Boreal woodland caribou (boreal caribou) populations are currently listed as threatened under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA). Many complex and interconnected factors are contributing to the boreal caribou decline including landscape changes, both natural and human-caused, which indirectly contribute to increased predation on caribou.
In 2014, a group of like-minded energy, forestry and pipeline companies operating in the Cold Lake and East Side Athabasca River (ESAR) caribou ranges joined together to work collaboratively across individual company tenures and lease boundaries to deliver cooperative, range-level efforts aimed at recovering boreal caribou and their habitat. This collaboration is known as the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC).
RICC enables range-level caribou recovery efforts that pre-date but support provincial woodland caribou range planning.
Government and industry alike have recognized that conservation is a shared government, public and private sector responsibility. Lease-specific mitigations undertaken by companies are important to minimize local impacts on individual animals, but more population-level benefits stem from range-level mitigations that require collaboration.
Status of the Boreal Woodland Caribou
Boreal woodland caribou are wide-ranging animals whose home ranges cross company leases and various land-use types. Their populations are listed as threatened under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA). Many complex and interconnected factors are contributing to the decline of boreal caribou, including both natural and human-caused landscape changes, which are indirectly contributing to increased predation on caribou.
To increase chances of achieving self-sustaining populations, the Federal Recovery Strategy estimates that at least 65% of a caribou range should be undisturbed, with disturbance defined as human footprint plus a 500 m buffer, along with areas that have been burned in the last 40 years. The ESAR and Cold Lake caribou populations are currently in decline, and as of 2017 these ranges were 84% and 87% disturbed, respectively.
Since the release of A Woodland Caribou Policy for Alberta in 2011, and in advance of the Alberta range and action plans being completed, the GoA has required energy companies operating in boreal woodland caribou ranges to implement approval, lease or disposition-specific caribou mitigations during exploration and development activities. Lease-specific mitigations are important to minimize local impacts; population-level or range-level effects that are needed for boreal caribou recovery require us to work together. The desire to work across individual company tenures and dispositions, for the benefit of caribou recovery, led to the formation of the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC).
As RICC, we’re focused on science-based research and monitoring as well as the implementation of landscape-level projects aimed primarily on habitat restoration to ultimately support boreal woodland caribou recovery.
• Coordinate industry restoration of disturbance in priority areas
• Support and lead scientific research on caribou ecology and on caribou-predator-landscape relationships to identify priority issues and/or priority areas
• Support and lead investigative trials on restoration methods, effectiveness, and wildlife responses, and make recommendations for broader implementation
The current RICC study area covers approximately 85,000 km² in the Cold Lake and East Side Athabasca River (ESAR) boreal woodland caribou ranges, and parts of the Saskatchewan Boreal Plain caribou range to the east as a less-disturbed reference environment. The study area includes an additional 20 km buffer to incorporate adjacent areas that may have an impact on woodland caribou within their ranges.
RICC Member Projects
Since 2012, RICC companies have led, implemented and collaborated on large-scale habitat restoration projects spanning multiple townships in size.
For example, the Linear Deactivation Project (LiDea), led by Cenovus, was a long-term adaptive management trial that applied restoration treatments to linear features in an area of approximately 370 km2 of boreal caribou habitat within the Cold Lake caribou range.
Building from the learnings of LiDea, recent large-scale habitat restoration projects have also been implemented in the proposed Dillon Wildland Park by TransCanada Corporation and Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (in coordination with Alberta Parks), by MEG Energy in the Christina caribou herd of the ESAR range, by Statoil Canada in the Egg-Pony caribou herd of the ESAR range (with Devon Canada contributing funding for predator access control trials implemented in 2015), and by Cenovus through the 10-year Caribou Habitat Restoration Project within the Cold Lake range (with Imperial, Canadian Natural and Devon Canada contributing funding for the restoration work in 2016). The Cenovus Caribou Habitat Project was launched in 2016 and aims to treat for restoration approximately 3,500 km of linear features across an area of 3,900 km² by 2026, including the restoration work conducted under LiDea. The work will also involve planting about four million trees.
Interested in learning more about RICC’s data? Contact us.
Prioritizing Areas for Restoration
Prioritizing areas for habitat restoration is important, so we can efficiently allocate resources where they deliver the most value, in a time- and cost-effective way. We have ranked habitat areas according to a number of criteria, including the extent of their fragmentation and density of linear features, and use this data to assist in restoration planning.
Over 120 radio collars have been deployed on wolves and black bears to monitor predator responses to restoration treatments and evaluate the effectiveness of habitat restoration across the study area. All wildlife capture and collaring is being conducted by qualified personnel and under strict governance by research and animal care permits issued by the Government of Alberta.
