Presentations + Events

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Presentation Abstracts:

Plenary Session

Plenary Theme: “The effects of fire on our landscape and wildlife.”

  1. How has fire shaped Alberta’s landscape and wildlife?
  2. How are wildlife species adapted to fire?
  3. How well is forest management emulating fire?
  4. How might climate change influence fire and wildlife in the future?

Wildlife management under a changing climate.

Dr. Richard Schneider, Research Associate, University of Alberta

For wildlife managers, global warming fundamentally changes the rules of the game.  We will have to transition to a new management paradigm, where the natural range of variation in the pre-industrial landscape no longer constitutes a relevant reference state. This presentation provides an overview of the key aspects of this transition.  I begin with a review of the projected climatic changes and how they are expected to affect ecological systems in Alberta.  Key questions are: how much change will occur? How quickly will it happen?  And, how sure are we that our predictions are at all reliable?  I then turn to management implications, exploring what a dynamic management system might look like and how the transition might take place.  A key issue is determining the appropriate scope for management intervention in a world of constant change.

Dr. Richard Schneider has a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Saskatchewan and a Ph.D. in wildlife epidemiology from the University of Guelph. Over the past 24 years he has been actively involved in the development of conservation policy in Alberta and has written several influential papers and a book on this topic. Since 2006, Dr. Schneider has worked as a research associate at the University of Alberta, leading various modeling studies involving the projection of land use trends in Alberta under alternative management scenarios.  His current focus of research is adapting wildlife management to anticipated changes in climate.

Fire dynamics of boreal Alberta post, present, and future: Implications for forest birds.

Dr. Erin Bayne, Professor, University of Alberta

The boreal forest is a dynamic ecosystem.  Fire has played a key role in the development of forest structure and composition in this region and presumably has influenced the ecology and evolution of the animals that live there.  There is a notion that boreal birds may be adapted to “roll with the punches” when fire occurs.  However, the role of fire size, fire intensity, and human actions after fire all influence the magnitude of how bird communities react.  A review of bird response to fire in terms of how bird communities recover as vegetation regrows relative to harvested areas, the role of salvage logging as a factor influencing avian recovery, and the importance of fire intensity in relation to size of skips will be addressed.  Future simulations that look at how these fire attributes might shift with climate change and the implications for birds will be addressed.

Dr. Erin Bayne is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. He received his Ph.D. and M.Sc. from the University of Saskatchewan and his HB.Sc. from the University of Regina. His M.Sc. and Ph.D. were done in collaboration with Environment Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service. He also completed a Post-doc at the University of Alberta. He is the author of 121 refereed publications and 35 government/ industry reports.  He is a research collaborator with the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and Boreal Avian Modeling Projects and director of Alberta Cooperative Conservation Research Unit and Bioacoustic Unit.  He is an elected member of the American Ornithological Union (2003) and in 2016 became Fellow of American Ornithological Society. He has 25 years experience in the field of Ecology and Environmental Biology.  His interests are mainly on the behavioral, population, and community responses of different wildlife species to human impacts with an emphasis on birds and how humans alter relationships between birds, their predators, and their prey.  His current focus is on how to use new technologies to advance ecological monitoring.

Ecology of woodland caribou in an area characterized by high-fire but low-anthropogenic disturbance: new research from the Saskatchewan Boreal Shield.

Dr. Philip D. McLoughlin, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan

Woodland caribou of the Saskatchewan Boreal Shield occupy some of the most pristine habitat available to non-migratory, forest-dwelling caribou in Canada. The region is described by very low levels of anthropogenic disturbance (0.01 km/km2 of linear disturbance); however, the area is subject to large fires reflecting the natural fire cycle for the area (≈100 years). Here I describe how caribou are faring in this region, based on results of a large-scale research program that we initiated in 2013. We found that despite the fires, the region retains large tracts of high-quality habitat available for woodland caribou, with half (50.1%) of the land area being characterized by >40 year-old pine and black spruce forests, and black spruce bogs and open muskegs that positively predict caribou probability of occurrence. Selected habitat supports some of the highest densities currently observed for non-migratory, boreal caribou in mainland Canada, which we estimate to be 36.9 caribou/1000 km2 (95% CI: 26.7–47.2 caribou/1000 km2). At the same time, wolf and moose densities in the region are very low, as is hunting pressure. The population is presently characterized by high adult female survival rates (>0.90) but moderate-low recruitment (≈0.20 calves per 100 females in March), but yet high pregnancy rates (≈0.90). These traits are suggestive of a large herbivore population that may be experiencing density-related constraints on further population growth. The standing age- and sex-structure, combined with known survival rates and reproductive data, indicates a stable to slightly increasing population over the recent past and as a future projection. We believe that one of the great values of our research may be in describing the dynamics of a woodland caribou population in a region that has changed little from historic conditions; that is, the conditions in which the species evolved.

