Land management strategies for the long-term persistence of boreal woodland caribou in central Saskatchewan
Keywords:boreal woodland caribou, ecological integrity, habitat connectivity, habitat selection, land management strategies, non-invasive genetic sampling, Saskatchewan
AbstractWe investigated landscape changes and their potential effects on woodland caribou-boreal ecotype (Rangifer tarandus caribou) within a portion of the Smoothstone-Wapaweka Woodland Caribou Management Unit (SW-WCMU). The SW-WCMU is one of eight areas delineated by the Province of Saskatchewan for potential recovery planning efforts for boreal caribou, and is one of four management units located on the Boreal Plain Ecozone. The Prince Albert Greater Ecosystem (PAGE) study area was selected within the SW-WCMU for intensive study from 2004 - 2008. Studies focused on quantifying a suite of landscape and population parameters. This paper presents a summary of study results to date and recommends land management strategies intended to contribute to the long-term viability of boreal caribou in the central boreal plain ecoregion of Saskatchewan. The PAGE study area has undergone structural changes from an area that historically presented a lesser amount but well connected mature coniferous forest, to a currently larger amount of mature coniferous stands fragmented by a highly developed network of roads and trails. Movement data pointed to highly clustered use of the landscape by small groups of caribou and smaller home ranges when compared to 15 years ago. Calving sites were located within each individual home range in treed peatland and distant from hardwood/mixedwood forest stands, roads and trails access. Adult annual survival rates were low, averaging 73% over the course of the study. In order to ensure a self-sustaining population level, study results clearly point to the need for landscape restoration to reduce the level of anthropogenic disturbances in some key parts of the study area. Key strategies include retention of mature softwood forest interior proximate to local areas of caribou activity, protection of calving habitat, improving structural connectivity, planning disturbances (forest harvesting, fire salvage, resource exploration, access development) in ways to minimize the anthropogenic footprint, and recovery action planning integrated with other land-use planning initiatives.
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