The role of wildland fire in the winter habitat use of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) has long been debated. Fire has been viewed as detrimental to caribou because it destroys the slow-growing climax forage lichens that caribou utilize in winter. Other researchers argued that caribou were not reliant on lichens and that fire may be beneficial, even in the short term. We evaluated the distribution of caribou relative to recent fires (<50 years old) within the current winter range of the Nelchina caribou herd in east-central Alaska. To address issues concerning independence and spatial and temporal scales, we used both conventional very high frequency and global positioning system telemetry to estimate caribou use relative to recent, known-aged burns. In addition, we used two methods to estimate availability of different habitat classes. Caribou used recently burned areas much less than expected, regardless of methodologies used. Moreover, within burns, caribou were more likely to use habitat within 500 m of the burn perimeter than core areas. Methods for determining use and availability did not have large influences on our measures of habitat selectivity.
Additional publication details
Winter habitat use by female caribou in relation to wildland fires in interior Alaska