Caribou use of habitat near energy development in Arctic Alaska

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

Increasing demands for energy have generated interest in expanding oil and gas production on the North Slope of Alaska, raising questions about the resilience of barren-ground caribou populations to new development. Although the amount of habitat lost directly to energy development in the Arctic will likely be relatively small, there are significant concerns about habitat that may be indirectly impacted due to caribou avoidance behaviors. Behavioral responses to energy development for wildlife have been well-documented, but such responses are often assumed to dissipate over time, despite scant information on the ability of animals to habituate. To understand the long-term effects of energy development on barren-ground caribou we investigated the behavior of the Central Arctic Herd in northern Alaska, which has been exposed to oil development on its summer range for approximately 40 years. Using recent (2015-2017) location data from GPS collared females, we conducted a zone of influence analysis to assess whether caribou reduced their use of habitat near energy development, and if so, the distance the effects attenuated. We conducted this analysis for the calving, post-calving and mosquito harassment periods when caribou exhibit distinct resource selection patterns, and contrasted our results to past research that investigated the responses of the Central Arctic Caribou Herd immediately following the construction of the oil fields. Despite the long-term presence of energy development within the Central Arctic Herd summer range, we found that female caribou exhibited avoidance responses to infrastructure during all time periods, although the effects waned across the summer. Caribou reduced their use of habitat within 5 km of development during the calving period, within 2 km during the post-calving period, and within 1 km during the mosquito harassment period, areas which were predicted to overlap 12%, 15% and 17% of important calving, post-calving, and mosquito habitat areas, respectively. During the calving period, the indirect effects we observed were similar to those observed in past research, whereas during the post-calving and mosquito periods, we detected avoidance responses which had not been previously reported. These findings corroborate a growing body of evidence suggesting that habituation to industrial development in Arctic caribou is likely to be weak or absent, and emphasizes the value of minimizing the footprint of infrastructure within important seasonal habitat areas to reduce behavioral impacts to barren-ground caribou.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Caribou use of habitat near energy development in Arctic Alaska
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21809
Edition Online First
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial North Slope