For the past six years SCI Foundation has partnered with the Newfoundland Ministry of Environment to support a major research initiative on the Woodland Caribou. Caribou herds across the north have always been subject to wide fluctuations in numbers with rapid growth in numbers often followed by severe declines in herd numbers. The Woodland caribou in its native Newfoundland range was experiencing a particularly alarming rate of decline in the late 1990’s and so it was that the government funded one of the largest field programs on a single species that has ever been conducted. The program was organized by Shane Mahoney along with government and university researchers and was funded by the government at approximately $15 million with additional support from SCIF. One of the key objectives was to examine the relationship between woodland caribou calf recruitment and predator management. The project is in its second phase of predator removal. Researchers have removed coyotes from the study areas and are monitoring the effects on calf survival.
Recognizing the importance of woodland caribou to the people of the island, the Newfoundland Ministry of Environment has agreed to continue funding for the Caribou Strategy despite the economic stress experienced in the region. Tourism is dependent on robust natural resources in Canada and there is an overwhelming desire to maintain the iconic caribou on the landscape for diverse reasons, including hunting.
SCI Foundation has allocated more than $300,000 to the effort and the dedication exhibited by the Newfoundland government is to be commended. The program has resulted in significant contributions to wildlife science and the understanding of predator-prey interactions where multiple predators exist. Dozens of peer-reviewed papers, popular articles, pictures, video, invited talks and more have increased the visibility of this work on the international scene. Thanks to partnerships of this magnitude, SCI Foundation is gaining ground as a leader in providing essential data to managers to assist in solving complex wildlife management issues worldwide. New understanding of the interactions among multiple factors influencing caribou populations which are coming to light will contribute greatly to management of North American ungulate populations.
Summer 2013 Caribou Update:
- The project has seen improved survivorship in the Middle Ridge study area. There was a small improvement in recruitment before the predator interventions and diversionary feeding. There was a higher recruitment during the diversionary feeding, and before coyotes were removed. We have seen the highest recruitment after coyotes were removed. We will test this again after the second year of coyote removal (2013). Size/condition of caribou is increasing/improving, with large bulls appearing on the landscape.
- New Products of the project: 5 new manuscripts have been completed and submitted for peer review.
- Budget: Funds have been secured to continue the project in 2013, and coyotes will again be removed.
The Newfoundland Government’s fiscal cycle restarts in September, at which time the team will learn the level of commitment to continue this research for a 7th year, and what can be accomplished in that time. Recommendations from researchers to Newfoundland Government will focus on the fact that survivorship is improving. If predators can be experimentally manipulated in another year of research, more data will be available to check the severity of coyote predation on calf survival and recruitment. Importantly, the research has established what it takes to achieve small increases in calf recruitment, as well as the high costs associated with predator removals in challenging terrain. Information from this project is providing useful guidance to wildlife managers across Canada and the U.S. who are dealing with ways and means to balance predator populations of coyotes, wolves and bear with ungulate prey species.