LAST STAND for woodland caribou


Dr. Rick Schneider

The future for woodland caribou in Alberta is grim.
Indeed, according to Dr. Rick Schneider, a research associate with the Integrated
Landscape Management Program at the University of Alberta, extirpation from this province is just around the corner.
Schneider told researchers and industry partners at the annual general meeting of the ILM group, “If things don’t change, we know that almost all the herds in the province will be down to less than 10 animals within three decades. There’s a couple of exceptions, but by and large, we’re looking at the effective loss of most herds in 30, 40 years.”
ILM research over the last few years indicates the direct cause of this loss is increased predation by wolves. But wolves and caribou have been on the landscape together for millenia. So what has tipped the balance?
According to Schneider, “The leading hypothesis is that it is our human change of the landscape that has led to these increases in wolf density and increased encounters with caribou. In particular, the increased number of roads and seismic lines and cutblocks that produce more forage possibilities, more access points for deer to get into systems where caribou really had it all to themselves in the past. And, now with these other prey species, we’ve got wolf densities going up and caribou end up taking the brunt of the problem.”
He says saving woodland caribou in Alberta depends on three factors. These include curtailing industrial activity, reclaiming seismic lines and roads, and culling wolves. But the costs are high. So he has developed a computer model that weighs societal values and economic trade-offs which can be used as a decision-making tool
Schneider has also developed what he calls a “triage approach” to help people decide which herds to save. As he explains, “There are some that are doing not so bad, some that are almost on the edge of extinction right now. So ranking herds on a variety of factors, beyond just where their trends are and how big their populations are, there are a number of other factors to take into account. And then there are costs. Some are very expensive—the ones that sit right atop the oil sands are literally tens of billions of dollars of opportunity costs lost there—whereas other entire ranges really have not much oil or gas value at all, and could be protected for next to no cost to the Crown. So by weighing all these factors, you can provide a ranking of the herds. Which one would be the first herd you’d pick if you could only do one?
Without following triage approach, Schneider believes we’ll lose all our caribou herds.

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