Showing posts with label Conservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conservation. Show all posts

Monday 29 March 2021

Article: Backcountry rodeo: scientists and Indigenous guardians net caribou from the sky

Vancouver Hunter: Great read. Happy to see collaborative management of Caribou between the Tahltan Nation and BC government biologists. We as hunters need to talk to our elected officials and ask them to find more funds for protecting habitat and wildlife.

The four-year-old caribou is still on her feet, kicking and bucking like a Stampede bronc, as Clements Brace and Conrad Thiessen scramble toward her through the late October snow. 

There’s a thin white mist drifting over the ground from the rotor wash of the capture helicopter, but from the open door of a second chopper hovering a few hundred feet above, we have a clear view of the action. With her head and forelegs tangled in a bright orange net, the struggling caribou twists and stumbles as Thiessen, a wildlife biologist with the British Columbia government, quickly closes in. Brace, a camo-clad Indigenous guardian from the Tahltan Nation, runs a few steps behind.

They dodge sideways to avoid a lunge of the caribou’s antlers before swiftly stepping to her side, tackling her by the head and shoulders and muscling her to the ground. The two men have her controlled within seconds, and then we’re banking and dropping, the barren mountains tilting precipitously on the horizon as our pilot spirals down to land.

Read the rest of the story here:

Thursday 16 January 2020

Resources for New Hunters

From time to time I get asked by friends who know someone who is interested in learning more about hunting to recommend where they should start.  If you know where to look, there are lots of great resources for new hunters and hunting curious people.

I'll break this down into 3 categories, hunting curious people, hunter education, and new hunters.



Resources for Hunting Curious People

If you didn't grow up around hunting, you may have negative preconceptions or concerns about hunting.  I know I did. Also, the whole idea of hiking through the woods and shooting an animal might seem completely scary or foreign, not to mention the whole idea of gutting and butchering.

Why do you hunt?

Why I hunt comes down to food and being outdoors. It is very hard to explain how, in spite of camping and hiking for my whole life, it wasn't until I became a hunter that I really felt I fully appreciated BC's nature and beauty.  Learning about animals and their habitat, and then spending the long weeks in their world that it takes to have a chance to harvest one is unlike any other experience.  The best part of it all is being able to cook and share meals with friends, while telling the story of the adventure that made that meal possible.

Venison Osso Buco

There are many reasons why people hunt.  For some tradition plays a role, for others food is a great incentive, but I think for all hunters, it is because they love being in nature and how rewarding the whole experience is.  One thing is for sure, it's hard to put it in words. 1Campfire does a great job of distilling all of that into a couple of short videos.

What is hunting like?

Many people have concerns about hunting that stem from when the worst of the worst ends up on the 6 o'clock news.  Yes, there are slob hunters out there who are just yahoo-macho-rednecks with guns.  They make us all look bad and, unfortunately, a lot of hunting TV is targeted to them. So, please don't let most hunting TV shows give you the impression about what hunting is really like.  However, there are a couple shows which portray hunting in a way most hunters I know aspire to emulate and practice.

MeatEater on Netflix - The best of the best.  It shows hunting for what it is at the highest level of ethics, conservation, and passion about nature. This is the way everyone I know strives to hunt.  If you want to get an idea of what it's like to go hunting, check out this show.

Other notable shows: Solo Hunter

Do you care about animals?

It may seem reasonable to assume that because hunters kill animals that they don't care about them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Hunters are the loudest and most persistent advocates for protecting and restoring habitat and wildlife populations.  After spending months or years of one's lifetime in nature, close to animals, it is impossible not to develop a deep passion for protecting the beauty and wildness of untouched places.  A lot of hunters put a lot of time into conservation, political advocacy, and boots on the ground work to restore habitat and help scientists.  A great example is the new Faces of Wildlife podcast.  It highlights important conservation issues and just so happens to be hosted by hunters.

Faces of Wildlife Podcast

Are There Rules You Have to Follow?

It's not obvious to many non-hunters that there are rules that hunters must follow.  Broadly speaking, there are two sets of rules that hunters must follow.  These are the hunting and trapping regulations and Canada's firearms regulations if you plan to hunt with a firearm rather than a bow.

Download here

Canada's firearms licensing and regulations are complex and more information can be found here:

Hunter Education

Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE)

To become a hunter, you must take a course called the Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE) program.  This course teaches all the basics of the current hunting regulations as well as basic outdoor safety and survival.  Additionally, this course teaches you where to find and look up the latest changes in the regulations.

Many organizations and groups offer the CORE program.  You can find a local examiner or organization through the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF)

It is also worth checking out EatWild.  They offer the CORE and PAL course, as well as many other outdoor education and hunter skills courses.

Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL)

Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL)
The Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) is the licence a person must obtain to own firearms in Canada.  Many organizations offer the firearms safety course required to apply for a PAL.  I recommend that you take a course that includes not only non-restricted firearms (rifles and shotguns), but also restricted firearms (handguns and some specifically restricted rifles).  The addition of the restricted firearms to the course is only a few additional hours and marginal increase in cost, but it will help you become more versed in firearms safety and also means that you don't have to take the whole course again if you decide to take up target shooting with handguns.

New Hunters

Vancouver Hunter

Haha! You're already in the right place!
My most useful posts for new hunters are likely:
First Hunting Trip and Gear List Part 1: Looking After Yourself
First Hunting Trip and Gear List Part 2: Hunting Essentials
Choosing Your First Hunting Rifle

Conservation Groups

For several years I tried to get involved with conservation and meet fellow hunters through various groups.  I tried my fish and game club, the BCWF, and the Wild Sheep Society of BC.  For whatever reason, it never seemed to work out that I could get involved with something my speed until I went to a pint night with the BC chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. The BCBHA holds monthly pint-nights across BC which is a great way to get connected with other hunters, make friends, and dip your toes into conservation with a very low barrier to entry.  To quote Jenny Ly (BHA and Chasing Food Club), "I found my people" when I joined the BCBHA and started attending their monthly pint nights. 

