An evaluation of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) calving habitat in the Wabowden area, Manitoba
The Wabowden woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) herd in north central Manitoba is considered at high risk due to potential loss of desirable habitat caused by forestry operations. The objectives of this study were to identify and examine the characteristics of calving habitat of the Wabowden caribou herd, to describe and evaluate the habitat in terms of timber resource values, and to identify potential conflicts between caribou habitat requirements and forestry operations. Telemetry locations from 14 female caribou between the middle of May to the end of June in 1995 and 1997 were examined. The calving habitat was described using the Forest Ecosystem Classification for Manitoba, Forest Resource Inventory attributes, and ground vegetation composition data collected from 58 caribou locations. Field data suggested that during the study period, marked cows were often associated with lowland black spruce stands scattered across muskeg. No use of islands in lakes was observed. Habitat use and availability analysis indicated that caribou seemed to avoid deciduous stands, stands with early cutting classes, and non-black spruce conifer stands. The use of treed muskeg was more than expected from its availability. No significant differences were found between calving habitat and random locations in terms of habitat heterogeneity and distance from landscape objects, with the exception of the distance from transmission lines. Timber merchantability of survey sites indicated that the calving habitat in the northern portion of the study area was potentially at risk due to habitat alteration by forestry operations. Calving habitats found in the central and southern part of study area mostly had low timber merchantability, mainly due to the inaccessibility and isolation of the stands.