Content related to: deer

Caribou Conservation Through Better Cutblock Design

Beginning in 2018, this project will investigate how cutblock design can be less favourable for deer, moose, and elk.

Converting old forest to early seral stands through forest harvesting turns good habitat for caribou into good habitat for moose, deer, and elk—and their predators. We will set up camera traps in cutblocks and fit deer with GPS collars to see how cutblock characteristics affect their use by deer. Managers can use this to design cutblocks with caribou conservation in mind.


Declines of woodland caribou are linked to human-caused landscape changes that convert mature forests to early seral stands. Early seral stands provide abundant forage that support high populations of primary prey (e.g., deer, moose, and elk). More primary prey within caribou ranges in turn leads to more predators (e.g., wolves).


  1. Determine how timber harvesting regimes and silviculture practices could make cutblocks less favourable for primary prey.
  2. Provide land-use managers with information that can be used to reduce the impacts of timber harvesting on caribou by creating cutblocks less favourable to primary prey.


We will examine primary prey use of cutblocks as a function of cutblock attributes (e.g., site prep, planting, and tending) in west-central Alberta using a combination of data from GPS collars and remote cameras:

  • Collar 20 mule deer and 20 white-tailed deer within four caribou ranges
  • Use 60 remote cameras to monitor cutblock use by moose, elk, and predators

We will use collar and camera data to predict species-specific cutblock use as a function of ecological and silviculture attributes.


The results of this project can be used by forestry planners to benefit caribou recovery by informing best silviculture practices within caribou ranges, and specifically to identify:

  • Priority areas for restoration activities (i.e., target specific cutblocks associated with high probability of use by primary prey for early restoration).
  • Site prescriptions that are preferred by primary prey based on cutblock data within caribou ranges, and consider these site prescriptions in landscape planning.
  • Site prescriptions that are least favored by primary prey to guide restoration tactics that effectively reduce ungulate habitat within caribou ranges.

The Alberta Boreal Deer Project

Alberta’s woodland caribou populations are declining, and wolf predation is considered a primary cause (Wittmer et al. 2005). Predation increases where seismic line density is high (ASRD 2010), so mitigation and reclamation of linear features is being undertaken to reduce this effect. These costs are borne by industry, and these activities may not be effective alone. High densities wolf alternate prey, such as white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), may increase wolf abundance and caribou predation rates (e.g. Seip 1992), potentially amplifying the effect of seismic line density.

White-tailed deer are increasing in numbers and range in Alberta’s northeast boreal forest (Dawe 2011), with potentially severe ecological ramifications for Threatened woodland caribou. Elevated wolf densities have changed wolf-caribou dynamics (Latham et al. 2011) by increasing predation, and caribou mortality. Recovery of woodland caribou in areas of oil and gas activity may necessitate alternative deer management, which requires detailed information on deer density and distribution. However, although we can predict spatial patterns of white-tailed deer expansion (Dawe 2011), we have limited real information on deer distribution and densities within the expansion zone. Our goal is to determine white-tailed deer abundance and densities in Alberta’s northeast boreal forest.

Deer density is usually estimated from aerial surveys, but these are uniquely challenged in the boreal. Dense canopies and different sightability among habitats make aerial surveys very imprecise. Obtaining robust estimates of deer densities in this ecosystem requires the application of new techniques. We will apply a novel statistical approach that uses a combination of satellite telemetry data from white-tailed deer and presence-absence data from infrared remote cameras surveys, to estimate deer density and habitat selection in the vicinity of the East Side Athabasca River (ESAR; a.k.a Christina) caribou herd. By linking habitat selection and movement rates from satellite collars with deer occupancy estimates from cameras, we will estimate deer density; provide an inexpensive, camera-based method to monitor boreal deer populations; and model deer density expansion across the boreal, building on past research. If deer densities can be sufficiently managed to reduce wolf density, then predation on caribou may be eased and the effect of seismic line densities may be ameliorated. This two-prong approach of seismic and deer management may reduce costs and improving environmental performance.