Home range and core area determination, habitat use and sensory effects of all weather access on boreal woodland caribou, Rangifer tarandus caribou, in eastern Manitoba

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Schindler, Doug W.
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Canada's boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou Gmelin) are listed as "Threatened" under the Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA) and provincially under the Manitoba Endangered Species Act (MESA). Two of three provincially designated high-risk boreal woodland caribou ranges occur in eastern Manitoba and have been studied using Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking technology. This project was undertaken with the cooperation of the Eastern Manitoba Woodland Caribou Advisory Committee (EMWCAC). I investigated the development of an objective criterion using an adaptive kernel analysis to define core areas of use and the sensory effects of all weather access. A Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) model for woodland caribou was evaluated to determine if woodland caribou were selecting high quality habitat as defined by the model. Habitat use and selection at course and fine scales was assessed to determine landscape and stand level selection and use. A case study of habitat use and selection using forest inventory attribute data was also conducted and a comparative analysis was undertaken to determine differences in habitat use and selection between two ecologically distinct caribou populations. The criteria used to define core areas yielded mapping outputs that could provide a surrogate for critical habitat and a basis for management zoning and habitat planning. Analysis of the animal use of high quality habitat as predicted by the HSI model illustrated that woodland caribou selection of high quality habitat versus its availability is significant. Course or landscape scale habitat selection and use analysis illustrated that woodland caribou require large tracts of jack pine dominated forest containing black spruce, treed rock and muskegs. At the fine or stand level scale, woodland caribou selected habitat based on discrete variables described in the forest inventory attribute data. Woodland caribou preferred 60 - 80 year old pine dominated forest with a crown closure greater than 50%, interspersed with black spruce, rock outcrop and treed muskegs. Woodland caribou habitat containing greater proportions of treed rock and muskeg in pine dominated forest was important to woodland caribou in eastern Manitoba. The effects of the Happy Lake Road on woodland caribou use and animal energetics are measurable. Woodland caribou illustrate avoidance at approximately 2 kilometres from the road with maximum use of habitat occurring at 9 kilometres from the road. The location of the Happy Lake Road may be favourable considering the location of the Black River. Avoidance of the Happy Lake Road by the Owl Lake animals may be a function of predator and human avoidance. General management implications from this study include the use of the objective criteria for adaptive kernel analysis to determine ecologically representative core use areas that can be used in integrated management zoning. It also has application as a tool for proactive monitoring in the determination of core areas and critical habitat in resource development and mitigation.