Collaborating to Enhance Caribou Habitat through Active Forest Management

Caribou Conservation through Better Cutblock Design
Why this project matters
Working towards caribou conservation on a shared working landscape, this project will investigate the role of silvicultural practices in reducing habitat for species that destabilize predator-prey systems, ultimately to the detriment of caribou in forested ecosystems. The results will provide information for cutblock design that could be used to evaluate sustainable forest management and develop best‑management practices in caribou ranges. Cutblocks are specific areas, with defined boundaries, authorized for harvesting.
There are several factors that negatively impact woodland caribou and may contribute to their decline. For example, roads, powerlines, pipelines and forest harvesting contribute to conditions which may give predators like wolves and bears easier access to caribou habitat. Younger forests that grow after disturbances like fire or harvesting also initially attract deer and moose, which in turn can increase the number of predators.
Boreal caribou, a type of woodland caribou, live in Canada’s boreal forest. Like many wide-ranging species, caribou rely on Canada’s network of protected areas, unmanaged areas, and well-managed forests to meet their habitat needs. Woodland caribou are listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), as well as under provincial legislation in some provinces (e.g., Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec). The federal recovery strategy for woodland caribou specifically recommends the management of prey and predators and to mitigate the threat of high predation rates through habitat restoration and management.
How the project helps conserve caribou
This project provides a method of directly measuring how the application of the SFI Forest Management Standard provides better habitat for wildlife and species at risk. Specifically, this work will deliver spatial habitat models that forest managers can use to measure how silviculture decisions contribute to deer, moose and elk habitat, which in turn affect predator populations. In addition, these habitat models will help inform how timber harvesting and silviculture planning could impact caribou. Results will be scalable from the stand level to the landscape scale, where the potential benefit of multiple age-classes and structure in managed forests can be quantified for the regional landscape of western Alberta.
SFI’s contribution
SFI funds research that helps inform decisions and provide clear action steps for forest managers to aid in management of Species at Risk. SFI has contributed $260,000 to caribou research, which, when leveraged with partner contributions, has resulted in research investments exceeding $1.9 million. We are committed to bringing researchers, community representatives, and forest managers together to make the best decisions possible. SFI’s vast scale also has the potential to bring these solutions to a new level and magnify their impact. There are more than 89 million hectares/220 million acres of forestland certified to the SFI Forest Management Standard in Canada.
The study area is in a region where threatened caribou herds occur within forests managed by five companies with forestland certified to SFI: ANC Timber, C&C Resources Inc., Weyerhaeuser, West Fraser, and Canfor. The region also has an established federal caribou recovery strategy.
How the project helps forest managers
SFI is helping forest managers manage for healthier caribou populations by focusing on important themes such as habitat changes, nutritional needs, and the effects of climate change. SFI’s work with its partners also recognizes the complexity of forest management planning when it comes to managing for multiple conservation objectives involving myriad species. The SFI community shares a goal of using responsible forest management practices to proactively manage risks to caribou and other species. SFI Program Participants in this region will be provided with an opportunity to support specific research indicated in the caribou recovery strategy, and to directly incorporate the results of this research in forest management practices in caribou ranges.
This project will also promote public awareness and outreach through collaboration with multiple forestry companies, and by building on an existing collaboration with the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation of Canada. The project will connect with external audiences by sharing fieldwork and project results online and through national and international conferences. The project results will also be published as a peer-reviewed scientific article in an open-source journal, making the results freely available to the widest possible audience. Communicating the results directly to forestry managers will promote the incorporation of project results into forestry planning in west-central Alberta, contributing to best practices on shared working landscapes in caribou ranges.
This partnership includes academics, conservationists, researchers and SFI Program Participants.
Project lead: fRI Research
Sustainable Forestry Initiative
Canfor (SFI Program Participant)
Weyerhaeuser (SFI Program Participant)
Related information
Why the rare woodland caribou’s diet is being watched in the Boreal forest (TreeHugger article).
Landscape Change: What it means for two species at risk in Alberta (presentation).
SFI and Woodland Caribou (factsheet).
About fRI Research
fRI Research is a unique community of Partners joined by a common concern for the welfare of the land, its resources, and the people who value and use them. fRI Research connects managers and researchers to effectively collaborate in achieving the fRI Vision and Mission. fRI Research works toward sustainable land and resource management. To do so, it engages a range of forest and forest resource users, a consensus-driven partnership, and a shared decision-making process. It looks at the impact of primarily industrial use on the local ecology, economy, society, and culture. This practical research searches for answers to specific land and resource management questions.