Why Did the Caribou Cross the Road? Preliminary Results on the Relationship between Barren-Ground Caribou and Winter Roads



Angus Smith – angus.r.h.smith@gmail.com



A. Smith – University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada

C.J. Johnson – University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada



A number of populations of barren-ground caribou in Northern Canada are declining at alarming rates. Circumpolar declines in Rangifer have been attributed in part to increasing levels of human development. Previous research has established a behavioural and distributional response to human activity, including mining infrastructure. In the Northwest Territories, a 14 km “zone of influence” (ZOI) around industrial features has been used as the basis for much management and monitoring of barren-ground caribou populations. However, there is still some uncertainty in our understanding of the ZOI for barren-ground caribou and how the ZOI may vary with different disturbance types or seasons. In this research, I am investigating the relationship between barren-ground caribou behaviour, stress physiology, and movement choices and industrial features. Field seasons were conducted in February and March of 2019 and 2020 along the Gahcho Kué spur winter road. Methods for behavioural observation and for assessing stress hormone levels in caribou fecal pellets were successful. Preliminary results from the analysis of satellite collar data are available. This project will increase our understanding of ZOI areas adjacent to industrial infrastructure and help wildlife managers and industry refine their monitoring and mitigation efforts for barren-ground caribou in the central Arctic.

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