Caribou Ranges Research Year 1 Results


NWSAR Committee was established to ensure local interests are reflected as part of species at risk, and more specifically, Woodland Caribou management. Among the recommendations generated by NWSAR Committee’s 2017 Recommendations Report, new data collection to support Woodland Caribou management was identified as a high priority by local, regional and national stakeholders.

To support the acquisition of new and more accurate data related to Woodland Caribou, NWSAR worked with the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) and the Alberta Trappers Association (ATA) to deploy remote cameras and autonomous (audio) recording units to collect data on ungulates and predators for density estimation in two Woodland Caribou ranges in Northwest Alberta; Chinchaga and Caribou Mountains.

The cameras provide information on trends in mammal densities across time and space in areas where little data otherwise exists. The autonomous recording units are used to remotely survey a variety of vocalizing species such as birds, bats and even mammals.


To align with sampling design used by the ABMI’s Caribou Monitoring Unit (CMU), the cameras were deployed in three clusters of 25 sites in both the Chinchaga and Caribou Mountains caribou ranges for a total of 75 cameras per caribou range. The autonomous recording units were deployed at the same time within the camera clusters; 4 units per cluster for a total of 24 units. However, the north cluster in the Caribou Mountains was not successfully deployed due to access constraints.

The clusters were deployed throughout the each range to capture a latitudinal gradient, and to best match habitat conditions within that range (i.e. wildfire, upland, wetland). Cameras were deployed in locations with reasonable access for monitoring station maintenance.

Cameras and autonomous recording units were programmed to collect data year-round to increase the cumulative detection probability, and are serviced once per year by local trappers coordinated by ATA representatives.

The camera and autonomous recording unit sites remain constant over time, will be serviced again in Winter 2020/21, and collected in Winter 2022/23.

Clusters were placed within reasonable access from roads or established trails. Within each cluster, the cameras were randomly placed in a 12.5 x 4km area, with a minimum separation of 1km between cameras, and four cameras were paired with an autonomous recording unit. 

While this design biases clusters towards areas with roads, there is no a priori knowledge that this is problematic for the metrics of interest, However, bias from other habitat factors such as land cover, linear feature density, road traffic levels and planned industrial developments that would result in drastic changes over the monitoring period was avoided.

Remote cameras are currently the best approach for surveying the abundance of multiple species simultaneously. The use of cameras allows for:

  • density estimation for species of interest;
  • simultaneous data collection for all medium-to-large-sized mammals;
  • standardized protocols to allows for comparison with regional or provincial datasets; and
  • involvement of local hunters, trappers and citizens in data collection.

Autonomous recording units have the ability to concurrently monitor multiple species of interest, while providing additional ecological information on the forest habitats within the area.


Canada Lynx was the most commonly detected species at any single cluster, with 78% of cameras detecting a lynx in Mid-Chinchaga. Bison, Elk and Cougars were not observed at any cameras.

Black Bears had the highest density of all species, with a density of 0.38 bears per square kilometer in South-Caribou Mountains, and 0.29 bears per square kilometer in South-Chinchaga. In both caribou ranges the density of Black Bear was highest in the south clusters. The density of Canada Lynx was high in the Mid-Chinchaga cluster, with o.25 lynx per square kilometer, in comparison to South-Caribou Mountains having only 0.05 lynx per square kilometer. 

The density of Gray Wolf was low in all clusters; only one camera detected wolves in Chinchaga, and densities were lower than 0.01 wolvers per square kilometer in both Caribou Mountains clusters. Grizzly Bears were only detected at one camera, with an estimated density of 0.03 bears per square kilometer in the South-Chinchaga cluster.

Wolverine density were also consistently low, with a maximum of 0.02 wolverine per square kilometer in the South-Caribou Mountains cluster.

Of the species that were detected, Wolverine, Gray Wolf, White-Tailed Deer, and Woodland Caribou were the least detected species at any given cluster with:

  • zero Wolverine detected in South-Chinchaga;
  • zero Wolves detected in Mid-and-North-Chinchaga; 
  • zero White-Tailed Deer detected in Mid-Chinchaga; and
  • zero Woodland Caribou detected in South-and-Mid-Chinchaga, and South-Caribou Mountains.
Density (D) at each camera is calculated as the total number of animals observed (N) multiplied by the time in front of the camera field-of-view (Tf), divided by the area of the camera field-of-view (Af) multiplied by the total camera operating time (To).

The units are animal-seconds per-area-seconds, which equates to the number of animals per unit areas.

Sampling effort, or, the number of days cameras were active in each cluster varied from a mean of 294 camera trap days in Mid-Caribou Mountains to 358 days in North-Chinchaga.

Moose density tended to be higher than that of Woodland Caribou and White-Tailed Deer. Moose and Deer both tended to decrease as latitude decreased in both Chinchaga and Caribou Mountains. The highest observed density was 0.26 moose per square kilometer in South-Chinchaga.

White-Tailed Deer densities tended to be highest in the southern clusters; with 0.21 deer per square kilometer in South-Caribou Mountains and 0.08 deer per square kilometer in South-Chinchaga. Woodland Caribou density tended to be highest in the mid-latitude camera clusters, with 0.21 caribou per square kilometer in Mid-Caribou Mountains and 0.04 caribou per square kilometer in Mid-Chinchaga.


During the first year of monitoring, the ARUs detected 68 species of birds. Almost half of these species (32) were only detected at a single station, and one ARU station did not detect any birds during the deployment time. The most commonly detected species was the Swainson’s Thrush with 12 detections.

Eleven species considered Sensitive by Alberta Environment and Parks were detected during the first year of acoustic monitoring. Only 3 of the Sensitive species are old-forest associates, and several are associated with wetlands. These pilot results demonstrate the ability of ARUs to concurrently monitor species of interest while providing additional ecological information of the forest habitats within the area.




Two of the six cameras with the most burned habitat, had the highest Woodland Caribou density. This is counter to Scientific evidence that demonstrates Caribou largely avoid burned areas in Alberta.

More data is required to effectively test this finding.


Five cameras within the Caribou Mountains observed Wolves, where only one camera spotted Wolves within the Chinchaga caribou range. This suggests that efforts by Trappers and the Government of Alberta to reduce Wolf densities in the Chinchaga area are indeed reducing the number of Wolves.

More data is required to confirm this trend. It is also difficult to know what Wolf numbers were before reductions began.


Comparing population trends over time within the Chinchaga caribou range compared to other caribou ranges without active predator management over longer periods of time would help to answer this.



Click on the buttons below for access to remote camera photo detections by species type, for each camera cluster.


Click on the buttons below for access to remote camera photo detections by species type, for each camera cluster.

Note: North Ridge (north cluster) could not be deployed due to access difficulties experienced by the Trappers.

This project is funded by NWSAR Committee.