Review of land cover data and suitability of ALCES for evaluating cumulative effects on boreal caribou on boreal caribou in the Dehcho region.

ALCES is a computer-based strategic-level simulation tool that has been used extensively by resource managers, the scientific community, and industrial landusers to understand cumulative effects of human land uses. In December 2006, a small working group – the Northwest Territories ALCES© working group (WG) - was established between the Government of the Northwest Territories and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, to develop and undertake a pilot project to better understand the utility of ALCES© in a northern context. The proposed approach was to develop a case study within the Dehcho region because of the extensive work on land use planning and associated background research on resource potential and cumulative effects management. In this report, our objectives were to 1) assess the suitability of land cover classification datasets that are available for the proposed study area, and 2) provide an overview of how ALCES© simulates the response of caribou to land use changes in a boreal forest landscape. We suggest that the Earth Observation for Sustainable Development of Forests (EOSD) dataset provides the most appropriate landcover classification for the pilot project because of its consistency across the proposed study area. The EOSD land cover classification will take minimal time and additional work to incorporate into ALCES© because it will not require additional filtering and mosaicking across satellite images. The EOSD land cover classification also presents a realistic option for extension into northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia (or further down the Mackenzie Valley), should it be deemed necessary to expand the study area in the future. With respect to modeling the impacts of land use on boreal caribou, we think that the Boreal Caribou Committee (BCC) equation developed for boreal caribou in northern Alberta provides a simple and technically-defensible approach that would be easily used by the WG. Using ALCES© as a learning tool in a comparative and not a predictive sense will help the WG understand the potential cumulative effects of land use scenarios on regional landscapes and boreal caribou specifically. A likely benefit of using the BCC caribou model in ALCES© is that it will lead to specific questions about how the boreal caribou submodel could be improved and made more relevant to the Northwest Territories. Other options to develop an alternate boreal caribou submodel in ALCES© include 1) using boreal caribou habitat research on the Snake-Sahtaneh herd in north east British Columbia and/or 2) develop specific Dehcho boreal caribou habitat models based on radio-telemetry data from the southern NWT and analytical approaches currently being developed for caribou in the lower Mackenzie Valley. In any case, the main benefit of using ALCES© is that it provides a logical framework to link boreal caribou and land use, and a modeling structure with which to test old assumptions and incorporate new knowledge and research findings.