The Region 2 (Lower Mainland) pint night is always the last Thrusday of the month at 7:00pm.  It is usually held at the Burnaby Lakes Rugby Club unless there is a special event (like this January 2020) because they have space to have a meeting while also having a pretty selection of beer. Come check it out and meet hunters!

This month the BCBHA has organized a live podcast instead of the usual pint night.  The event is Jan 30, 2020, 7:00pm. See the event poster and click the link below for tickets.

Click here to buy tickets


Podcasts are downloaded radio programs that you can listen to on your smartphone while you're driving or working. There are many great podcasts that I listen to regularly to stay up to date on hunting issues.  In fact, there are too many to listen to them all.

My top favourites are:

Rookie Hunter Podcast - Hunting from a new hunter in BC perspective
EatWild Podcast - Conservation and hunting education in BC
Faces of Wildlife Podcast - Conservation in BC 
MeatEater Podcast - Conservation and hunting topics mostly in the US
Cutting the Distance Podcast -Tips and Tactics for hunting from an Expert
Cal's Week In Review - Conservation news from across North America


I use YouTube for learning to call moose and elk, as well as tips for field skills like field dressing game. Type in the skill you want to learn and you'll likely find a very helpful video.


Between the CORE program course manual and the Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game book by Steven Rinella, you have most of your hunter skills covered in great detail.

It is also worth purchasing the Backroads Mapbooks for anywhere you plan on hunting.

BC Outdoors magazine is probably the best and most useful magazine when it comes to resources for hunters.  There is also:

Backcountry Journal

Journal of Mountain Hunting



Other Blogs and Instagram


Blogs and Instagram are another great way to learn abotu hunting and get involved.  Definitely check out these:

Chasing Food Club

Chris Pryn on Instagram

Final Thoughts

Everyone is connected to wildlife, whether or not they are aware of it.  Roads, power lines, pipelines, train tracks, and all of our houses exist in the habitat of BC's fish and wildlife.  Becoming a hunter makes you acutely aware of our impact and connection with nature.  I hope more and more people are able to experience and enjoy the outdoors in BC and gain an appreciation for this special place we live.

Friday 3 January 2020

Have your say on BC Wildlife by Jan 9th at 4pm!

The comment deadline is January 9th at 4:00pm

Vancouver Hunter responded with the following commentary:

1) Deadlines for action to protect habitat and begin restoring fish and wildlife populations are too far in the future, beyond 2021 and some even after 2025.  This pushes the start date to take action until after the next election.  It is not sufficient just to continue to make committees and monitor declines in wildlife and fish populations which are in crisis.

2) Dedicated funding from allocating 100% of hunting licence fees to conservation was a campaign promise by the NDP in the last election and they have not followed through.  I would support a reasonable increase in licence fees once 100% of fees are dedicated to conservation.

3) We need to end the professional reliance model where resource companies get to hire their own experts to sign off on resource extraction.  This is a conflict of interest which leads to wildlife populations suffering.

4) We need quarterly and annual reports with facts and figures, showing objectives and funding, successes and failures, as we try to reverse the declines of wildlife populations.

5) We need per capita funding comparable to US states which are enjoying wildlife population increases due to well managed habitat.  This means finding funding to grow the provincial budget from approximately $34 million to between $150 million and $250 million spent on conservation, habitat improvement, and wildlife management.

B.C.’s diversity of wildlife provides many environmental, cultural, social, and economic benefits to all British Columbians.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has adopted a four-phase engagement process to develop a new and improved wildlife management and habitat conservation strategy for British Columbia. The ministry collaborated with Indigenous peoples, rural communities, wildlife organizations, natural resource development industry stakeholders, and the public to develop the draft strategy, called Together for Wildlife.

The first phase of engagement was held from May 22 to July 31, 2018. We received over 1,100 comments through the website discussion and close to 50 written submissions. You can read the archived public commentswritten submissions, and “what we heard reports” on this site.
The second phase of engagement focused on collaborative policy development from December 2018 to October 2019. During this phase, we worked closely with a newly established B.C.-First Nation Wildlife Forum and stakeholders from a range of sectors to identify priority policy options for the government to consider. This phase of engagement involved monthly meetings with the B.C.-First Nation Wildlife Forum, and a series of webinars and workshops with stakeholders.  You can read more about the results of this engagement on the Phase 2 Engagement page.

During the third phase of engagement, we are checking in with all First Nations in B.C., as well as with stakeholders and the general public, to make sure that the right actions are identified in the draft Together for Wildlife strategy. This phase began with workshops with the B.C.-First Nation Wildlife Forum and stakeholders in October 2019, and is continuing with broader engagement in fall 2019.  You can review the draft strategy and provide input on the Current Engagement page

The fourth and final phase of this initiative will be implementation of the strategy. Although full implementation is targeted for Spring 2020, aspects of the strategy are being implemented throughout all phases of this initiative.

Saturday 13 July 2019

FRPA Engagement Responses

 The deadline is July 15th, 2019 at 4pm, so there isn't much time left to respond.  Here are my responses to the questions.  These answers have been informed by the conservation organizations I am a member of, the podcasts I listen to and my firsthand experiences in the backcountry.

How should the Province identify opportunities and priorities for adapting forest management to a changing climate, such as mitigating the effects of beetle infestations, drought and fire?


The Province should seek input from provincial biologists on how to manage forests for climate change.  The primary goal should be to maintain native biodiversity in both plant and animal species in the many climates and ecosystems of BC.  Second to that, maintaining forests with natural biodiversity for usage by both recreational users and industry should be balanced with the long term effects of climate change to ensure sustainability of plant and animal populations.  

What factors should be considered in the planning of forest operations to reduce the risks of wildfire around your community?