Dr. Philip D. McLoughlin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. His research has primarily focused on the population and evolutionary ecology of European and North American mammals, including populations of red deer, roe deer, woodland caribou, feral horses, grizzly bears, and polar bears. He is presently Saskatchewan’s voting member on the Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada. In 2013, he helped initiate a major study into the population dynamics and critical habitat of woodland caribou of the Saskatchewan Boreal Shield, as well as their predators (wolves and black bears), which is the subject of his talk. He currently spends his time managing the Saskatchewan Boreal Shield caribou and predator programs, plus a long-term, individual-based study of the ecology and evolution of the feral horses of Sable Island, Nova Scotia; a mix of research projects that fits well as he is happiest working at the interface of theoretical and applied ecology.

A few observations of ungulate and vegetation responses to a wildfire in the Middle Fork Salmon River, Idaho.

Dr. James M. Peek, Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Resources, University of Idaho

Vegetation and ungulates in the Big Creek drainage of the Middle Fork Salmon River have been monitored by University of Idaho and Idaho Fish & Game for several decades. An assessment of bighorn, elk, mule deer, mallow ninebark, and bluebunch wheatgrass responses to a major wildfire in August 2000 can thus be attempted.  Elk populations in this remote area had been unproductive for at least a decade prior to the advent of the wolf population.  Bluebunch wheatgrass, a major forage species, responded in increased nitrogen content for two years following the fire, but decreased biomass production for a year.  The elk population did not show any responses to changes in this forage species.   This wheatgrass is also a major forage for bighorn, which showed increased lamb survival for two years following the fire.  This did not translate into population increases. Both elk and bighorn were observed using regrowth on burned areas, indicating some minor redistribution of habitat use did occur.   Mule deer populations, as evidenced by buck harvest and observations of fawn production and survival, may have increased following the fire for a few years.   Mallow ninebark, an ecological equivalent of beaked hazel, showed dramatic responses in biomass and nitrogen content of resprouted plants following the fire.   Wolf predation likely accelerated the decline in elk.   The major conclusion from these observations is that ungulate populations that are at or near a forage-based carrying capacity and are old-aged with low survival of young, may not respond to major fire in their habitat.  Major influences on wildlife in this system include fire, climate, and predation (pathogens for bighorn).  Quantity and quality of plants can be reasonably predicted with monthly mean temperature and precipitation.  We have enough information to develop “first-cut” predictions of ungulate and vegetation responses to wildfire in this system.

Dr. James M. Peek is an Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Resources Fish and Wildlife Sciences, University of Idaho. He received his Ph.D. in 1971 from the University of Minnesota, his M.S. in 1961 from Montana State University and his B.S. in 1958 from Montana State University. He joined The Wildlife Society in 1958 and received honorary membership in 2012. He has been looking at responses of plants and large mammals to fire since the late 1960s.

How important are burned forests to wildlife: Who uses what?

Dr. Jim Schieck, Research Scientist, InnoTech Alberta; Adjunct Professor, University of Alberta; Science Director, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

Co-author: Peter Solymos, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

Wildfire is common in Alberta’s forest, with recently burned stands having structures that are very different from those found in harvested stands. After fire there are many standing dead trees (snags), whereas these trees are taken to the mill during harvest. During the subsequent decades, snags fall and create abundant downed logs in fire-derived stands. We used information from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute to: i) describe how forest biota (birds, plants, mosses, lichens, mites) differ between stands immediately post-fire versus post-harvest, ii) determine the degree to which these two stand types converge during the next few decades, and iii) identify biota that are post-fire specialists and that are expected to be heavily affected if harvest/salvage replaces most natural fires in Alberta’s forested landscapes. Biotic communities differed greatly between post-fire and post-harvest stands – many upland biota that live in forested areas were more common post-fire than post-harvest. However, there were relatively few specialists that depended solely on early post-fire stands; most species present immediately post-fire had similar abundances in mid-seral and/or old-forest stands. To complicate matters, biotic communities in post-fire and post-harvest stands converged greatly by 30-40 years post-disturbance. Thus, for most species harvest/salvage is not expected to have devastating consequences. Special management will be required for the few species that both specialize on early post-fire stands, and that are uncommon in all other habitat types. If old forest also becomes less common in future landscapes, more species will be of concern because many species had relatively high abundance in early post-fire and old-forest stands. Our results must be interpreted cautiously because few harvest stands >50 years have been surveyed, and convergence may be overestimated.

