Wildlife mitigation burn monitoring program at Teck Coal Limited - Fording River Operations Smyth, Clint R.; Caldwell, Tim; Sword, Greg
In 1997, Fording River Operations (FRO) implemented a prescribed–burn program with the objective of mitigating the effects of ungulate habitat loss due to mine expansion. Fording River personnel, in consultation with the British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, identified six mitigation burn areas totaling 460.0 hectares (ha) of habitat improvement. The objective of the mitigation burns was to increase wildlife habitat suitability and to provide winter habitat for elk and moose. Each of the treatment areas was subjected to a similar prescribed burn. A monitoring program was established in 1998 to evaluate the results of the prescribed burns in terms of forest cover, forage production, and wildlife utilization. The effects of the prescribed burn treatments on forest cover were evaluated with pre-burn and post-burn aerial photographs. A total of 36 transects were located in paired burned and unburned habitats. Vegetation, wildlife use, and standing crop production (production clip) data were collected at each transect. The monitoring program operated from 1998 to 2007. In general, the prescribed mitigation burns were successful. Although variable between treatment areas and years, standing crop production measurements showed consistently that forage production and, consequently, Animal Unit Months (AUMs) were greater within the burn treatment areas compared with non-burned areas. The increased cover of palatable grasses and forbs was particularly beneficial for the enhancement of elk winter range. Canopy reduction ranged from 10% to 60% within the off-site burned areas. The prescribed burns also altered species dominance and stand structure. Signs of habitat use (i.e., evidence of browsing/grazing and pellet groups) indicated that elk and mule deer continued to use the burned sites preferentially during the monitoring period.
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