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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Canadian Province of Saskatchewan has nearly a pristine, human unaltered far north that researchers are just beginning to determine the dynamics of the Caribou herd there, how they are impacted by natural events such as fire and how do they cope with Wolves who seek them as prey.........There will be three years of vegetation surveys throughout the boreal shield, developing new maps of disturbance across the range and some detailed studies of how caribou habitat - including lichen( which is a major food type of caribou)recovers after forest fires of different types and sizes...........I throw out a "yellow flag" of warning to the "neutrality" of this study as funding for the effort is being provided by the Saskatchewan Mining Association through a grant from Western Economic Diversification Canada, alongside other research partners from the mining sector and the federal and provincial governments........Who speaks for the Wolves as it relates to funding for this study????????????????

Study examines woodland caribou 

population dynamics in northern 

Saskatchewan's fire dominated landscape

Much of Saskatchewan's untapped mineral wealth lies in
 areas that are remote and relatively untouched by human
activity. In order to extract those resources, developers
 must be careful not to disturb woodland caribou, which
 are classified as "threatened" under the Species At Risk
Act. This task is a difficult one when the species in
 question has never been properly studied.

"Under the Species at Risk Act, Environment Canada
 is required to assess threatened and endangered
species and put together a recovery strategy to
provide direction on how to conserve species," said
 Philip McLoughlin, associate professor in the
 Department of Biology at the University of
 Saskatchewan. "In 2011, there were some
rumblings of woodland caribou being subject
 to a federal recovery strategy because they
were classified as threatened."

The boreal shield in which woodland caribou live
stretches across Canada, which made assessing
the state of the species in the country a significant
and complicated undertaking. The government's
recovery strategy identified what was considered
to be an acceptable caribou population and then
 used satellite imagery to estimate the threat
posed by both natural fire damage and
 anthropogenic activity, like roads and transmission
 lines, to the survival of that population.

Saskatchewan's boreal forests, however, proved
to be a particularly challenging and distinct case.
"Saskatchewan was special in that analysis, and
 a bit of work was done there to show that the far
 north of Saskatchewan is quite different from
other parts of Canada," said McLoughlin. "We
 have very, very little anthropogenic disturbance -
somewhere around three per cent compared to
the average, which is somewhere on the order
of 33 per cent of an area for caribou range
across the country.

"At the same time, we have much larger areas
 that have been burned compared to the rest
of Canada: somewhere close to 55 per cent of
 the area has burned in the last 40 years,
compared to the average in Canada, which is
 around 17 per cent."

McLoughlin does not consider northern
Saskatchewan's high incidence of fire to
 be a sign of more troubling trends. "The
 area naturally has a high fire return interval,
around 80 years or so for a complete fire cycle,
 so it's not surprising to me that 55 per cent
 of the area has burned in the last 40 years,"
 he said. "You could expect 100 per cent of
the area burned in 80 years - you have to get
 there somehow. Next to nothing in terms of
fire suppression by the province has allowed
 for that, but that's not to say that it's not natural.

"There are some really important questions about
climate change and whether or not we have greater
fire because of that, but a lot of these big fires didn't
happen yesterday - they aren't immediately recent.
We've had some really large fires, but I think a lot of
 it has to do with the lack of fire suppression to allow
for the natural fire regime to present itself."
Nevertheless, as far as the federal government
could determine, Saskatchewan might require a unique
approach. "We didn't quite fit into this model that
Environment Canada had to project the sustainability
 of the caribou population because we're so different
 from the ranges in which the model was developed,"
said McLoughlin. "Environment Canada eventually
 assessed that the northern Saskatchewan range,
called the SK1 caribou range, out of 51 caribou
ranges in Canada, is the only one that is deemed
to be datadeficient and is an outlier in terms of
fitting in with the recovery strategy."

The lack of information is a problem not only for
 all levels of government, but also for industries
 that hope to have a presence in the province's
northern reaches.

"Right now, any company, any community or any
organization that has a need for infrastructure in
caribou range is kind of in a tricky spot right now,
" McLoughlin said. "They're operating within the
range of a species that's been assessed as
 threatened by the Committee on the Status of
 Endangered Wildlife in Canada, subject to a
 recovery strategy by Environment Canada,
but there's really no data on how to go about
 implementing best practices, how to develop a
rational range plan that allows for further
development in a way that is acceptable in
 terms of caribou conservation."

"We have to develop a range plan in some
way, but, without data, how do you do it?" In
order to provide that data, McLoughlin has
become a leading researcher in a new boreal
 caribou population dynamics study. "We have
 10 research milestones we're trying to tackle
, but, broadly defined, there are two basic
aspects to the study," said McLoughlin.
"The one that I'm taking the lead on is the
dynamics of caribou populations and how
 they interact with their predators."
The study has already begun. "We just
deployed 94 collars on woodland caribou i
n March," McLoughlin said. "These are GPS
 tracking collars, basically very similar to the
GPS in your car except it communicates with
a satellite and we get the locations here in
Saskatoon every couple of hours or so."

For the next four years, those collars will be
 tracked all day, every day, and the animals
 wearing them periodically located and visually
examined via airplane. "We can see them and
then assess whether they've produced a calf
 or not, or if the calf that they produced the
year previous has survived or not," said
McLoughlin. "We can get at the productivity
of the caribou population that way, and we
can do something similar for the predators
as well. We're amassing a database of
locations now, and we'll be able to look
at cow/calf surveys and assess calf
 productivity in the future."

In order to learn the full situation, other
 species that interact with caribou will also
be tracked. "Coupled to that is an analysis
 where we're doing essentially the same thing
 for predators, starting with wolves,"
 McLoughlin said. "We have 26 active
 wolf collars right now deployed at the
 same time as the caribou."

McLoughlin will not be the only researcher
 participating in the study. "Another branch of t
he study is how caribou habitat is responding
 to fire," he said. "This will be led by Jill Johnstone,
also here in the Department of Biology, starting this
 summer. It will be three years of vegetation surveys
 throughout the boreal shield, developing new
maps of disturbance across the range and some
 detailed studies of how caribou habitat - including
lichen, which is a major food type of caribou -
recovers after forest fires of different types and
 different sizes."

Funding for the effort is being provided by the
 Saskatchewan Mining Association through a
 grant from Western Economic Diversification
 Canada, alongside other research partners
from the mining sector and the federal and
provincial governments. It is the Saskatchewan
 government that will be incorporating the study's
 results into a range plan for caribou.

The opportunity appeals to McLoughlin as a
biologist. "Scientifically, I'm interested in it because
 it's a population that's never been studied before,
and, in terms of caribou conservation, the way that
 the landscape is right now, it's going to fill some
 holes that are not filled across the caribou range
 in Canada," he said. "We're going to be able to
see caribou populations in their habitats, and the
 dynamics between caribou and the other species
 that they interact with, including their predators."
"I view it as presenting baseline data for the rest
 of the country of what we should expect in an area
with high fire and low human activity."

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