Influences of Wolf Predation, Habitat Loss and Human Activity on Caribou and Moose in the Alberta Oil Sands
Because wolves were considered to be the primary threat to the dwindling woodland caribou population in the petroleum-rich Alberta oil sands region, the Canadian government implemented an aggressive wolf eradication policy in 2010. However, human encroachment has also been exerting pressure on the caribou population, as part of expanding natural resources extraction efforts in that region.
A 2011 study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, “Influences of Wolf Predation, Habitat Loss, and Human Activity on Caribou and Moose in the Alberta Oil Sands,” analyzed more than 3,000 scat (excrement) samples from the region’s caribou, moose and wolf populations, and cross-referenced these samples with data from areas where humans were engaged in large-scale activities, primarily forestry and oil extraction industry work.
The study’s findings include:
- Wolf predation is not the main factor driving elevated stress levels and poor nutrition for the caribou. Rather, such negative outcomes are the consequence of interaction with humans and exposure to large-scale industry operating in the region. Once extraction industry workers leave an impacted area, the animals relax and their nutrition improves.
- Significantly decreasing the wolf population could impact the area’s ecosystem in unpredictable and undesirable ways.
- While most of the wolves’ diet was comprised of a combination of deer, moose and caribou, wolves showed a clear preference for deer; this preference lured wolves away from caribou habitats and towards environments favored by deer. Additionally, wolves favored moose over caribou by a more than two-to-one margin, with caribou coming in a distant third.
- Given wolves’ preference for deer, the wolf removal policy may reduce caribou mortality rates in the short term, but may also inadvertently increase the deer population over time and create a new set of ecological challenges.
The study’s authors conclude with specific recommendations for protecting the caribou population, including clustering points of human activity on the landscape, using elements of existing terrain to buffer camps from the animals, and consolidating work roads. “Modifying landscape-level human-use patterns,” the researchers suggest, “may be more effective at managing this ecosystem than intentional removal of wolves.”
Tags: pollution, fossil fuels, wildlife, biodiversity
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment study "Influences of wolf predation, habitat loss, and human activity on caribou and moose in the Alberta oil sands."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related New York Times article "Greatest Threat to Caribou Herd in Canada Isn’t From Wolves."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.