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.

Study Area

Project Begins

Spatial data layers assembled and field preparation underway

Fieldwork Underway

Crews setting up trail cameras

Trailcamera Progress and Vegetation Sampling

65 trailcams deployed & vegetation assessments carried out on a subset of plots

Deer Capture Underway

Crews setting and checking traps to fit deer with GPS collars.

Capture Season Complete

12 deer captured

Fieldwork Underway

9 fitted with GPS collars.

Summer Field Work Complete

Crews visiting cutblocks to check trail cameras

Data Entry and Planning for the Capture Season Underway

Crews finished visiting cutblocks to check cameras and carry out vegetation surv

Trap Site Scouting Underway

Classifying photos from the cameras and are getting ready for winter capture

Capture and collaring complete

One month of looking for field signs and scouting for trap sites for the winter

Camera Fieldwork Complete

14 collars were deployed on deer over the winter

All images collected and vegetation plots sampled

photo classification underway

Ways to Decrease Predation Risk for Caribou in Forest Harvest Blocks
Summaries and Communications | Infographics
Infographic from Sunny Tseng and the Caribou Program
Predators and Prey in Harvest Blocks: Implications for Caribou and Forestry
Summaries and Communications | Infographics
This infographic by Sunny Tseng describes the key results from a paper by Tracy McKay and Dr. Laura Finnegan. There […]
A cutblock containing young pine trees and woody debris. mountains in the distant background
Scientific Publications | Peer Reviewed Papers
Paper from the Caribou Program on
deer standing in a cutblock caught on a wildlife camera
QuickNotes | Summaries and Communications
Key findings that can be applied to limit the overlap of ungulates and shared predators in managed forests within caribou ranges.
deer in a cutblock
Scientific Publications | Peer Reviewed Papers
Paper from the Caribou Program on the relationship between cutblock characteristics and animal occurence.
Videos | Summaries and Communications | Audio-Visual | Presentation Slides
Caribou Program biologist Tracy McKay presented for the ABMI Caribou Monitoring Unit's Fall 2021 Series.
QuickNotes | Summaries and Communications
2-page update of a Caribou Program project.
The Boos send word from Slave Lake and Red Earth Creek.
Caribou Program Fieldwork 2021: Muggy and Buggy
The field crew report on the Chinchaga shift.
The second shift couldn't be better, aside from hordes of black flies and mosquitoes, lack of running water, a propane shortage, and man-eating leeches that filled both lakes.
6 enthusiastic technicians, 4 months, a lot of mud.
Who's Been Visiting the Cutblocks?
Update with a peak at some early animal numbers from the cutblock project.
Our Summer of Fieldwork
What was it like for Solène and Isaiah, the Caribou Program field crew this summer?
White-Tailed in West-Central
Watch six collared deer spend a year wandering the boreal.
leonie brown
Checking in with a longtime wildlife biologist for the Grizzly Bear and Caribou Programs.
New Research Assistant Ready to Tackle the Job
Erin Tattersall joins the Caribou Program.
Suzanne Stevenson
Suzanne Stevenson
FSCP Program Coordinator
Leonie Brown
Leonie Brown
Erin Tattersal
Siobhan Darlington
Siobhan Darlington
Research Assistant
Barry Nobert
Barry Nobert
Wildlife Biologist
Karine Pigeon
Karine Pigeon
Wildlife Biologist
Dr. Laura Finnegan
Dr. Laura Finnegan
Program Lead
Tracy McKay
Tracy McKay
Wildlife Biologist