Moose Habitat Enhancement in the Chain Lakes Area 1983-2010
Michael Jokinen and Chad Croft
The Chain Lakes moose habitat enhancement project has been a long-term co-operative venture, initiated within the Government of Alberta’s Buck for Wildlife Program during the early 1980s. The project has since involved the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA), Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD), and several grazing lessees in the Chain Lakes area of southwest Alberta.
Between 1983 and 1991, the Government of Alberta, Fish and Wildlife Division, cleared vegetation on approximately 390 ha, from 170 blocks of land, located on grazing leases in the Chain Lakes area. In 2000 and 2001, approximately 178 ha (of the original 390 ha), from 76 blocks of land (16 priority-1 blocks; 60 priority-2 blocks), were identified as requiring re-clearing, in order to meet project objectives for abundance of moose browse vegetation.
Between 2004 and 2009, approximately 158 ha (of the 178 ha identified in 2000/2001) were re-cleared by ACA. The remaining 20 ha was either re-cleared by lessees, not recleared due to logistical and financial constraints, or have remained as open grass areas since the initial clearing. Of the 76 blocks, only four priority-2 blocks (totaling 8 ha) were not re-cleared between 2004 and 2009.
Inspections of priority-1 blocks in 2010 suggest there is marginal value in continuing to clear these small blocks of land for moose habitat enhancement. Overall, the aspen and willow re-growth in the priority-1 blocks is limited and does not appear to restrict wildlife or cattle movement. Where suitable browse vegetation re-growth was noted, browse utilization by wildlife and/or cattle appeared to be low. If there is interest from grazing lease holders in re-clearing priority-1 or priority-2 blocks, for use by livestock, they are encouraged to apply to ASRD Public Lands Division to maintain these blocks as range improvement areas.
We believe that future habitat enhancement and restoration efforts in southwestern Alberta would be better served by focusing on alternative areas within the region. For example, within its Restoring Natural Habitat for Wildlife project, ACA is proposing to develop a landscape level restoration plan for the South Porcupine Hills region. This plan proposes to use an ecosystem management approach for setting hierarchical objectives and assigning relevant indicators and targets for the restoration of habitat for a diversity of wildlife species. The planning process will ultimately capture the vision of a desired future state for the South Porcupine Hills, which can be used to inform discussions with partners and stakeholders with regards to specific actions. In addition, a multi-stakeholder coordinated plan such as this could be a valuable starting point for future revisions to the C5 Forest Management Plan (which includes the South Porcupine Hills), scheduled for April 2016.