Sun, 28 Jul 2013
Tags: Wildlife

Bringing Back the Bluebirds

 

 

The Western Bluebird was once a common site on Vancouver Island. This brilliantly-coloured bird species thrived here and on the neighbouring Gulf Islands until the 1950’s, when their numbers began to steadily decline. By the 1990s, bluebirds were no longer breeding in southwestern BC, and were soon considered to be extirpated (locally extinct).

What caused this once prolific species to disappear? The primary factor is likely habitat loss. Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, meaning they rely on holes left by woodpeckers in standing deadwood to build their nests. If most of these dead trees are removed (either through logging practices or urban development), the birds are left with little in the way of natural nesting habitat. Bluebirds face steep competition for the few remaining cavities, as these are also sought after by introduced species such as starlings and house sparrows.

Human activity has undoubtedly impacted the bluebirds’ distribution, but there is good reason to believe that human intervention will help return the species to its former range. The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team is working to restore self-sustaining Western Bluebird populations on Vancouver Island and the Southern Gulf Islands through the HCTF-funded Bring Back the Bluebirds project. The project team has been translocating breeding pairs to the Cowichan Valley and creating habitat for them by mounting nestboxes in prime foraging locations. The first year of the project (2012) resulted in the successful fledging of the first bluebirds known to have hatched on Vancouver Island since 1995. The project plans to translocate a total of 90 adult bluebirds over the course of 5 years.

The following video by Shaw TV provides an overview of the project, including footage of a pair of bluebirds being released from their aviary at Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.

Want to be involved in this project? Visit GOERT’s website to learn how to identify Western Bluebirds, report bluebird sightings, or get information about nestbox hosting or monitoring programs.

Fri, 12 Jul 2013
Tags: Fisheries

The Burrard Inlet Restoration Program

The following stroy was published in the 2013 July/August issue of Outdoor Edge magazine.

On July 24, 2007, construction workers punctured a pipeline in Burnaby, sending crude oil spraying 12 metres into the air. The black geyser flooded surrounding homes and oil poured into the storm sewers, eventually making its way to the waters of Burrard Inlet. The spill impacted over 1200 m of shoreline, contaminating birds and sea life.

In addition to the estimated $15 million that was spent on cleanup and rehabilitation, the convicted parties agreed to pay a total of $447,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) as part of the Crown Counsel’s recommendation to use creative sentencing provisions in the Environmental Management Act. Creative sentencing provides an alternative to traditional sentencing options (such as fines or imprisonment) by allowing judges to specify payments be made to HCTF. In this case, the creative sentencing award allowed HCTF to form the Burrard Inlet Restoration Project, an innovative granting program providing funding for restoration projects on the Inlet. The first application intake provided funding for 6 projects, all of which involve students of BCIT’s Ecological Restoration program. I had the opportunity to speak with three of those students: Sarah Nathan, whose plan to daylight a creek in New Brighton Park will restore historical cutthroat trout habitat, and Michelle Holst and Deanna MacTavish, who are working together to return Mosquito Creek Estuary to an ecosystem capable of sustaining a variety of species.

Q. One of the reasons we decided to write this story is because the BCIT Burrard Inlet presentations at the BCWF AGM were such a hit: what sort of feedback did you get from BCWF members?

Deanna: Everyone really seemed to enjoy hearing about the restoration plans. They liked that we were young people doing this work, but I think they also appreciated our commitment to these projects and this system. We’ve built long-term monitoring into our plans so that we can measure our results: determine what’s working, what could be improved upon, and apply that knowledge to other restoration projects. (Michelle and I) are even in the process of forming a Society, which will focus on improving survivorship of salmonids and other aquatic species in degraded estuaries within Burrard Inlet.

Mosquito-Creek_web.jpgQ. Speaking of degradation, tell me about your project sites: what environmental concerns do your restoration plans address?

Deanna: Mosquito Creek is a highly-impacted estuary. It’s had a substantial amount of development occurring on it over the past 80 years, and it’s mostly concrete. There’s no refuge or nutrients for fish or other aquatic species, so we plan to introduce complexity by adding vegetation, coarse woody debris, and terracing down some of the hard edges to create an intertidal habitat that’s more hospitable to fish and humans alike.

Sarah: At this point, Renfrew Creek is almost completely underground: it’s one of many streams around Vancouver that were infilled. Once the daylighting is complete, water quality will be the big challenge: we’re right by Highway 1, so everything that gets on the road will essentially get flushed into this system. We will be doing stormwater monitoring in the fall to find out what kind of improvements need to be made so that the stream can support cutthroat. They’re very sensitive to shifts in water quality: Reeves et. al. (1997) likened them to “canaries in a coal mine”.

 

 

 

 

Q. Deanna, the Mosquito Creek plan also emphasizes cutthroat, but I understand you’re hoping to restore populations of other types of salmonids? fishingwithroddotcom_permissionreq_outdooredge_story.jpg

Deanna: The Squamish First Nation have told us that, in the past, they’ve seen chum, coho and rainbow trout in the estuary, but not in recent years: that’s why we’re focussing on salmonids. But this restoration has the potential to positively impact a whole range of species.

 

Q: The Squamish First Nation are your partners in this project. What’s it been like working together?

Michelle: Working with them has been really great. It’s a bit of a different system, and maintaining an open dialogue is key. The visuals we developed for our presentations have really helped: it’s difficult to get people to envision this kind of transformation just by talking about it. But when we show them the before-and-after images, suddenly everyone’s on the same page, excited about the possibilities… especially the elders! We are already planning training sessions to get Squamish Nation youths involved with the long-term monitoring of this site, so they can really be stewards of their own land.

Q. In addition to partners, both of your projects involve working with multiple stakeholder groups. Is it difficult trying to incorporate so many different viewpoints?

