Quantifying Forest Disturbance Regimes Within Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) Range in Bristish Columbia

James Maltman
Nicholas Coops
Gregory Rickbeil
Txomin Hermosilla
Cole Burton
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Habitat disturbance is a major driver of the decline of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Canada. Different disturbance agents and regimes negatively impact caribou populations to different degrees. It is therefore critical that land managers and scientists studying caribou have a detailed understanding of the disturbance regimes affecting caribou habitat. In this work we use recent advances in satellite-based disturbance detection to quantify polygonal forest disturbance regimes affecting caribou ecotypes and herds in British Columbia (BC) from 1985 to 2019. Additionally, we utilize this data to investigate harvesting rates since the implementation of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and publication of recovery strategies for caribou in BC. Southern Mountain caribou herds are the most threatened yet experienced the highest rates of disturbance, with 22.75% of forested habitat within their ranges disturbed during the study period. Over the study period, we found that in total, 16.4% of forested area was disturbed across all caribou herd ranges. Our findings indicate that caribou in BC face high, and in many cases increasing, levels of habitat disturbance. Our results provide a detailed understanding of the polygonal disturbance regimes affecting caribou in BC at the herd scale and highlight the need for effective implementation of policies aimed at preserving caribou habitat.