The mono-culture of pine trees by the forestry sector by spraying glyphosate and excessively eliminating fire from the landscape has had a catastrophic impact on the risk of wildfires across BC.  The mono-culture of only planting one type of fast growing tree has increased the fire risk which is naturally mitigated by biodiversity and leads to a the compounding effect of pine beetle kill.  Ultimately, when forests are managed as a large farm for the forestry sector, blights and disasters such as fire will have an increased impacted on both communities and the forest itself.  The best thing to reduce the risk of wildfires is to manage forests for natural biodiversity.  Forests go through a natural cycle of recovery after fire or deforestation, where grasses first, deciduous second, and finally coniferous trees reclaim the landscape.  Failing to replant a natural collection of plants and trees in favour of pine cultivation is detrimental.

A vital step in landscape-level planning is understanding what is important to the public. Based on what is important to you or your community, what information on the condition of resource values such as species-at-risk habitat do you think is necessary to support the planning process?


 The most important thing for me, my family, and my community is maintaining healthy and thriving habitat for wildlife and fish populations for the purpose of hunting and fishing.  For me and my community, hunting and fishing plays a central role in our lives.  It allows us to put organic, natural, healthy and ethically sourced food on the table and allows us to enjoy BC's natural beauty.  It is distressing to see the gradual loss of hunting and fishing opportunities as forestry sector and other resource sector jobs damage the environment with no accountability or enforcement or requirement for meaningful restoration and habitat recovery.  Jobs in rural BC are obviously very important as well, and the solution is not to simply halt forestry or create protected areas which the public has limited access to.  It is critical to balance both the jobs of rural BC with how imperative it is to protect, maintain, and enhance habitat to recover and increase wildlife populations.  This can be done with careful planning and the inclusion of provincial biologists in protecting and ensuring recourse activities have a net positive impact on habitat and wildlife populations through using increased fees paid by the resource sector to be directed back into wildlife management.  It is critical that provincial biologists and conservation officers have the funding and enforcement powers needed to manage habitat and wildlife for long term sustainability and growth.  The resource sector and healthy wildlife populations are not inherently opposing priorities.  Many jurisdictions in the United States have thriving and growing populations of game species as a result of habitat restoration and protection paid for by fees from the resource sector and excise taxes on outdoor recreation equipment.  It is not impossible to have your cake and eat it too in the area of enhancing wildlife populations and allowing sustainable resource sector jobs.

How would you like to be involved in the planning process?


I would like to be involved by having a single location online where I can sign up for notifications and read about planned activities in BC forests.  Also, it should be incumbent on anyone wishing to be involved in the planning process to prove their legitimacy as a stakeholder.  It is my deep concern that foreign funded organizations play an illegitimate role in shaping policy in forest and wildlife management.  The UK cosmetics company LUSH spends huge amounts of money funding anti-hunting organizations masquerading as environmental groups and mobilizes well-meaning but uninformed urbanites who have never and will never venture into the woods to support their anti-meat agenda, while the American forestry company Weyerhaeuser pretends to be advocating for jobs when really they are looking at profits.  Neither group is a legitimate stakeholder in how BC forests and wildlife should be managed.  The people who live, spend time, and make a living in the regions where the planning is taking place are the only legitimate stakeholders.  Please consult First Nations, hunters and anglers, outdoor recreation groups, and local residents of the region where the planning is taking place.

Resource roads are a valuable asset in the province as they provide access for the forest industry, ranchers, other resource users, and the public for commercial and recreation purposes. Yet, these same road networks are costly to maintain and have potential negative impacts on wildlife, water quality and fish habitat. What values do you believe are important to consider when planning new roads, road use and maintenance, and deactivation in your area?


 Roads have a scientifically proven impact on habitat, fish, and wildlife.  Numerous scientific papers confirm this.  Deactivation by simply pulling culverts has a negligible impact on mitigating their impact on ecosystems.  Reforesting roads is required to restore and recover habitat.  Obviously, a balanced approach is required to allow access for both industry and the public without unnecessarily or irreversibly harming wildlife and fish populations.  This is where scientific monitoring by provincial biologists and conservation officers should inform decision making on road deactivation and reforestation.  Wildlife and fish populations are the canary in the coal mine to inform decision making about the level road deactivation and reforesting that is required.  If wildlife or fish populations are declining, then deactivation and reforesting is more urgent.  If populations are sustainable or growing, then road density can be maintained.  Ultimately, we need to manage our forests for the long term health of BC plant and animal species.

How can the Province improve transparency and timelines of information regarding proposed operational and landscape-level objectives, plans and results?


It is critical that the government publish, in an easy to read format, at a central location online, objectives, plans and results of landscape-level planning.  It is also critical that objectives be measurable and meaningful with sufficient resources to monitor and enforce.  For decades we have seen the slow decline in fish and wildlife populations which indicates that the process is clearly failing, yet there is no transparency and even less accountability.  It should be mandated that having a net-positive impact on habitat, fish and wildlife populations, and biodiversity be a condition of resource sector operations which is planned for and monitored by provincial biologists and enforced by conservation officers and police.  


What information will help inform your feedback on plans that may impact you, your community or your business (e.g., maps of cutblocks and roads planned in your area, hydrological assessments, wildlife habitat areas or recreation opportunities, etc)?


Detailed maps, reports from biologists on native biodiversity, fish, and wildlife populations, and the criticality of the habitat, as well as a detailed plan of how the habitat impacts will be reversed  or restored following the resource sector operations or how they will be offset or mitigated would greatly help inform feedback on the impacts of planned resource extraction.

What additional values should be considered in FRPA that will allow us to manage forest and range practices in a better way?