Dr. Jim Schieck received his BSc and MSc form University of Western Ontario, PhD from University of Alberta, and did a post Doc at Simon Fraser University. He has been a Research Scientist at InnoTech Alberta for the past 23 years, is an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta, and the Science Director for the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. Jim’s research interests include avian ecology, population dynamics, community ecology, forest ecology, and conservation biology.


Keynote Speaker

Dr. Tom Nudds

Tom Nudds is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, where he taught and researched wildlife ecology and management since 1981. Prior to that, he completed BSc and MSc degrees at the University of Windsor, a PhD at the University of Western Ontario, and a postdoctoral fellowship with the Canadian Wildlife Service. He (co)authored over 170 papers, book chapters and technical reports, and advised over 60 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. He was Associate Editor at the Journal of Wildlife Management and the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Avian Conservation and Ecology and held Visiting Professorships at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and University of California. He advised a number of federal and provincial agencies, most recently on the Boreal Caribou Science Assessment Advisory Group and Ontario’s Endangered Species Legislative Review Advisory Panel, and continues to serve on Ontario’s Provincial Forest Technical Committee and Wolverine Recovery Team Advisory Committee. He remains active in graduate and postdoctoral research in fisheries and species-at-risk ecology and management, participating in independent forest audits with KBM Resources Group and consulting for Tolko Industries as science advisor for projects under the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. In 2015, he received a Special Recognition Service Award from The Wildlife Society.


Predator Control and Foodweb Dynamics

Species-rich communities and complex foodweb interactions present challenges to predicting the outcome of predator management programs. Large-scale control of mammalian nest predators in northeastern North Dakota had increased duck nest success but, apparently, neither duckling survival nor population recruitment. Three mechanisms – compensatory predation and/or food resource limitation on ducks and ducklings and/or emigration – could have foiled management efforts to materially affect recruitment to either the harvestable or local breeding populations. A large-scale, multi-year program to control nest predators, implemented as adaptive management, confirmed weak compensatory predation by raptors, and limiting food resources for breeding ducks and ducklings, combined to reduce effects of predator control. Consistent with foodweb theory, weak interactions, omnivory and compensatory predation in the greater prairie foodweb appear to confer stability and resilience to whole foodweb that thwart efforts to affect desired change to its constituent parts. Researchers and managers considering predator control to affect change to constituent populations in other types of foodwebs might benefit from an appreciation for the effects complex foodweb interactions, first, on the prospects for success at all; and, second, in the design of predator control programs as adaptive management experiments even where the prospects might be predicted to be good. Since Nature is capricious, it seems reasonable to test the obvious.

Field Trips + Workshops

Field Trips

Please register for these events in this Google Sheet. Contact Delinda Ryerson at for more information.

1. Al-Pac

Tour of forest harvest areas on Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries’ (Al-Pac) forest management agreement area north of Lac La Biche. The trip, led by Margaret Donnelly, will include a discussion of implementation of Al-Pac’s ecosystem-based management philosophy at a stand and landscape perspective.  Stops will examine recent and older harvest areas and discuss a suite of social, ecological, and economic factors that are considered as part of Al-Pac’s planning and operations. Involvement in research and monitoring will also be highlighted.

Date: Friday, March 17, 2017; 9:00 – 16:00.  Pickup at the Ramada parking lot at 9:00 sharp.


2. Owl Capture and Banding

Short presentation by Gord Court at Portage College, including visit with a live barred owl, followed by field session to capture local owls led by Lisa Takats Priestley and Gord Court.

Date: Friday, March 17, 2017; 9:00 – 14:00.



1. Track Identification

Presentations at Portage College by Dee Patriquin and TBA followed by short field trip in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park to see real tracks.

Date: Friday, March 17, 2017; 13:00  – 16:00


2. Native Arts

Hands-on learning about fish scale art and caribou hair tufting at Portage College. Participants will have the opportunity to create both a tufting and fish scale art piece. See photo below for examples.

Note: Limited to 30 participants.

Date: Friday, March 17, 2017; 13:00  – 16:00

Please register for these events by emailing Delinda Ryerson at