Prichard, A. K., B. E. Lawhead, E. A. Lenert, and J. H. Welch. 2020. Caribou Distribution and Movements in a Northern Alaska Oilfield. Journal of Wildlife Management 1–17. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21932
As industrial development increases in the range of barren‐ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) across the warming Arctic, the need to understand the responses of caribou to development and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures increase accordingly. The Central Arctic Herd (CAH) of caribou ranges across northern Alaska, USA, and the herd's summer range includes the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oilfields, where the herd has been exposed to oil development for >4 decades. We used location data from global positioning system (GPS) radio‐collars deployed on female CAH caribou for 106 collaryears, recording locations every 2 hours during 2008–2019, to examine caribou distribution and movements during 7 different seasons of the year in relation to infrastructure in the Kuparuk oilfield, which is characterized by more design improvements and mitigation measures than the older Prudhoe Bay oilfield. We examined movement metrics in terms of distance to gravel infrastructure (roads and pads) and time before and after movements across infrastructure (crossings). We also employed integrated step‐selection analysis to compare caribou movements with random movements. Caribou distribution was influenced by insect activity, distance to coast, landcover, and terrain ruggedness, and we found large seasonal differences in caribou responses to infrastructure. Consistent with previous research findings, avoidance of areas near roads and pads was strongest during the calving season and some caribou used roads and pads as insect relief habitat when oestrid flies (warble fly [Hypoderma tarandi] and nose bot fly [Cephenemyia trompe]) were active. Caribou moved through the Kuparuk oilfield repeatedly during summer, averaging >2 road or pad crossings a day when harassment by mosquitoes (Aedes [Ochlerotatus] spp.) and oestrid flies were the predominant factors influencing caribou movements. Caribou moved faster while crossing roads and pads but showed little pattern in speed or turn angle with distance to roads and pads. These results demonstrate that the effects of petroleum development on a caribou herd with long‐term exposure to industrial activity vary widely by season. Maternal caribou avoid active roads and pads during calving, but the incorporation of appropriate mitigation measures in oilfield design allows caribou to move through the Kuparuk oilfield during other snow‐free seasons.