 The values of hunter and angler conservationists should be considered in the FRPA.  Hunter and angler conservationists want to ensure fish and wildlife populations thrive in BC.  It is easy to assume this is simply because we want to hunt or hook these animals and fish.  While we do enjoy hunting and fishing, and enjoy the food it puts on the table, the main reason every hunter and angler I have ever met wants to ensure healthy and abundant fish and wildlife populations in BC is because when you spend weeks or months in the woods, quietly learning about the habitat and animals of BC, you gain an unparalleled love for the beauty and preciousness of nature.  The nature of BC is one of a kind and once it is gone, it may never come back. Healthy and thriving fish and wildlife populations mean that there is a healthy ecosystem with native biodiversity.  We are the custodians of this great natural beauty which can sustain us through hunting and fishing, recreation, and also industrial activities if they are managed carefully for long term sustainability.  Hunter and angler conservationists don't see nature as something to be exploited for profit or tamed for agriculture, but rather appreciate the richness of it simply remaining wild.  There are many countries in the would which have lost their native species hundreds of years ago to the ignorance or greed of development and there are many poor countries today that are trading their natural heritage for socioeconomic development.  BC stands at a crossroads where we can either become like Europe, which has lost most of its biodiversity, or make a serious stand and invest in protecting and restoring forests, fish, and wildlife populations so that we can still call ourselves Beautiful British Columbia for generations to come.


In what ways should the province strengthen government oversight and industry accountability regarding forest and range activities to better address the challenges of climate change and the interests of all British Columbians?


The province should strengthen oversight and industry accountability by funding forest, wildlife and habitat management to levels comparable to jurisdictions which are succeeding in maintaining healthy fish and wildlife populations.  This means roughly a ten times increase in funding.  The increase in funding can come from fees levied on resource extraction and forestry, excise taxes on outdoor recreation equipment, fees for tourism sector groups such as ski hills and whale watching, increased fees on hunting and fishing licences. With adequate funding, provincial biologists would have the resources to monitor the health of forests, streams, and wildlife, participate in planning of resource sector activities, monitor impacts, and recovery efforts, and work with conservation officers to enforce and maintain accountability.  Right now, provincial biologists and conservation officers barely have the funding required to monitor the free-fall declines in certain fish and wildlife populations, but do not have the resources to prevent, or reverse the trend.  Fish and wildlife managers across north America have proven they know how to use science to restore and maintain healthy wildlife populations if they have the resources and enforcement powers to do so.  We must use the best science and adequate funding to manage the effects of climate change so that we can maintain healthy wilderness in BC.

Friday 12 July 2019

Alert: Have your say on Forest Practices in BC in 3 easy steps!

Alert: Have your say on Forest Practices in BC in 3 easy steps!
The government wants to hear from British Columbians about how forests should be managed in BC.  Other environmental and industry groups will certainly be making their voices heard.  This is your opportunity to ensure that lots of hunters and anglers are part of the conversation.  Every comment counts! We need you! The deadline is July 15, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. so don't wait!

What to do:
1) Read the Discussion Paper to learn about the issues.
2) Click on the online feedback form to have your say!
3) Last, take 1 minute to send this form letter to the minister in charge, Doug Donaldson.  Enter your address, postal code, and country on the left and click GO.  Follow the instructions and customize the letter if you have more to add.  Then all you have to do is click SEND.  If you want to write your own letter then you can send it to
... and you're DONE! That was easy!!!!

If you want a little guidance on what the BCBHA thinks about these issues, here is a cheat sheet.
Region 2 BCBHA Cheat Sheet:
  • "Landscape level management" could be a good thing.
  • Set limits on the combined impact of forestry, mining, oil and gas, roads, etc. on habitat
  • Include measurable objectives to restore habitat and wildlife populations.
  • Enforce the limits and recovery objectives! There are lots of smart scientists and conservation officers who know how to restore habitat and increase wildlife populations.
  • Leave it better than you found it! It shouldn't matter if you are a forestry company, snowmobiler, or hiker.  It should be the law that you leave the backcountry better than you found it.
  • Let's work together on climate change. Everyone needs a voice at the table to make sure our precious backcountry is still around for the next generation.
If you are interested in the detailed and nuanced BCBHA official position, here is some additional reading which may help inform your response. 

The Official BCBHA Position
BCBHA supports changes to FRPA proposed in the provincial Discussion Paper that will improve conservation and environmental stewardship. In particular, BCBHA wants to see FRPA improvement include the following key points:
  • Revise FRPA to provide clear, enforceable legislation that guides landscape level management for forests and grasslands. 
  • Include measurable objectives for the management of cumulative effects from industry, forestry, recreation and development
  • Landscape level management requires integration between FRPA and other legislation and ministries. Wildlife, habitat, and access management need to be incorporated into landscape level planning.
  • Require resource and recreation users to have net-positive impact on biodiversity, water quality and critical wildlife habitat.
  • Improve collaboration in planning by developing stakeholder groups that meet with government officials and industry.

Join BCBHA in commenting on the FPRA Improvement Initiative. Public feedback will be collected by the provincial government until July 15, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. Participate by completing the online feedback form.  BCBHA has detailed our thoughts on how FRPA should be improved in this comment guide to help you answer the questions. Or, if you are short on time, send this letter to Minister Donaldson letting him know you support the improvement of FRPA for the benefit of ecosystems and wildlife.

Yours in conservation,

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Paper: Saving Endangered Species Using Adaptive Management

Vancouver Hunter: I was recently listening to the Rookie Hunter Podcast whose guest was Jesse Zeman of the BCWF.  They were discussing caribou recovery and the recent controversy around some of the specific measures such as predator management and ungulate population reduction.  Jesse mentioned a paper on the subject and was kind enough to email me the link.  I strongly suggest everyone read it.

Scientific management of habitat, wildlife, and fish is the only way we can hope to preserve and restore species like caribou or steelhead in BC.  Science means objective facts, truth, and results. Science is not an opinion. Science doesn't care if you are an anti-hunter, a hunter, or have some other agenda. If we are to have any hope of gaining and maintaining public support to protect what we value so dearly then we need to uphold science-based management as an impartial decision maker on behalf fish and wildlife, even when it may be contrary to our short-term interests. 

