Tracking the travels of the elusive Woodland Caribou in the English River Forest
This improved understanding will help the ministry develop resource management practices that will minimize the impact of human development and resource use on caribou.
It is a relatively unknown fact that the Woodland Caribou once thrived in the Wawang area. Herds lived freely and well fed on the abundance of lichen in the surrounding area. In the last century, due to logging, hunting and forest fires, the population not only migrated but was also put at serious risk.
In 2012, the Woodland Caribou was escalated from the Species at Risk list to the Endangered Species list in our area. With the stringent management and extensive research taking place, the Ministry biologists suspect that it may be slow but the Woodland Caribou will eventually once again become prolific in the English River Forest which encompasses Wawang Lake.
With such rarity, it was a real treat to see on right on our very own beach….what a majestic creature!
If you’re not familiar with northern forests, it would be easy to think that forest-dwelling woodland caribou are more or less on their own in these woodlands. But caribou share the landscape with many other species – including other large mammals.
The program is researching ways to maintain healthy caribou populations in the province. Since 2010, program researchers have fit more than 190 caribou with collars that transmit information about their location and movement behaviour in three large study areas. Their objective is to sample animals in relatively undeveloped landscapes, as well as in more disturbed and developed areas, to collect information on how survival, reproduction, habitat selection and movement patterns are affected by human influences. They plan to analyze this information to develop a better understanding of the factors that influence woodland caribou persistence. This improved understanding will help the ministry develop resource management practices that will minimize the impact of human development and resource use on caribou.
The Northern Mammal Ecology Program at the Ministry of Natural Resources Center for Northern Forest Ecosystem Research studies caribou, wolves and moose to learn what determines the density and distribution of these mammals on the northern Ontario landscape.
The abundance of other large prey species (e.g., moose) and predators (e.g., wolves) on the landscape are believed to influence the caribou density. When intact forests are affected by development or resource extraction activities, these disturbances may cause changes in the abundance, behaviour and the amount of habitat available for species like moose and wolves. These changes have the potential to have a negative impact on caribou density and persistence.
To gain a better understanding of how predators and other prey species might be affecting caribou, researchers are also collecting information on the distribution, density and behaviour of these other species. For example, more than 45 wolves have been fitted with collars that transmit information about their location and movements. These collars have been placed on animals that inhabit the same three study areas as the collared caribou. Information collected focuses on the types of habitat (e.g., forest types, landscape features) that wolves inhabit and travel through, the prey species they eat, and the characteristics of the locations where they catch their prey.
Researchers have also conducted aerial surveys within the study areas to calculate moose densities and identify the characteristics of locations with relatively high and low moose densities. They are also examining historic information gathered from moose collared in other areas of northern Ontario, to develop a more detailed understanding of how moose respond to different types of forestry practices.
This holistic approach to caribou research – which focuses on the species they interact with, as well as caribou themselves – should provide some important insights into caribou ecology that will help the ministry develop effective caribou conservation measures.
In time, it will become more and more common to spot these animals on your visits up to Wawang Lake….stay tuned and keep your eyes peeled!