Redistribution of Calving Caribou in Response to Oil Field Development on the Arctic Slope of Alaska

  • Raymond D. Cameron
  • Daniel J. Reed
  • James R. Dau
  • Walter T. Smith
Keywords: Animal behaviour, Animal distribution, Caribou, DEW Line, Environmental impacts, Petroleum pipelines, Predation, Roads, Alaska, Northern, Prudhoe Bay region


Aerial surveys were conducted annually in June 1978-87 near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to determine changes in the distribution of calving caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) that accompanied petroleum-related development. With construction of an oil field access road through a calving concentration area, mean caribou density (no./sq. km) decreased from 1.41 to 0.31 (P=0.05) with 1 km and increased from 1.41 to 4.53 (P=0.04) 5-6 km from the road. Concurrently, relative caribou use of the adjacent area declined (P<0.02), apparently in response to increasing surface development. We suggest that perturbed distribution associated with roads reduced the capacity of the nearby area to sustain parturient females and that insufficient spacing of roads may have depressed overall calving activity. Use of traditional calving grounds and of certain areas therein appears to favor calf survival, principally through lower predation risk and improved foraging conditions. Given the possible loss of those habitats through displacement and the crucial importance of the reproductive process, a cautious approach to petroleum development on the Arctic Slope is warranted.

Key words: Alaska, calving, caribou, disturbance, oil field