For caribou to recover they need high quality habitat.  That means lichen bearing trees which are hundreds of years old, minimal harassment from humans on snowmobiles and ATV, and natural levels of predation.  Currently, logging has diminished food supplies and left many roads in its wake.  Humans and predators use these roads to gain access to caribou in their habitat.  Also, as a consequence of logging, moose and white-tailed deer populations have increased which in turn leads to an increase in predator numbers.  The increased predator numbers and their improved access to caribou is a serious one-two punch to population numbers.  If we want to protect caribou numbers while the habitat recovers, then we need a sustained predator management effort which includes both heavy culling and a reduction of their other food sources in critical caribou areas. 

Ultimately, the question we need to ask ourselves is are we willing to do what it takes for our children and grandchildren to have threatened species like caribou and steelhead remain in BC.  We may need to give up some access roads, we may take a hit on our forestry or fishing sectors, we may have to cull some ungulates and predators.  Is it worth it?  Is that something we want?  I say yes.


Saving endangered species using adaptive management

Robert Serrouya, Dale R. Seip, Dave Hervieux, Bruce N. McLellan, R. Scott McNay, Robin Steenweg, Doug C. Heard, Mark Hebblewhite, Michael Gillingham, and Stan Boutin
PNAS March 26, 2019 116 (13) 6181-6186; first published March 11, 2019

    Edited by James A. Estes, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, and approved February 6, 2019 (received for review October 2, 2018)


A replicated management experiment was conducted across >90,000 km2 to test recovery options for woodland caribou, a species that was functionally extirpated from the contiguous United States in March 2018. Recovery options were reductions of predators, reductions of overabundant prey, translocations, and creating fenced refuges from predators. Population growth was strongest where multiple recovery options were applied simultaneously. This adaptive management study was one of the largest predator-prey manipulations ever conducted and provided positive results for this endangered North American ungulate.


Adaptive management is a powerful means of learning about complex ecosystems, but is rarely used for recovering endangered species. Here, we demonstrate how it can benefit woodland caribou, which became the first large mammal extirpated from the contiguous United States in recent history. The continental scale of forest alteration and extended time needed for forest recovery means that relying only on habitat protection and restoration will likely fail. Therefore, population management is also needed as an emergency measure to avoid further extirpation. Reductions of predators and overabundant prey, translocations, and creating safe havens have been applied in a design covering >90,000 km2. Combinations of treatments that increased multiple vital rates produced the highest population growth. Moreover, the degree of ecosystem alteration did not influence this pattern. By coordinating recovery involving scientists, governments, and First Nations, treatments were applied across vast scales to benefit this iconic species.
The late Graeme Caughley emphasized that naturally rare yet broadly distributed species are the most challenging to conserve (1). These organisms will overlap with many other valuable natural resources, creating the potential for substantial socioeconomic conflict. Such large-landscape species also encompass many ecological scales, inherently leading to increased uncertainty (2). Scientists have increasingly called for management experiments to help resolve such uncertainty (3), but the challenge has been to apply treatments at sufficiently broad scales of space and time to include relevant ecosystem processes. This approach is referred to as adaptive management and is predicated on creating lasting partnerships between scientists and resource managers to test alternative hypotheses using contrasting policies (46).
Adaptive management was initially intended to guide the sustainable consumption of natural resources, such as fisheries or wood fiber (4). But can this method be successfully applied to recovering endangered species? Many have argued that it can, but examples are rare (7, 8). We highlight this approach using perhaps the greatest terrestrial conservation challenge in North America: recovering woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). These animals live across 3 million km2 from Alaska to Newfoundland, and their critical habitat overlaps petroleum deposits and forest stands worth billions of dollars (9). Caribou are also a key umbrella species for boreal biodiversity, and their range covers one of the largest carbon stores on the planet—the boreal forest (10). Most populations are in decline and extirpation is ongoing (11, 12), setting the stage for an unparalleled conflict between conservation and natural-resource economies (9). With three barren females remaining in the only population south of the 49th parallel, caribou are the first large-mammal extirpation in recent history from the contiguous United States (13).
The complexity of this problem is the result of broad alterations to ecosystem dynamics across three trophic levels: vegetation, herbivores, and carnivores (14, 15) (Fig. 1). Even under pristine conditions, caribou are less fecund than deer (Odocoileus virginianus) or moose (Alces alces) (16) and can be more vulnerable once encountered by predators (17). Yet, in human-altered systems, the creation of productive, early seral forests buoy primary prey numbers such as moose and deer (18, 19). Thence, predator numbers are maintained by the more numerous moose and deer (20, 21), creating a decoupling between predator numbers and caribou. Consequently, caribou can decline to extinction while predators are maintained by generalist herbivores (14, 22). This process is referred to as apparent competition (23) and affects many threatened taxa (24), especially as climate and land-use change facilitate the spread of generalist prey. In the well-known case of California’s Channel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis), invasive feral pigs (Sus scrofa) subsidized predatory golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), causing declines in this endangered fox (25, 26). Recovery was achieved by the simultaneous reduction of pigs and eagles. In that case, the subsidy of overabundant prey could be reversed relatively quickly. For woodland caribou, however, subsidies of prey will last for decades because of long-term changes to forest age distributions (Fig. 1). Therefore, the classic solution of protecting remaining critical habitat (27) will not save most caribou populations because of the time needed to recover old forests and the continental scale of disturbance (28). In such cases, population management is needed until protection and recovery of habitat overcome the legacy of industrial development. Population-based recovery measures include direct predator reductions (29), prey reductions that lead to fewer predators (30, 31), animal translocations, and the creation of short-term safe havens from predators (predator-proof fences, i.e., maternal pens). Reducing predators can produce immediate benefits (29, 3234) but can be unpopular because it is a proximate, short-term solution (35). Reducing subsidized prey is one trophic level closer to the ultimate cause, and safe havens are small (<10 ha) fenced areas that exclude predators and protect caribou during the calving season.
Here we contrast management experiments designed to reduce uncertainty about how to conserve endangered caribou. The primary hypothesis was that population declines could be reversed by removing the proximate limiting factor, excessive predation, because broad-scale ecosystem restoration would take decades to achieve. We included early seral forest (36) as a covariate to test the alternate hypothesis that the degree of ecosystem alteration would influence population response (27, 37). This design essentially contrasts the proximate limiting factor of predation with the ultimate factor of ecosystem alteration. We also qualitatively evaluated how the intensity of treatments and population size affected recovery. The population treatments covered large areas (3,000–8,500 km2) and included predator removal (wolves; n = 6), subsidized-prey reduction (n = 4), predator removal plus safe havens (n = 1), and translocations of caribou (n = 1). These were compared with six untreated, control populations. Our synthesis revealed three conclusions that credibly inform recovery for caribou and other endangered species. First, an adaptive management framework, with control populations, was critical to determining if population growth increased following a specific treatment. Second, a treatment had to be applied intensively to produce a measurable effect. Third, applying two treatments simultaneously produced an additive effect on caribou population growth.