Partnerships in Research
RICC works with academia, the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) Caribou Monitoring Unit on an ongoing basis to find new and exciting research opportunities to improve how we restore habitat and understand the biodiversity in the East Side Athabasca River (ESAR) and Cold Lake caribou ranges.
Members are interested in supporting and leading scientific research on caribou ecology and on caribou-predator-landscape relationships to identify priority issues and/or priority areas for investment. One such research project is the work of a University of Alberta master’s student. She used fine-scale telemetry location data of radio-collared wolves to determine the degree of use, and movement rates of wolves on linear features. The vegetation and human-use characteristics of the lines selected by wolves were also examined. Results showed that wolves travelled two to three times faster on most linear features (except low impact seismic lines) compared to the natural forest, thereby potentially increasing their encounters with caribou and other prey (although encounter rates were not specifically measured in this study). Read the full synopsis here.
Dickie, M. 2015. The Use of Anthropogenic Linear Features by Wolves in Northeastern Alberta. Master of Science Thesis. University of Alberta, Edmonton.
Subsequent research focused on determining the vegetation characteristics that deter wolves from selecting specific linear features, and slow their travel. Recent analyses focused on the question of what vegetation height is needed before wolves respond to linear features as if they were the natural forest. Results indicated that wolf travel speeds on linear features were strongly reduced once vegetation reached heights of 0.5 metres. This knowledge will further define targets for what “successful” restoration might look like when considering predator habitat deterrence objectives in restoration planning.
Dickie et al. 2017. Evaluating functional recovery of habitat for threatened woodland caribou. Ecosphere DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1936
Here are a few other projects we're investing in right now:
Sharing data facilitates collaboration and habitat restoration planning among RICC members, and is essential to ensuring a successful coordinated approach to boreal caribou recovery. We created a web-based password-protected portal that houses a comprehensive inventory of digital data being used or collected through RICC projects, including industrial footprint, wildlife telemetry locations, fire disturbance, boreal caribou range boundaries and forestry/energy sector tenure and project boundaries.
Historically, habitat restoration has been conducted locally at a small scale on individual company leases and dispositions, primarily to meet company-specific regulatory requirements. RICC brings companies together to cooperate on habitat restoration across these leases and at larger scales, as well as on research to understand the role of predator-prey-landscape relationships.
Cumulatively, RICC members have implemented restoration treatments on over 1,200 linear km of industrial footprint.
Bringing more companies to the table to coordinate large scale habitat restoration projects, as well as the collection and sharing of data, optimizes the benefits this work brings to boreal caribou recovery.
RICC is a partnership led by Canadian Natural and includes COSIA members Cenovus, Imperial and Suncor Energy, as well as non-COSIA members Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, Athabasca Oil Corporation, CNOOC and MEG Energy.
“The coordinated study of impacts to boreal woodland caribou and potential mitigations to avoid or minimize them has been accelerated through COSIA collaboration,” says Jack O'Neil, Director of COSIA’s Land Environmental Priority Area (EPA). “The highly structured RICC approach enhances the efficiency with which the oil sands industry can improve environmental performance when it comes to caribou recovery.”
Stakeholder collaboration is essential to preserving boreal woodland caribou. Before the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC) was formed in 2013, it was the norm for oil sands operators in the Cold Lake Caribou Range and Christina Lake caribou herd immediately to the north to continue with on-lease mitigations while also participating in regional initiatives.
Since its inception, RICC has included like-minded energy and forestry companies operating in the Cold Lake and East Side Athabasca River (ESA0R) boreal caribou ranges of northeastern Alberta. In 2014, RICC formed a COSIA Joint Industry Partnership to expand its work and capture, develop and share innovative approaches and best thinking to improve environmental performance, with a focus on habitat restoration.
Current RICC members include:
- Canadian Natural Resources Limited
- CNOOC (Non-COSIA)
- Suncor Energy
- Alberta-Pacific Forestry Industries (Non-COSIA)
- Athabasca Oil Corporation (Non-COSIA)
- MEG Energy (Non-COSIA)
RICC members are working with academia, the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) Caribou Monitoring Unit on an ongoing basis to find new and exciting research opportunities to improve how we restore habitat and understand the biodiversity in the East Side Athabasca River (ESAR) and Cold Lake caribou ranges.
Learn more about RICC activities:
- RICC Overview Video
- RICC 2019 Annual Report
- RICC 2018 Annual Report
- 2018 Emerald Award Finalist Video
- 2017 Emerald Award Finalist Video
- RICC 2017 Annual Report
- RICC 2016 Annual Report
- RICC Overview Fact Sheet 2018
To learn more and become a member, contact:
Amit Saxena, M.Sc., P.Biol., R.P.Bio