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Winter habitat selection and foraging patterns of mountain caribou Terry, Eliot Leyburn


Winter habitat use and foraging patterns of mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) were studied in the North Cariboo Mountains near Prince George, British Columbia. Radiotelemetry data indicated caribou used balsam-spruce stands (1373-1677 m) extensively during the early winter (Nov-Dec) period. During late winter (Jan-Apr) caribou shifted to higher elevation subalpine parkland habitats, however, mid-elevation balsam-spruce stands continued to be used extensively in 1992-93 when snow accumulation was below normal. A hierarchical analysis of caribou foraging decisions (following caribou tracks in snow) during the early winter suggested caribou are using balsam-spruce forests in a random manner as they search for recently windthrown trees. Caribou appeared to make coarse-grained (i.e., non-random) decisions at relatively large spatial scales including home range selection (Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir biogeoclimatic zone) and habitats (balsam-spruce) within home ranges. These findings suggest that macro-habitat characteristics (elevation, forest cover type and slope) may be better predictors overall of caribou use than are micro-habitat characteristics. Forest managers should attempt to provide large contiguous stands of ESSF forests during landscape-level planning, as well as travel corridors to facilitate seasonal movements. Maintaining large contiguous stands of ESSF forests should allow caribou to forage extensively as they search for sparsely distributed windthrown trees. Alternative silvicultural systems (i.e., selection cutting) may maintain caribou foraging habitat if the prescription is conservative with respect to residual basal area and tree density. Maintaining pre-harvest species composition, live to snag ratios and a range of diameter classes with abundant arboreal lichens is recommended.

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