We compared the population growth rate (λ) of 12 caribou populations before and after a treatment as well as 6 adjacent populations used as experimental controls. Before treatments, 16 of 18 populations were in decline (λ < 1; Fig. 2). After treatments began, 8 of 12 treated populations showed λ increases of 0.04–0.28, and 6 of these 8 achieved stable or increasing λ (λ ≥ 1). None of the control populations had positive population growth during treatments. The most pronounced increase occurred within the Klinse-Za (KZA) population (λ = 0.86–1.14), where the combination of wolf removal plus maternal penning resulted in a near-doubling of population size, from 36 to 67 animals between 2013 and 2018 (SI Appendix, Table S1). The adjacent control populations, Graham (GRA) and Wolverine (WOL), continued to decline at λ = 0.65 and 0.86 (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2.
Population growth rates (λ; 1 = stability) before and after treatments were initiated, with controls matched by a similar time period (SI Appendix, Table S1). Solid arrows indicate λ > 1. Population values apply to the beginning of treatment. Black outlines show woodland caribou range boundaries. (Inset) current (gray) and historic (dashed line) distribution in the contiguous United States and Canada. ALP, À la Pêche; CON, Columbia North; COS, Columbia South; FBQ, Frisby Queest; GRA, Graham; GRH, Groundhog; HAS, Hart South; KSI, Kennedy Siding; KZA, Klinse-Za; LSM, Little Smoky; PAR, Parsnip; PUS, Purcells South; QUI, Quintette; RPC, Redrock–Prairie Creek; SCE, Scott East; SSE, South Selkirks; WGS, Wells Gray South; WOL, Wolverine.

An ANCOVA revealed that the effect of treatment (five levels; Table 1) explained 44.2% of the variation in change to λ (Δλ), with positive effects for wolf reduction and wolf reduction + penning. Percentage alteration of forest cover explained only 4.2% of the variation in Δλ (SI Appendix, Fig. S1 and Table S2). The ANCOVA with both treatment and forest alteration was less parsimonious and explained less variation (ΔAICc = 4.68, R2 = 0.42; see SI Appendix, Table S3) than the effect of treatment alone. Six of the treated populations numbered <50 animals at the start of a treatment, and only one of these (KZA) achieved positive population growth (λ = 1.14) when subjected to two treatments simultaneously. Only two of the larger treated populations (>50 animals) did not achieve an increased λ following treatments: Parsnip (PAR) and À la Pêche (ALP). Both had low intensity of management applied (SI Appendix, Table S1). In PAR, moose were reduced by 40% compared with Columbia North (CON), where moose were reduced by >80% and λ increased by 0.064–1.02. In ALP, wolf reduction was applied only to the winter range during the first eight years of treatment and λ did not increase. The treatment was then expanded to the entire range for three years and λ increased from 0.92 to 1.10 (SI Appendix, Table S1). The US/Canada transboundary South Selkirks (SSE) population was small (n = 18) when wolf removal was initiated and expanded only to the Canadian portion of the range (Fig. 2); the population declined from 18 to 3 barren females as of March 2018. In summary, caribou λ did not respond in the three herds with low treatment intensity (SSE, PAR, and ALP), but when ALP transitioned from low to high intensity, λ increased from 0.92 to 1.10. Finally, the translocation of 20 animals to Purcells South (PUS) in 2012 did not improve λ, with only 4 remaining animals in March 2018.
Table 1.
Analysis of covariance explaining change in λ (Δλ) based on treatments for woodland caribou


