Caribou Distribution During the Post-calving Period in Relation to Infrastructure in the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, Alaska

  • Matthew A. Cronin
  • Steven C. Amstrup
  • George M. Durner
  • Lynn E. Noel
  • Trent L. McDonald
  • Warren B. Ballard
Keywords: caribou, Rangifer tarandus, caribou distribution, oil field infrastructure, petroleum development


There is concern that caribou (Rangifer tarandus) may avoid roads and facilities (i.e. infrastructure) in the Prudhoe Bay oil field (PBOF) in northern Alaska, and that this avoidance can have negative effects on the animals. We quantified the relationship between caribou distribution and PBOF infrastructure during the post-calving period (mid-June to mid-August) with aerial surveys from 1990 to 1995. We conducted four to eight surveys per year with complete coverage of the PBOF. We identified active oil field infrastructure and used a geographic information system (GIS) to construct ten 1 km wide concentric intervals surrounding the infrastructure. We tested whether caribou distribution is related to distance from infrastructure with a chi-squared habitat utilization-availability analysis and log-linear regression. We considered bull, calves, and total caribou of all sex/age classes separately. The habitat utilization-availability analysis indicated there was no consistent trend of attraction to or avoidance of infrastructure. Caribou frequently were more abundant than expected in the intervals close to infrastructure, and this trend was more pronounced for bulls and for total caribou of all sex/age classes than for calves. Log-linear regression (with Poisson error structure) of numbers of caribou and distance from infrastructure were also done, with and without combining data into the 1 km distance intervals. The analysis without intervals revealed no relationship between caribou distribution and distance from oil field infrastructure, or between caribou distribution and Julian date, year, or distance from the Beaufort Sea coast. The log-linear regression with caribou combined into distance intervals showed the density of bulls and total caribou of all sex/age classes declined with distance from infrastructure. Our results indicate that during the post-calving period: 1) caribou distribution is largely unrelated to distance from infrastructure; 2) caribou regularly use habitats in the PBOF; 3) caribou often occur close to infrastructure; and 4) caribou do not appear to avoid oil field infrastructure.