Logging and climate change present more of a threat to woodland caribou than mineral and petroleum development say both federal government scientists and industry, but seismic lines, or “highways for wolves”, remain a pervasive threat.
According to research presented at the North American Caribou Workshop held in Ottawa earlier this month; seismic lines are deemed “highways for wolves” that increase pressure on an already stressed species. Logging and increased forest fires due to climate change, however, remain the overriding determinants.
“Regardless of the climate change scenario we’re looking at, (logging) will be the most important change in caribou habitat quality,” Yan Boulanger, a forest ecologist with NRCan, told journalists, politicos and lobbyists at the workshop. “(Woodland caribou) need the forest to live and hide from predators.”
Research program coordinator Katalijn MacAfee noted seismic lines “really create highways for wolves, as I like to say,” but that the industry attempting to mitigate that with “innovative techniques to reduce the impact”; narrower, low-impact lines for example.
Though resource development and wildlife protection are often at odds, the chamber of mines, Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers appear to be on the same page, when it comes to understanding the impacts.
Studying the resource development’s on the plight of the caribou is “nothing new” says Tom Hoefer, executive director of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of mines.
“But, I’m not used to seeing NRCan work on wildlife matters as Environment Canada is the usual researcher. Perhaps it’s linked to their responsibilities for forestry,” he said. “The idea that seismic lines are highways for caribou and predators is nothing new.”
Hoefer said Boreal caribou in the NWT are “somewhat healthy in numbers in the Mackenzie Valley.”
“But we know Boreal caribou are declining and we know in the North that climate change poses a more immediate threat than development,” he added.
Krista Philipps, CAPP manager of oil sands, called the science on the recovery of caribou “incredibly complex” and that industry was working closely with government and local stakeholders to find solutions.