Caribou Knowledge Synthesis - 140-305

Description: There is a concern about declining woodland caribou populations in Canada. Each jurisdiction, including Ontario, is developing a recovery strategy. The "forest dwelling" ecotype is considered to be at risk in this province. Population dynamics and movements are not well understood. Since the late 1800's, the area of continuous range have receded northward to approximately 50 degrees latitude, although there are several small isolated herds south of this line. Caribou distribution is directly related to the occurence of lichen, the animal's main food, which is associated with nutrient poor environments of pine and black spruce forest.

Several factors may constrain the viability of caribou populations. There is considerable evidence that the primary cause of decline is shift in predator-prey balance. Where retrogression of forest to early successional stages improves habitat for moose and deer, higher wolf densities jeopardise caribou populations.

Although retraction of caribou range has been associated with expanding timber harvest operations, actual cause and effect relationships are difficult to determine precisely. Indirect consequences are predator-prey imbalances, increased human access, and parasite transmission by deer and moose. Before silviculture was prevalent in northern Ontario, clearcutting high value conifers resulted in excessive stand conversion to hardwood species. More recently, smaller cut blocks ans other modified approaches have been designed to improve moose habitat. For caribou conservation, measures such as larger cuts emulating the effects of fires will be necessary.

A major challenge for resource managers will be maintaining isolated populations. Although much of the commercial forest is not expected to be good caribou habitat ans fire suppression has resulted in more old growth forest, small isolated populations in the southern limits of range are far more vulnerable to local or unique detrimental factors.

Several research initiatives are underway or completed in Ontario, mainly related to habitat. Recommendations have been made pertaining to policy, research priorities, and procedure.


The Project Team: Tom Chowns



Report: Chowns, T.J. 2003. State of the Knowledge of Woodland Caribou in Ontario


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