Caribou Calves Arrive at Little Smoky Project

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A pilot project for caribou conservation has recently welcomed the arrival of 10 caribou calves as part of the Little Smoky herd in west-central Alberta.

This cooperative project, under the leadership of Sustainable Resource Development staff, is an important effort to bolster the caribou population in the busy working landscape of the Little Smoky area, north of Hinton. By capturing 10 pregnant caribou cows and placing them inside a fenced area inside their wooded home range, biologists have protected the caribou through a particularly vulnerable part of their lives-the calving period.

"The Little Smoky project is all about taking an innovative approach to caribou conservation," said Sustainable Resource Development Minister David Coutts. "This is just one of a number of short- and long-term actions taken to ensure caribou will remain on the provincial landscape."

The Little Smoky Caribou Calf pilot is being tried following significant declines in the herd over the last decade. It protects the vulnerable female caribou and their calves from predators, which are the primary cause of caribou mortality.

The project is modeled on several years of a similar effort in the Yukon Territory that saw survival rates for caribou calves reach 80 per cent, compared to 15 per cent for caribou in the unfenced population.

While inside the fenced area, the caribou are monitored regularly, and given supplemental food and water. No public or industrial access is allowed near the project site. The next phase will involve the release of the cows and calves into their home range by early summer.

Major project partners in this Caribou Calf project include Sustainable Resource Development, the Caribou Landscape Management Association members, and energy companies ConocoPhillips Canada, Suncor Energy Inc., Husky Energy, and BP Canada. Daily project management has been undertaken by TERA Environmental Consultants.

The Little Smoky Caribou Calf project may be repeated, depending on final success of the 2006 pilot.