Woodland caribou protection a high priority for pipeline operators
Caribou is one of the boreal forest species most sensitive and vulnerable to changes in land use. Wolves are their primary predators, and linear disturbances like roads, pipelines and seismic lines have opened up access for those predators.
Over time, this has resulted in large declines in the Canadian caribou population. A number of biologists believe some caribou herds are so small that even one death can have a devastating effect on the remaining population, especially if that caribou is a female or young.
For these reasons, the National Energy Board (NEB) has a goal to protect Canada’s woodland caribou from destruction of their habitats, fragmentation to the landscape, and the growing cumulative effects of human disturbance on the boreal ecosystem.
In May 2016 at the 16th North American Caribou Workshop held in Thunder Bay, Ontario, the NEB clarified the conditions that pipeline operators must meet to avoid, minimize, restore and offset the effects of development projects on caribou habitat.
The conditions hold pipeline operators accountable for supporting an objective of ‘no net loss to caribou habitat’, with a strict requirement for operators to have comprehensive offset plans for any areas that cannot be fully restored.
That’s why CEPA members work closely with wildlife biologists who have deep knowledge of caribou ecology and habitat restoration techniques. Together, they develop plans to mitigate, restore, offset and monitor the effects of pipeline construction and operation on caribou.
The ecology of caribou herds can be complex and unpredictable. For example, some pregnant females return to their favourite calving sites year after year, despite what changes may have occurred in the area. This habitual behaviour can put caribou at risk, especially if predators have moved into the disturbed areas.
Some of the mitigation measures the pipeline industry has in place include:
- Timing restrictions for construction to avoid high-risk periods, such as calving and migration
- Access controls to deter humans and predators from travelling along the right-of-way (ROW)
- Line-of-sight measures, such as planting tall trees, or installing fences or berms, to limit visibility along the ROW
- Spreading woody debris along the ROW to slow the rate of wolf movement
- Planting native vegetation that will restore the ecosystem and not attract deer or moose, which can cause a chain reaction by attracting wolves
Pipeline operators monitor and report on the effectiveness of their plans, including detailing the adaptive management measures they will use if the intended objectives are not met.