Erasing Anthropogenic Disturbance: Natural Revegetation of Linear Features Following Wildfire, and the Implications for Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) Habitat Management

Hans Skatter
Micheal Charlebois
Simon Coats
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The federal recovery strategy for woodland caribou identifies wildfires within the last 40 years and anthropogenic disturbance visible at a scale of 1:50,000, including a 500-m buffer, as disturbed. Long-term vegetation recovery on linear features post-fire has not yet been documented. We examined vegetation recovery including stem density and height, hiding cover, and reindeer lichen cover along 40+ year-old legacy linear features in Northern Saskatchewan, in both uplands and lowlands 1–41 years post-fire. We compared these results with burned areas off-lines and unburned lines. On unburned lines in uplands there was minimal recovery, while there was significant recovery of stem count, height and hiding cover on burned lines and burned off-lines. Reindeer lichen cover and thickness remained significantly lower on burned lines and burned off-lines than on unburned lines until the 41-year age group, where there was no longer a significant difference. In lowlands, the stem density and stem height were initially significantly higher on unburned lines than on either burned lines or burned off-lines. After 27–32 years post-fire there was no longer a significant difference in stem densities. Our findings show that fires substantially accelerate natural revegetation and instigate a recovery that is similar on and off disturbance features in both uplands and lowlands. These findings can inform management decisions on restoration planning and calculation of range disturbance metrics. We suggest that the anthropogenic 500-m buffer should be removed post fire, as anthropogenic disturbance is reset, and anthropogenic disturbance should be classified as naturally recovering.