the mid 1990’s. By the late 1990’s, MPB numbers reached epidemic levels on both summer and winter ranges. By 2006, most mature lodgepole pine stands in the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou winter range have been attacked by MPB and are in the “grey attack” phase of the epidemic. Three of the most critical questions that need to be answered regarding effects of MPB on caribou are: · How will caribou winter habitat be affected by MPB attack? (i.e. how will terrestrial lichens respond? will snow accumulation increase due to a loss of canopy and/or will eventual blowdown lead to impeded movements?) · How will caribou habitat use and winter range use be affected by extensive MPB attack? (i.e. will caribou avoid using MPB-attacked habitats for traveling or foraging during winter and migration and/or will they alter foraging strategies in beetle killed areas?) · How will caribou population dynamics be affected by extensive MPB attack? (i.e. will mortality rates and causes, and/or population growth change following the MPB epidemic). This project addresses the first question on the effects of MPB on caribou habitat. The project was initiated in 2001 in the East Ootsa and Entiako areas to monitor various vegetation responses to MPB attack and MPB management logging, with an emphasis on terrestrial caribou forage lichens. The project also assesses stand structure, changes in coarse woody debris as an indicator of movement barriers, and regeneration. In 2001, 79 permanent research plots were established in stands with red attack and in harvested areas in 4 different biogeoclimatic subzones and 7 different site series to address whether ecological conditions affected response of understory vegetation. Basic site information for each 200 m2 circular plot (7.98 m radius) was collected including UTM location, elevation, slope, aspect, stand age, dbh and canopy closure; percent cover of each shrub, herb, bryophyte and lichen species was also estimated. An oblique photograph of the plot was taken from the south side. Stand density was recorded by tree species and size, and by status of MPB attack for lodgepole pine trees. Coarse and fine woody debris was also measured to assess potential obstruction to wildlife mobility. Terrestrial lichen cover was documented by photographing permanently marked lichen colonies (approximately 10 per permanent plot; total photoplots: 771) and fisheye photographs were taken at plot centre to assess light penetration and canopy openness. In 2002, growth rate trials were established for terrestrial lichens, red-stemmed feathermoss and kinnikinnick. All permanent plots were re-measured in 2003 and 2005. In 2005, all trees >7.49 cm dbh were individually tagged for subsequent identification and regeneration <1.3 m in height was divided into 3 categories (0-10 cm; 10-30 cm; 30-130cm). Preliminary data from 2003 and 2005 suggest that kinnikinnick is proliferating on MPB killed sites and affecting terrestrial lichen abundance. Change in terrestrial lichen abundance during the MPB epidemic appears to be mediated indirectly through changes in other ground vegetation rather than directly through changes in canopy condition. It is unclear whether this response by kinnikinnick is only an initial and short-term response to changes in stand structure and site resources, or whether the enhanced kinnikinnick response will persist. Although the focus of this project is on disturbances created by MPB and forest harvesting, a wildfire burned 6 permanent plots in 2004, providing some additional information on the initial effects of fire disturbance. In 2007, we propose to re-measure all 79 research plots to assess changes in terrestrial forage lichen abundance and competing vegetation, stand structure, regeneration, canopy openness, coarse woody debris and growth rates; and, to assess whether the dramatic increase in kinnikinnick abundance has continued since 2005. Information from this project will provide terrestrial lichen abundance, stand structure, regeneration and coarse woody debris information 6 years following attack and will be critical for developing forest management strategies on caribou winter ranges that are experiencing MPB epidemics. Two other projects are also assessing the effects of MPB on terrestrial forage lichens: “Response of woodland caribou to partial retention logging of woodland caribou ranges attacked by mountain pine beetle” (FSP M07-5049) is being conducted on the Kennedy-Siding caribou population and includes an assessment of changes in terrestrial lichen abundance; and, “Effects of a mountain pine beetle epidemic on forest floor vegetation dynamics and regeneration in the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou winter range in the Quesnel TSA” (FSP Y07-1328). Project Y07-1328 was initiated in 2005, while project M07-5049 was initiated in 2006. Both those projects are still in the green and red attack stages of the MPB epidemic. Because this project in the Entiako and East Ootsa area is in the grey stage of the MPB, it provides information on the responses of terrestrial lichens and other forest floor vegetation to a later stage of the MPB epidemic than the other two projects. All 3 projects are complimentary since terrestrial lichens may respond differently in different ecological situations (i.e. different biogeoclimatic subzones) due to potential differences in competing vegetation and their responses.


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Updated August 16, 2010 

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