Climate change and woodland caribou in Northwestern Ontario: a risk analysis
AbstractWoodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) range occupancy and populations have declined in northwestern (NW) Ontario over the last 100 years primarily due to human-induced factors. Recovery efforts are underway to halt this decline by reducing risk factors. Climate forecasts suggest a 4—5 oC increase in May—August mean temperature over the next century with little change in precipitation. Resulting increases in extreme weather events and increased fire weather severity will likely increase the amount of forest burned, reduce the area of older forest, alter distribution and abundance of forest tree species and plant communities, and increase abundance of alternate prey. The reduced amount of older forest preferred by caribou will be in greater demand by the forest industry leading to more conflict over ecological and economic values. Most of these factors will increase risk to caribou survival. Although forests may experience enhanced productivity, forest management practices will try to adapt harvest, regeneration, silviculture and fire management practices to both maintain economic benefits and increase the ability of forests to sequester carbon. The interaction of climate-induced forest change and forest management practices adds uncertainty to caribou conservation efforts at the southern edge of its current range. This uncertainty reinforces the need for a precautionary approach to forest management, increased research and monitoring effort, sustained emphasis on caribou recovery, and careful rationalization of restoration efforts where greatest opportunities for success may be realized.
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