Observational Description of Alpine Ungulate Use at Mineral Licks
in Southwest Alberta, Canada


Mike E. Jokinen, Mike S. Verhage, Robert Anderson, Doug Manzer


Biennial Symposium of the Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council 19:42-63; 2014


Mineral licks are a unique resource utilized by all ungulate species in North America.
The location of a mineral lick can have significant bearing on population distribution. Research on
alpine ungulate mineral licks in Alberta has been limited to sampling elemental content of licks and
documenting bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) attraction to man-made mineral licks (e.g., natural
gas salty deposits). However, no observational studies of natural mineral licks have been conducted
in the southwest region of Alberta. Current guidelines suggest a minimum forested buffer distance
of 100 m from licks and restricted industrial activity, mainly helicopter seismic activity, in alpine
ungulate zones from 1 July to 22 August. We demonstrate why mineral licks should be a special
management concern and not simply a general categorization in industrial operating guidelines.
From 2010–2012, we identified, monitored, and assessed 9 alpine mineral licks in southwest
Alberta. Initial visits by both bighorns and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) generally
began before licks became snow-free, while routine use commenced shortly after snowmelt,
peaking in use during late June and July. Mountain goat licks were essentially visited daily at all
times; bighorn licks were visited slightly less, usually during daylight hours. Analysis of animal
collar and aerial survey data show both bighorns and mountain goats have high spatial fidelity to
lick location. In light of the intensity with which alpine ungulates use mineral licks in southwest
Alberta, both the lick itself and the proximity to surrounding topographic cover and food and water
resources should be considered in land use decisions. Mineral licks are an essential component of
alpine ungulate habitat. The long-term integrity and productivity of alpine ungulate populations
throughout their range in North America would benefit from having mineral licks managed around
guidelines that are specific to the timing of use and the species involved.