GOABC Wildlife Stewardship: An action Plan for Woodland Caribou

Introduction

Three Woodland Caribou ecotypes are present in British Columbia : Northern Caribou, Mountain Caribou and Boreal Caribou. Those ecotypes are characterized by different habitat selection patterns.

  • Northern Caribou are localized in the North of British Columbia, select habitat with small snowfall and use terrestrial lichens as wintering food supply.
  • Mountain Caribou are found in the South and East of British Columbia, select habitat with important snowfall and feed on arboreal lichens.
  • Boreal Caribou are localized in the North East and use both terrestrial and arboreal lichens as wintering food supply.

Northern and Boreal Caribou are on the Blue list of species that are of special concern in British Columbia and Mountain Caribou are even more of concern as they are on the Red list as critically endangered. Boreal Caribou population have maintained their numbers thanks to their habitat selection strategy. Indeed, most other ungulates are not adapted to CaribouĀ  habitat and Caribou are preserved thanks to this natural separation from other ungulates and associated predators. However, due to modification of the landscape such as forestry activities, other ungulates have increasing access to these historical Caribou habitats, creating resource competition and even worse, attracting their predators with them. This unusually high predation factor is suspected to be a major threat to Caribou population which are not adapted to it.

Background

The Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia (GOABC) is concerned about wildlife preservation and land use issues. GOABC proposes to all resource stakeholders (First Nations, industries and other stewards of the land) to get involved in the development of strategic management plans. In 2006, GOABC created a program focusing on pertinent and timely wildlife preservation issues in order to propose suitable management recommendations : the Wildlife Stewardship Series program. This program consists of workshops during which stakeholders are informed and consulted. At the end of the workshop solutions are proposed on the basis of mediation between all interests involved.

Objective and Method

In December 2007, a workshop focusing on Woodland Caribou was organized by the GOABC as part of their Wildlife Stewardship Series program. Stakeholders with all kind of interests were represented. The goal was to provide technical information and define recommendations in the designated timeframe to mitigate the factors that threaten Caribou population in order to ensure that populations maintained in the long term.

Recommendations and Discussion

The Caribou preservation issue is complex as their habitat range and behaviour are not understood with certainty and because of the implication of industries with significant economical value.

11 recommendations have been identified to help rehabilitation management strategy of Caribou population in British Columbia. The main aspects of the strategy are :

  • Act to preserve populations that are not yet critically endangered
    It is far more efficient to prevent population decline than to try to recover population that are no longer deemed self-sustainable.
  • Manage recreational activities
    Impacts of recreational activities such as heliskiing or snowmobiling are not entirely known and are controversial but there is concern that they could generate Caribou population displacement and stress and that they could facilitate predation access, increasing the probability of opportunistic predation on Caribou. However, as recreational activities are legitimate and of significant economical value only mitigation actions are proposed.

Predation is considered the main factor that threatens Caribou populations. There are a number of causes for predationĀ  increase and several ways to reduce it :

Restore and maintain Caribou habitat

Restoring the historic habitat of Caribou would be ideal as it would recreate the separation from other ungulates and associated predators which is the basis of the survival strategy of Caribou. However, regrowing forest requires time and more urgent action is needed to preserve Caribou from further decline. This action should be implemented as a long term goal to ensure sustainability of Caribou population.

Limit predation

As predation has been identified as the main threat to Caribou population, direct action is required to reduce predator densities in Caribou range such as modification of hunting regulation.

Reduce primary prey

Reducing density of other ungulates is an alternative tool to restore separation of Caribou population on a short term.

Conclusion

Caribou population declines are of high concern. The workshop organized in December 2007 by GOABC involved different stakeholders to discuss and propose strategic recommendations that could improve Caribou recovery management. Special focus was made on reducing predation as it is considered as the main declining factor.

  • Source Guide Outfitters association of British Columbia. March 2008. GOABC Wildlife Stewardhip - SERIES II. Woodland Caribou - Moving forward An Action Plan for Woodland Caribou. Available at : https://www.goabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/WSS2-Caribou.pdf [Accessed 03/2021].