Recently Canada has been experiencing an increase in the frequency and extent of forest fires (Gillett & Weaver, 2004). There has been a large focus on fires in the western regions of the country, with little focus being given to the east coast. In New Brunswick, an average of 270 forest fires occur each year, with large fires occurring every few years (Wein and Moore, 1977; Government of Canada, 2018). This becomes a problem for humans and many species of animals having to migrate to new habitats due to forest and landcover destruction (Lyford & MacLean, 1966; Hailey, 2000). Wein and Moore (1977) studied the mean and median annual burn of the Acadian Forest in New Brunswick, but fail to provide specific information on how animal species will be affected by this natural disaster. This study aims to elaborate on the topic of animal habitat relocation in New Brunswick after forest fire occurrence. To do so the eastern moose (A. alces Americana) is selected as the species of interest, due to their decreasing population rates across North America, high reliance on forest cover and reaction of their food supply to forest fires.
In New Brunswick moose are an abundant species, but this is not the case for the remainder of Canada (Murray et al., 2006; Government of New Brunswick, 2016). Moose species are rapidly declining across North America due to several different factors, making them a focus in wildlife management efforts (Murray et al., 2006). As New Brunswick is home to one of the largest Canadian moose populations, second to Newfoundland, it is important to understand all contributing factors to their decline (Broders et al., 1999). Forest fires are one of these factors, as they displace moose from their habitat resulting in an increase in human encounters (Gasaway & DuBois, 1985). Urbanization has limited the availability of suitable land and has disrupted migration pathways of moose (Gasaway & DuBois, 1985). Forested areas are often fragmented by large roads and urban areas, causing moose to travel across roads and relocate to the outskirts of cities and towns (Christie & Nason, 2004). According to the Government of New Brunswick (2018), an estimated 400 residents are involved in moose-vehicle collisions every year. These collisions are most abundant between the months of May to October when moose typically leave forested areas to escape the heat and forage on vegetation within roadside ditches (Government of New Brunswick, 2018). This often amplifies the chance of human-moose interactions, prompting wildlife management efforts to adopt mitigation measures like road fencings along highways and busy transportation routes. These barriers prevent moose from crossing high traffic areas limiting the ecological and economic cost of moose-vehicle collisions, but also impede moose from migrating to other potential habitable areas.
Although limited by human development, moose still strive to find the optimal habitat for their needs, looking for heavily forested areas and/or shaded wetland areas (Christie & Nason, 2004). A study performed by Pastor et al., (1998) showed that moose do not travel into clear-cut areas more than 80 m away from forest cover. This information provides insight on how moose will react to a fire in their current habitat, as large enough fires can mimic the results of deforestation. Although fire is a factor of relocation for the species, moose are quick to recolonize after a fire and move to areas of recent fire activity due to the presence of new/young growth forests (Geist, 1998; Fisher & Wilkinson, 2005). The reason they choose these areas versus old growth forests is due to a high availability of plant life which meets their dietary needs (Pastor et al., 1998). Further explanation is provided by Spencer & Hankala (1964) who determined that moose foraging conditions are most favorable 5 to 20 years after burning in the Boreal Forest.
In looking for new/young growth forests moose prefer to reside in areas of 5 to 10 km2 and seasonally migrate to new habitats within a 15 to 150 km2 distance (Fisher & Wilkinson, 2005; Ardea Biological Consulting, 2004). During this migration, they look for habitats that are abundant in moss and lichen, while in the summer they look for areas with mid-level vegetation such as shrubs and buds of trees (Ardea Biological Consulting, 2004; Rominger & Oldemeyer, 1989). This becomes a concern in instances of forest fire outbreaks because lichen pastures are extremely susceptible to fire outbreaks, which causes a shortage of moose winter food supply (Bergerud, 1974). A study performed by Fisher and Wilkinson (2005) also indicates that in the past, fire has been a key factor in disrupting the growth of young seral stages of vegetation which is a preference for moose species. This indicates that fire is a contributing factor to the availability of food supplies and habitat preference, and thus a driving factor in post-fire moose migration.
Purpose of Research
The purpose of this project is to develop and apply a GIS-based multi-criteria evaluation to determine the most suitable location for moose habitat post forest fire within the Big Tracadie River Wild Life Management Zone of New Brunswick.