Regional caribou range and action planning: enhanced analysis

In 2011, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) released a scientific assessment that evaluated the contribution of natural (fire) and human (industrial) disturbance to range condition, and the likelihood of varying range conditions supporting self-sustaining boreal caribou populations (Environment Canada 2011). This assessment was used to inform the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population (Rangifer tarandus caribou), in Canada (National Recovery Strategy; Environment Canada 2012). Both the scientific assessment and the National Recovery Strategy recognized that variability in the probability of supporting self-sustaining populations might be attributed to regional differences in caribou response, or to differences in the characteristics of disturbances, and that further work is required to support regional or context-specific planning and management.

This project aims to enhance understanding of the relationship between disturbance and boreal caribou population response to inform range and action planning. The National Recovery Strategy states that disturbance within a range needs to be managed at a level that will allow for a self-sustaining local population. Variation in habitat and population conditions between boreal caribou local populations distributed across Canada, as well as potential variability in how caribou respond to different types of disturbance may exist. Management decisions to support self-sustaining local populations would benefit from enhanced understanding of this variation in order to support effective implementation of the National Recovery Strategy. This project will not change the identification of critical habitat in the National Recovery Strategy; rather the objective is to provide additional guidance on the best management actions to implement on the ground to provide the greatest impact for boreal caribou. For example, the results of the enhanced analysis may help a jurisdiction to prioritize its management or restoration efforts of different disturbance types. The results of this project may also assist jurisdictions that are following ECCC’s Draft Range Plan Guidance.

In addition, this project will create an agenda for future research to support recovery and action planning, including identification of opportunities to advance adaptive management to address uncertainties that remain following the completion of the work.

Project components include:

  1. Compilation of additional boreal caribou population data from across Canada.
  2. Completion of updated disturbance mapping across boreal caribou ranges.
  3. Expanded buffer analysis to evaluate potential interactions between buffer width and disturbance type on calf recruitment and adult survivorship. This work will further elaborate on the previous buffer analysis (Environment Canada 2011) that shows that a conservative 500 m buffer width applied to all human disturbance types adequately captures the demographic consequences of habitat that is functionally lost to boreal caribou because of its proximity to human development (e.g., due to avoidance, increased predation, sensory disturbance or any combination of the three).
  4. An enhanced meta-analysis that will include the results of the expanded buffer analysis and further exploration of the influence of variability within disturbance types and across regions on calf recruitment and adult survivorship. The enhanced meta-analysis will also examine variation in undisturbed habitat (e.g., amount, size) on calf recruitment and adult survival. This work will build on the previous meta-analysis (Environment Canada 2011) that quantified how the ability of a local population range to support a self-sustaining population of boreal caribou varied as a function of the amount of fire, the amount and type of human disturbance and habitat quality.
  5. Updated population analysis to explore the effects of the variables identified from the enhanced meta-analysis on the likelihood of maintaining self-sustaining populations that could inform boreal caribou management and recovery actions (e.g., disturbance type, time since disturbance, etc.), to the extent possible given available data.
  6. A sensitivity analysis that explores the effects of variation in key population parameters (e.g., recruitment, adult survival) that contribute to the assessment of habitat conditions necessary to support self-sustaining local populations of boreal caribou.

The National Boreal Caribou Technical Committee (NBCTC) – a federal, provincial, and territorial government committee established to facilitate collaboration among jurisdictions in implementing the National Recovery Strategy – will act as a primary review group for the project, and will be the conduit for communication with jurisdictions on progress and results. In addition to the NBCTC, a Science Advisory Group (SAG) will be engaged, consisting of a small group of subject matter experts who will also provide review of the project. 

The analysis will begin in 2016 and will be led by the Science and Technology Branch (ECCC), in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service (ECCC) and Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).


  • Environment Canada. 2011. Scientific Assessment to Inform the Identification of Critical Habitat for Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal Population, in Canada: 2011 update. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 102 pp. plus appendices.
  • Environment Canada. 2012. Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal population, in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. xi + 138pp.
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