By focusing on the ultimate recovery metric, caribou population growth, we demonstrated clear benefits of an adaptive management framework applied to endangered species over an enormous landscape. Reducing one limiting factor improved λ, but the greatest increase occurred when two limiting factors were reduced simultaneously. The implementation of wolf reductions followed by penning within KZA illustrates the iterative nature of adaptive management. Given that penning is designed to increase recruitment and wolf reduction increases adult survival, implementing both achieved the highest λ. And critically, pairing populations experiencing treatments with controls that received no similar recovery actions strengthened our inferences.
Intensity of treatment, both numerically and spatially, was a key factor in detecting a population response. In all three instances where treatment intensity was limited, no caribou response was observed. These results follow previous studies suggesting that predation rates should not change linearly with prey density, partially because of density-dependent processes (31, 38, 39). Indeed, caribou in both the PAR moose reduction and the associated Hart South (HAS) control continued to decline, likely because moose were reduced by only 40%. Similarly, when wolves were reduced over just a portion of ALP and SSE, caribou λ did not improve. But when the treatment was adaptively expanded to the entire range of ALP, λ increased substantially. Conclusions from these actions are becoming clear—half measures erode public confidence when the outcome is unlikely to achieve recovery. Resources should be directed strategically and toward recovery treatments of sufficient intensity to achieve results. Finally, as with many translocations (40), moving 20 caribou to PUS was unsuccessful because most of these animals were shortly killed by predators (41), driving home Caughley’s primary message of first removing agents of decline before attempting such actions (1).
The appeal of adaptive management lies with the simple logic of using management actions to test a hypothesis and, if possible, to test alternate hypotheses with contrasting policies (4, 6). These actions should follow detailed modeling of the system to help minimize risks of unintended consequences (3, 31, 42) but also to refute or validate conceptual models of ecosystem dynamics. For example, previous theory suggested caution when removing subsidized prey because of demographic time lags of predators and depensatory predation that can exacerbate declines of rare prey (31, 38). An empirical example occurred within our system when deer populations crashed in 1997 and cougars (Puma concolor) switched to eating caribou (see ref. 31). This information must be adaptively incorporated into recovery plans, but can create imbalances in study designs and implementation. In our case, the lack of replication for some treatments—for example, translocations—may weaken inferences. However, when considered in light of independent studies indicating that animal translocations often fail (40), even with caribou (43), inferences are consistent. Similarly, the combination of treatments (penning and wolf reduction in KZA) can make it challenging to definitively conclude which treatment was strongest. Indeed, balanced and replicated factorial experiments are a laudable goal, but we agree with Krebs’ (44) synthesis of Caughley’s perspective on uncertainty in conservation (1): “Several suspected agents of decline may have to be removed at once… It is better to save the species than to achieve scientific purity.” We hope this approach will encourage others to pursue a priori planned designs or retrospective approaches to adaptive management. Nonetheless, social and logistical barriers to implementation are immense, primarily due to real or perceived impacts on human values (4). Consequently, according to Westgate et al. (7), only 1% of studies that have attempted adaptive management report any response metrics. The plight of woodland caribou has likely reduced these barriers, enabling partnerships across political jurisdictions, among academics, First Nations, managers, industry, and conservationists (45).
The global spread of generalist species through habitat modification and climate change (46) will continue to exacerbate the endangerment and extirpation of species via complex ecological mechanisms such as apparent competition. In many cases, recovery will involve the reduction of expanding prey or abundant native predators. Although six caribou populations grew within highly disturbed landscapes, intensive management was required to achieve this outcome. Support for direct predator reduction is likely to wane (35) unless the ultimate cause of decline, habitat alteration, is addressed. In the case of caribou, like many other endangered species, anthropogenic alterations of forested ecosystems are the ultimate cause of declines. Habitat protection for caribou varies considerably across jurisdictions, but is greatest within the Southern Mountain ecotype, where 22,000 km2 of remaining old forest have been protected from forest cutting in legal land reserves (47). This protection has resulted in 5 of 18 caribou ranges in this study having similar or higher levels of forest gain than forest loss (36) (SI Appendix, Table S1). In such areas, the degree of intensive population management needed to recover caribou is expected to diminish over time. However, in areas where habitat loss exceeds habitat recovery, intensive population treatments will have to be ongoing until there is a change in how natural resources are valued.


