Woodland caribou population decline in Alberta: fact or fiction?
Keywords:history, surveys, population trend, hunting, predation, habitat loss, pathology, woodland caribou, Alberta, population
AbstractWe re-assessed the view of a major woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) population decline in Alberta. Several historical publications and provincial documents refer to this drastic decline as the major premise for the designation of Alberta's woodland caribou an endangered species. In the past, wildlife management and inventory techniques were speculative and limited by a lack of technology, access and funding. The accepted trend of the decline is based on many speculations, opinions and misinterpretation of data and is unsubstantiated. Many aerial surveys failed to reduce variance and did not estimate sightability. Most surveys have underestimated numbers and contributed unreliable data to support a decline. Through forest fire protection and the presence of extensive wetlands, the majority of potential caribou habitat still exists. Recreational and aboriginal subsistence hunting does not appear to have contributed greatly to mortality, although data are insufficient for reliable conclusions. Wolf (Canis lupus), population fluctuations are inconclusive and do not provide adequate information on which to base prey population trends. The incidence of documented infection by parasites in Alberta is low and likely unimportant as a cause of the proposed decline.
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