Habitat Restoration as a Key Conservation Lever for Woodland Caribou: A review of restoration programs and key learnings from Alberta
The Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal Population in Canada (EC, 2012), identifies coordinated actions to reclaim woodland caribou habitat as a key step to meeting current and future caribou population objectives. Actions include restoring industrial landscape features such as roads, seismic lines, pipelines, cut-lines, and cleared areas in an effort to reduce landscape fragmentation and the changes in caribou population dynamics associated with changing predator-prey dynamics in highly fragmented landscapes. Reliance on habitat restoration as a recovery action within the federal recovery strategy is high, considering all Alberta populations have less than 65% undisturbed habitat, which is identified in the recovery strategy as a threshold providing a 60% chance that a local population will be self-sustaining. Alberta’s Provincial Woodland Caribou Policy also identifies habitat restoration as a critical component of long-term caribou habitat management. We review and discuss the history of caribou habitat restoration programs in Alberta and present outcomes and highlights of a caribou habitat restoration workshop attended by over 80 representatives from oil and gas, forestry, provincial and federal regulators, academia and consulting who have worked on restoration programs. Restoration initiatives in Alberta began in 2001 and have generally focused on construction methods, revegetation treatments, access control programs, and limiting plant species favourable to alternate prey. Specific treatments include tree planting initiatives, coarse woody debris management along linear features, and efforts for multi-company and multi-stakeholder coordinated habitat restoration on caribou range. Lessons learned from these programs have been incorporated into large scale habitat restoration projects near Grande Prairie, Cold Lake, and Fort McMurray. A key outcome of our review is the opportunity to provide a unified approach for restoration program planning, best practices, key performance indicators, and monitoring considerations for future programs within Canada.
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