Our study included 18 caribou populations in Alberta, British Columbia, and Idaho, of which 12 were subjected to government-led management actions (hereafter referred to as treatments in an adaptive management context) and 6 were controls. We chose only 6 control populations to be conservative in matching ecological conditions as closely as possible to the treatment populations. However, almost all caribou populations in western Canada were rapidly declining; for example, during the same period, populations in Alberta were declining at a mean rate of −8% per year (48). The 12 treated populations in our study were subjected to four recovery actions; (i) predator reductions, (ii) prey reductions, (iii) translocation, and/or (iv) maternal penning (Fig. 2).
Although controversial in many conservation settings, there is a long history of predator (and prey) reduction to recover endangered species (34, 49), from removing feral goats (Capra spp.), to recover endangered island fauna (50), to removal of golden eagles on the Channel Islands, to recover the endangered Channel Island fox (25). Population reduction of wolves, however, is especially controversial given their heightened conservation status in the United States, and important trophic role (51). Nonetheless, wolves are nowhere near endangered or threatened in Canada and are widely distributed there, and conservative population estimates are >14,000 wolves in just Alberta and British Columbia (52). Field studies confirm that wolves are a leading cause of mortality and are the proximate cause of caribou declines (14, 22, 32, 5356). Moreover, federal and provincial policies and legislation explicitly list predator and prey reduction as a required recovery action, along with habitat recovery, to recover endangered woodland caribou under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (37, 57, 58). Finally, predator removal was coordinated by provincial agencies usually via helicopter shooting [similar to the removal of feral goats on Galapagos, for example (50)] under the authority of the respective provincial wildlife Acts (59). Prey reductions were conducted through licensed hunting of moose by sport hunters, also through the authority of provincial wildlife acts and policies. Thus, despite the ethical issues surrounding removal of vertebrates (wolves, moose) to recover caribou (60), methods were permitted and enabled by federal and provincial legislation and policies. No university personnel were involved in planning or conducting predator reductions, thus obviating the need for university animal care review or approvals (see ref. 60). Similarly, caribou translocations in British Columbia were conducted exclusively by government staff supervised by the provincial wildlife veterinarian.
Caribou populations were monitored for responses to treatments between 2004 and 2018, whereas pretreatment monitoring dated back to 1994 (SI Appendix, Table S1). The 18 populations spanned four recognized caribou ecotypes: boreal, northern mountain, central mountain, and southern mountain (61). Boreal are classified by COSEWIC [Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (62)] as threatened (n = 1 population); northern (n = 2), as of special concern; central (n = 6) and southern (n = 9), as endangered (61). Despite variation in their listed status, the bulk of our populations were endangered; thus, we use the term endangered to refer to the status of caribou throughout. Our response metric was the finite rate of population change (λ) (63) or, more specifically, the change in λ (Δλ) before and after treatments. There are two approaches to estimating λ of caribou populations depending on behavioral and habitat differences among ecotypes. The first approach is to estimate population growth rate using aerial surveys in areas where aerial sightability is high (64). In these cases, λ was calculated as λaerial = (Nt/N0)(1/t) (63). The second uses survival of radio-collared animals and population-level recruitment rates to estimate λ using a simple unstructured population model, the recruitment-mortality equation (65): λRM = S/(1 − R), where S is annual survival of adult females and R is recruitment.
For populations in British Columbia (n = 15), there are three ecotypes of woodland caribou (central, southern, and northern), and aerial survey methods differ slightly due to ecological differences. For the southern mountain ecotype (n = 9), survey estimates have been validated with 153 radio-collared animals. When snow depth exceeds 300 cm (3) in the upper subalpine, where the caribou dwell during late winter surveys, sightability is greater than 90%. Surveys were conducted only under such conditions, making population estimation straightforward. For the other six populations in British Columbia (central and northern ecotypes), mark-resight (54) with radio-marked caribou was used to correct population sizes, or all individuals were marked or identified through camera traps (66). Populations in Alberta (n = 3) are difficult to aerially survey because caribou live in dense coniferous forest, so population trend and associated uncertainty were estimated based on λRM (48), using the adjustment of ref. 67 to account for the delayed age at first reproduction of caribou. DeCesare et al. (67) showed that the λRM equation is algebraically identical to a Leftokvich stage matrix with three stages and thus provides identical results, but λRM is the convention used for monitoring woodland caribou. Although population estimates were not available in Alberta, minimum caribou observed indicated that all three populations had >50 animals at the start of treatments (57). Calibration and validation of the two approaches to estimating λ have been extensive (64, 67, 68). Serrouya et al. (64) compared λ for populations where both data sources (λaerial and λRM) were available, and found the correlation to be 0.78. This suggests that both metrics were comparable and that any biases within a population would be minimal over time because the same method (λaerial or λRM) was always used for each population. Additional details on the reliability of λ estimates presented in previously published studies can be found in the SI Appendix.
Like many ecosystem management cases (32), the intensity of treatments varied across areas. For example, neither prey nor predator reductions were ever 100%. In the SSE population, wolf removal occurred only on the Canadian portion of the range (Fig. 2). For the ALP population, treatment occurred on the winter range from 2007 to 2014 and then expanded to the winter and summer range from 2015 to 2017 (SI Appendix, Table S1). To index the intensity of treatment, we reported the number of wolves per 1,000 km2 removed per year; for moose, we reported the percentage reduction from the peak population size. The CON population also had a maternal penning trial that began in 2014, although this was a pilot study that was designed not to affect λ but to test the concept on a low number of animals (<20% of females). To isolate the effect of the moose reduction treatment, and to avoid a confound caused by maternal penning for caribou, comparisons in the Revelstoke (REV) study area (SI Appendix, Table S1) were ended in 2013 for the treated populations—CON, Columbia South (COS), Frisby-Queest (FBQ)—and the adjacent control populations (WGS and GRH). Isolating the effect of the moose reduction was important because this recovery tool had not been used before (30) in the context of apparent competition (unlike wolf reductions, which have been applied more frequently in this and other studies). Similarly, localized winter feeding of caribou occurred in the Kennedy Siding (KSI) population from 2014 to 2018, but was not formally considered a treatment. Results indicated no effect on λ, but some improvement to body condition was noted (66).
It was not just treatments that varied between populations, as the ultimate cause of population declines is habitat alteration (37, 58). We used an index of habitat alteration from remotely sensed forest loss data derived from Landsat (36) to control for the ultimate driver of caribou population trends: habitat alteration. The covariate was the proportion disturbed (early seral forest caused primarily by logging or petroleum development; ref. 36) within a population range, which was converted using the logit link. The proportion of early seral forest was included to test the hypothesis that less altered areas were more likely to have increased λ as a result of a treatment. Previous analyses showed that more early seral forests predicted lower caribou recruitment, as revealed in a national meta-analysis spanning 35 populations in the federal recovery strategy (37) and supported by theory and empirical studies across Canada. To contextualize the length of time that population treatments would be required, habitat alteration was also stratified by forest loss and forest gain based on the definition of ref. 36.
We conducted an ANCOVA to test our hypotheses by explaining Δλ as a result of recovery treatments and the proportion disturbed in each caribou range, with nontreatment (control) populations set as the intercept. For statistical analyses, λ was converted to the instantaneous rate of increase (r), λ = er (63), because r is centered on 0 and normally distributed. The dependent variable was the log response ratio, Δr, defined as ln (λafter) − ln (λbefore)—that is, the difference in population growth rates before vs. after treatments. Population size and treatment intensity were estimated quantitatively as described earlier, but were treated as qualitative factors for three reasons: (i) limited degrees of freedom are inherent in large-scale studies, (ii) population size was not available for the three herds in Alberta, and (iii) we did not have a common currency among treatment types to quantify intensity. All statistics were performed in R using the base lm package (69).


C. Gray, M. Dickie, and K. Benesh helped with data extraction and GIS analyses; and L. DeGroot conducted the SSE surveys. The West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations were instrumental in implementing treatments for KZA. Funding was provided by the Alberta and British Columbia provincial governments, Idaho Fish and Game, and Parks Canada for the caribou surveys we conducted. M.H. acknowledges funding from NASA through the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) (Grant NNX15AW71A).


  • Author contributions: R. Serrouya, D.R.S., B.N.M., D.C.H., M.G., and S.B. designed research; R. Serrouya, D.R.S., D.H., B.N.M., R.S.M., and D.C.H. performed research; R. Serrouya and M.H. analyzed data; and R. Serrouya, D.R.S., D.H., B.N.M., R.S.M., R. Steenweg, D.C.H., M.H., M.G., and S.B. wrote the paper.
  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.
  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
  • This article contains supporting information online at


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