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Woodland Caribou

The woodland caribou is a member of the deer family found throughout Saskatchewan’s northern forests. Canada has listed the woodland caribou as a “threatened” species. Find out more about woodland caribou and what the province is doing to manage their habitat and protect their populations.

Conservation

Woodland caribou are an important resource and symbol to northern people. Caribou populations are a reflection of the health of the landscape and ecosystem. 

The boreal population of woodland caribou is listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act. Environment Canada created a national recovery strategy.

In response, the province is developing a Saskatchewan solution to protect caribou habitat and ensure the sustainability of the woodland caribou population.

Planning and Management

Human activity can affect woodland caribou. Forest harvesting can cause temporary loss of habitat. Industrial and urban development can cause permanent loss of habitat. Roads, trails and seismic lines may create access to caribou habitat for people and predators. This can disrupt caribou’s feeding and resting areas, and make them more vulnerable to predators.

Caribou have only one calf per year. At that rate of reproduction, increased disturbance and predation may lead to a decline in their population.

The province is stepping up conservation efforts to aid woodland caribou survival. It developed a conservation strategy for the species.

Woodland Caribou Range Assessment and Planning

The province initiated the Woodland Caribou Range Assessment and Planning program. This program will:

  • provide a better understanding of woodland caribou ecology;

  • help meet objectives identified in the provincial and federal strategies; and

  • help the province manage the species and related habitat.

This program incorporates two key components:

  • Woodland caribou range assessment, which will increase our understanding of woodland caribou populations and their interactions with their environment within Saskatchewan, and

  • Development of range plans that will lead to better decisions involving habitat management and self-sustaining caribou populations.

The government is working with universities, industry, First Nations and Métis to learn more about caribou in the province and answer important questions such as:

  • Are caribou numbers declining?

  • Where are caribou ranges?

  • Is the relationship with their predators still healthy?

  • What kinds of forest make up the best caribou habitat?

Engaging with industry, First Nations, Métis and stakeholders is key to the development of range plans. These plans will guide how to restore damaged caribou habitat through:

  • better forest management practices;

  • ensuring that new or other industrial development sites do not pose a risk to caribou;

  • managing road, trail, and seismic line activity; and

  • planning for future land use that sustains caribou range and a healthy boreal forest.

Range assessment and planning activities have been divided into the Boreal Shield (SK1) and Boreal Plain (SK2) conservation units as identified in the provincial and federal strategies. 

The province submitted interim population data for the Boreal Shield in 2016. A draft range plan for the Boreal Plain SK2 Central was submitted in October 2017. Expected timelines for range plan completion are as follows:

  • SK2 Boreal Plain West – October 2018
  • SK2 Boreal Plain East – October 2019
  • SK1 Boreal Shield – October 2020.

Research

The woodland caribou range assessment program incorporates research to help determine the status of woodland caribou populations and habitat and provide important data for range planning.

Research projects are examining population status, structure and distribution, and habitat availability and use. This will be accomplished through a combination of:

  • genetic analysis;

  • collaring of animals;

  • direct observation;

  • landscape level mapping;

  • identifying the level of human-caused and fire disturbance in the boreal forest; and

  • documenting traditional and local knowledge.

The province’s understanding of woodland caribou is limited to the results from relatively recent, short-term studies. There are many aspects to understanding woodland caribou behaviour and biology that would benefit from longer-term knowledge passed down to the present.

Traditional knowledge can be complex and may include:

  • knowledge about the environment;

  • knowledge about the use and management of the environment; and

  • values about the environment, which are typically based on cultural values and beliefs of the knowledge holders.

Such knowledge originated long ago, based on first-hand observation, and is passed on and combined with the experience of succeeding generations. Making use of traditional knowledge will lead to a more complete understanding of woodland caribou and greatly raise confidence in the outcome.

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