The Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou population summers in the North Tweedsmuir Park area, and winters in the Entiako and East Ootsa areas. During winter, caribou select mature lodgepole pine forests where terrestrial lichens are abundant, and forage primarily by cratering through the snow to obtain terrestrial lichens. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has recently listed all caribou in the Southern Mountains National Ecological Area (SMNEA), which includes the Tweedsmuir-Entiako population, as Threatened. The Recovery Strategy for Northern Caribou in the SMNEA in BC identifies research on the effects of mountain pine beetles on Northern Caribou as a priority. One of the greatest threats currently facing most Northern Caribou populations in BC and Alberta is the impact of the extensive mountain pine beetle outbreak. Since this scale of mountain pine beetle attack has been unprecedented on caribou ranges in recent history, there is no information available on the effects of mountain pine beetles on caribou, making it difficult to develop management prescriptions that minimize impacts to caribou. The Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou population is the first caribou population to experience the current mountain pine beetle epidemic. All Northern Caribou populations in BC and Alberta are at risk of experiencing the mountain pine beetle epidemic due to climate change and a northerly expansion of mountain pine beetle distribution. Therefore, information collected on the Tweedsmuir-Entiako population will benefit all Northern Caribou populations.
The current mountain pine beetle epidemic was detected in the East Ootsa and North Tweedsmuir Park areas in the mid 1990s. By the late 1990s, mountain pine beetle numbers reached epidemic levels on both summer and winter ranges. By 2006, most mature lodgepole pine stands in the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou winter range were in the grey attack phase of the epidemic.
Three of the most critical questions that need to be answered regarding effects of mountain pine beetles on caribou are:
" How will caribou winter habitat be affected by mountain pine beetle attack? (i.e. how will terrestrial lichens respond? will snow accumulation increase due to a loss of canopy and/or will eventual blowdown lead to impeded movements?)
" How will caribou habitat use and winter range use be affected by extensive mountain pine beetle attack? (i.e. will caribou avoid using mountain pine beetle-attacked habitats for traveling or foraging during winter and migration and/or will they alter foraging strategies in beetle killed areas?)
" How will caribou population dynamics be affected by extensive mountain pine beetle attack? (i.e. will mortality rates and causes, and/or population growth change following the mountain pine beetle epidemic).
In 2001, a project was initiated in the East Ootsa and Entiako areas to monitor the response of terrestrial lichens to mountain pine beetle attack and forest harvesting, and to monitor changes in coarse woody debris as an indicator of movement barriers. Preliminary data from 2003 and 2005 suggested that kinnikinnick is proliferating on some sites and affecting terrestrial lichen abundance. By 2007, the increase in kinnikinnick growth slowed with significant kinnikinnick mortality observed on some plots. However, until fieldwork for this caribou habitat use project was initiated in 2005/06, no information had been collected on how caribou habitat use is changing in response to mountain pine beetle disturbance or whether population dynamics have been affected. Mountain pine beetle disturbance could presumably start affecting caribou habitat use now that trees have lost their dead needles, potentially changing snow interception. It is important to examine both changes in caribou habitat and changes in caribou habitat use and population dynamics to determine the overall impacts of mountain pine beetles on caribou.
The purpose of this pr ...
Cichowski, Deborah B.. 2010. Effects of a Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic on Northern Caribou habitat use, migration and population status. Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program. Forest Investment Account Report
Topic: FLNRORD Research Program
Keywords: Forest, Investment, Account, (FIA), British, Columbia
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