A map Little Smoky caribou range showing development and roads into the wilderness area.
Learn more about how researchers are studying the effect of development in Little Smoky.

Only 60 years ago, the 2500 square km Little Smoky caribou range in west-central Alberta was nearly pristine. Today, it's mostly a jumble of seismic lines, roads, forest cut-blocks, well sites and pipelines.

Little Smoky is the most critically disturbed boreal caribou habitat in the country. In the federal government's recent recovery strategy for boreal caribou it states that there is only five per cent of intact forest left in the Little Smoky Range.

The remnants of forest in Little Smoky are ecologically diverse but they are also considered endangered. Besides caribou, a wide variety of animals live there, including many species of birds, cougars, elk, moose, otters, wolves, wolverines, and a unique mountain goat population known as the Pinto Creek goatherd. The rivers and streams are also spawning and rearing grounds for native fish species such as the Arctic grayling, bull trout, and two species of whitefish.

The range also contains a diverse plant ecosystem, including old-growth deciduous, mixed and coniferous woodland, and a vast array of wetlands and upland plant communities.

There are about 80 caribou in the Little Smoky area.
Photos courtesy of © Mark Bradley, Boreal Nature Photos

Approximately 80 boreal woodland caribou live in the Little Smoky range ("boreal" caribou stay in the foothill forests, and "mountain" caribou migrate seasonally). The Little Smoky herd is the southernmost boreal caribou herd in Alberta.

The Little Smoky herd is one of only two populations that are considered stable in Alberta. However, it's stable because the Alberta government has been actively killing wolves in the range in order to keep the caribou alive. They have killed, on average, 100 wolves per year since 2005. In total, there are 16 woodland caribou herds in Alberta.

All of the caribou ranges in Alberta are located on Crown land. The national parks and military bases are managed by the federal government and the rest is managed by the province.

Recent press coverage on Little Smoky

Canadian Press: "Trapper laments destruction of Alberta forest, caribou habitat" (Dec. 23, 2012)

Canadian Press: "Environmentalists press Alberta to stop oil leases on caribou range" (Feb. 6, 2013)

Edmonton Journal: "Pending oil and gas leases threaten caribou, Alberta Wilderness Association says" (Jan. 31, 2013)

Edmonton Journal: "Road near caribou herd sparks anger" (Jan. 29, 2013)

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