Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus) avoid wellsite activity during winter


Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are threatened in Alberta in part due to the development of oil and gas resources. To inform best management practices for caribou, we assessed how proximity to wellsites influenced caribou habitat selection, and whether habitat selection varied across wellsite activity phases (i.e., drilling, producing, and inactive). We used location data from 37 GPS-collared caribou monitored between 2007 and 2013 in west-central Alberta to model habitat selection. Our results suggest the influence of wellsites on caribou habitat selection are temporally dynamic. The largest impacts occur when human activity at wellsites is greatest, however wellsites continue to influence caribou habitat selection after human activity ceases. Caribou avoided wellsites, and avoidance increased relative to the degree of activity at the nearest wellsite. During early winter, caribou avoided wellsites in the drilling phase more than inactive and producing wellsites. During late winter, caribou avoided wellsites in producing phases more than inactive wellsites. Caribou may benefit from management practices that include i) seasonal timing restrictions on drilling, ii) reductions of human activity at wellsites, whether in duration or intensity, iii) land-use planning to coordinate the placement of wellsites to minimize impacts to caribou and their habitat, and iv) prompt and effective restoration of wellsites to match original habitat conditions once production has stopped.

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Doug MacNearney, Barry Nobert, Laura Finnegan. “Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus) avoid wellsite activity during winter.” Global Ecology and Conservation, volume 29. 2021. doi: 10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01737