White-tailed Deer Distribution and Density in Alberta’s Boreal Forest

GL 09-9201-50
Jason Fisher

Alberta’s woodland caribou populations are declining, and predation by wolves is a primary cause (McLoughlin et al. 2005). Predation increases where seismic line density is high (reviewed in ASRD 2010), so mitigation and reclamation of linear features is being undertaken to reduce this effect. Costs associated with reclamation activities are borne by industry and may not be effective on their own. High densities of alternative wolf prey, such as white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), increase caribou predation rates (e.g. Seip 1992) and potentially amplify the effect of seismic line density.

White-tailed deer are increasing in numbers and range in Alberta’s northeast boreal forest (Dawe and Boutin, in press). This increase has potentially severe ecological ramifications for Threatened woodland caribou. Elevated wolf densities have changed wolf-caribou dynamics (Latham et al. 2011) through increased predation. 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 now have information on patterns of white-tailed deer expansion (Dawe and Boutin in press, AUPRF-funded research), we have limited information on deer distribution and densities within the expansion zone. The goal of this research is to determine white-tailed deer abundance and densities in Alberta’s northeast boreal forest.

Policy Issue
Ecosystem (and component) responses to oil and gas activity

Knowledge Gap
Moose and deer use of anthropogenic features in and around in situ oil sands developments