Understanding disturbance thresholds for woodland caribou

By December 8, 2016Blog, CBFA News
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Across the boreal forest, managers face the challenge of conserving biodiversity, including threatened woodland boreal caribou. The signatories to the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) aim to advance both conservation and forest sector competitiveness in the boreal forest. In furtherance of their commitment to utilize the best available information in their collaborative pursuit of solutions to the challenges of woodland caribou conservation, this week the CBFA Science Committee released Understanding disturbance thresholds and opportunities to achieve better outcomes for boreal caribou in Canada: a primer. This short, readable report aims to help CBFA signatories and others advance the conservation of woodland caribou providing information on the science behind the guiding document for boreal caribou recovery, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Recovery Strategy.

The National Recovery Strategy outlines guidelines for caribou recovery based on the probability that a population of caribou will persist through time given the amount of human and natural disturbance in a caribou range. The Strategy sets a maximum of 35% total disturbance in a range (or inversely, 65% undisturbed) as a ‘risk-based threshold’ that managers should strive for in limiting the footprint of fire and industrial activities. The 65% threshold for undisturbed habitat is estimated to provide populations with, on average, a 60% probability of remaining stable or increasing over time.

The CBFA primer provides answers to key questions, including the science that informed the selection of 65% undisturbed habitat as the disturbance threshold, and why 500-m buffers were placed on human disturbances. It also provides information on how different variables related to disturbance explain how many calves are added to a population annually (a key indicator of population persistence).

“Forest managers and conservationists have raised important questions related to how to develop recommendations that follow the guidelines in the National Recovery Strategy for caribou in Canada’s boreal forest. This primer provides an invaluable and accessible resource for the design of recommendations that comply with the requirements of the National Recovery Strategy and Canada’s Species At Risk Act”, said Ronnie Drever, a forest ecologist with TNC Canada.

Fiona Schmiegelow, Professor and Director of Northern Sciences Program at the University of Alberta and Senior Science Advisor and Independent Chair of the CBFA Science Committee, states, “Effective planning requires sound science that is accessible to a variety of interested people. The guidance in the primer addresses fundamental scientific concepts that are foundational to the National Recovery Strategy and necessary for the development of world-leading plans for caribou recovery”.

Read more about on how FPAC member forest companies and others are using best available science to develop recommendations that protect woodland caribou while ensuring the viability of a prosperous forest products sector:

A Methodological Framework For Caribou Action Planning In Support Of The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement


Ronnie Drever is a forest ecologist with TNC Canada and a member of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement’s Science Committee.