Sarah: Yes! New Brighton Park (where Renfrew Creek will be daylighted) has so many different user groups: dog walkers, birdwatchers, anglers wanting a catch-and-release fishery, it’s a real challenge trying to incorporate all of these (sometimes conflicting) uses into a plan that will keep everyone happy.

Michelle: Unfortunately, there can be a real disconnect in communications between stakeholders: industrial, commercial, residential, First Nations, municipalities, government… sometimes we’re arguing the same thing, just in different languages. That’s part of the impetus for forming this Society: to act as a mediator and get everyone working together.

New-Brighton-Park-aerial_web.jpg

Q: With all the environmental pressures and habitat modification resulting from decades of intense development on the Inlet, can we really hope to maintain the ecological integrity of this ecosystem? How do we move forward?

Michelle: I think we need to find a balance between accepting that development on the Inlet inevitable: populations are growing, industry is growing, and we require resources, but we don’t have to just take. We can develop new methods to coexist with nature and try to offset some of the impacts that development has.

Sarah: People look at these very disturbed areas and think there’s no point in even trying, and I think one of the big challenges is showing people that it is possible: with a little funding, it can work.

 

Before-and-after-of-Renfrew-Creek_landscape_layout.jpg

Q. How important is the funding from HCTF to projects such as these?

Sarah: This grant money is crucial: even though we’re partnered with the City, environmental projects tend to be a lower priority when budgets are tight. Without outside funding, they might not happen at all. We’re always looking for more partners, and the money from HCTF will hopefully help in leveraging additional funds.

Q. What would you say to potential partners to convince them these projects are a worthwhile investment?

Sarah: Because these sites are located in such urban areas, they have a huge potential to increase public awareness about the importance of streams and estuaries. Renfrew Creek is in a popular park, right next to a swimming pool and in close proximity to the PNE grounds: what a great audience for the work being done! In Vancouver, around 120 creeks that were historically good cutthroat habitat have all been paved over as part of urbanization, and likely a number of those could be daylighted. I hope that successfully completing these initial projects will give us the support we need to restore other creeks and estuaries, and that would be a really good thing for people and salmonids alike.

Read more about HCTF’s Burrard Inlet Restoration Pilot Program>>

 

Thu, 20 Jun 2013

Experiential Learning at Hakai

 

Students in the remote village of Hagensborg, BC rarely get to connect with learning opportunities outside the Bella Coola Valley. But thanks to the fundraising efforts of teacher Sara Germain, fifteen lucky students from Sir Alexander Mackenzie School got the chance of a lifetime to travel to the Hakai Beach Institute for a week of hands-on, ecosystem-based learning in a spectacular coastal environment. Here’s Sara story about how an HCTF CEAF grant helped her students connect with the outdoors and bring classroom concepts to life:

“Students in BC’s Science 10 focus a quarter of their curriculum on the sustainability of life’s ecosystems, so this week-long field trip was designed to solidify many of the concepts learned in the classroom relating to ecology, evolution, food webs, humans impact on ecosystems, climate change and more. I’ve found that when studying for their Provincial Exam, students who’ve been on this trip are much more successful at applying these concepts because they can connect questions with ideas they ‘lived and applied’ out in the field at Hakai.

Upon arrival, we did an intertidal species scavenger hunt to introduce students to the new ecosystem they would be exploring for the week. The next day, we hiked up to the lookout, which took us from an intertidal zone, through different forest ecosystems, all the way up to a subalpine bog. Students took pictures of different plant species along the way to start their week-long “Digital Species Project”; where students photographed and identified 50 different species (intertidal, plant, bird, mammal species) and used them to create PowerPoint presentations complete with Latin names, common names, location of organism, and more. Students spent about an hour a day in the intertidal zone working on this project, as well as time in the classroom compiling their data.

Another outdoor project involved collecting different species of seaweed and pressing them. When specimens were dry, students framed their “works of art” and identified the types of seaweed they had pressed. We did a “caboose activity” during one of our hikes, where I would teach the student hiking behind me about a plant or aspect of forest ecology, and then that student would teach the concept to everyone hiking behind them as they passed by their “station”. Students really owned and learned their ‘stations’ well! Later in the week, we registered for “The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup” and did a longer day hike along a number of pocket beaches; we carried out garbage and documented it with the organization upon our return. This same day, the students also made their own trail maps, including an interesting geological/biological feature along each section of the trail. They turned out beautifully!

During our week at Hakai, students had the opportunity to learn from and work with a number of professional scientists. One gave an outdoor presentation and tour of the sustainable infrastructure featured at Hakai Institute (water, power generation, waste treatment, etc). An archaeologist talked to the students about his work, then took us out in boats to observe an actual dig site. A biologist took us on an intertidal zone beach walk, showing us many new species we’d missed on our own. Another scientist showed the kids how to collect samples of plankton, and later took them back to the lab to identify the different species under the microscope. All of these encounters allowed the students many informal opportunities to chat about their careers and how they got to where they are today.

I have found that taking my students out to Hakai has been one of the most beneficial and rewarding teaching experiences of my career. It’s given me the opportunity to develop many hands-on outdoor activities for students that give them real-life, applied knowledge in the Prescribed Learning Outcomes outlined by the province. Beyond that, I have found this trip invigorates students’ passion for science, develops their skills as budding scientists, exposes them to what a career in science can offer at its best, and lets them learn by osmosis while having so much fun in a unique place on Earth that normally they would never have the opportunity to be exposed to.”

In 2011 HCTF created the Conservation Education Assistance Fund (CEAF) to help educators connect students with the outdoors. Read more about the CEAF granting program, including how to apply >>

Mon, 17 Jun 2013
Tags: Fisheries

HCTF Grant Helps Move Penticton Creek Rehabilitation Forward

Penticton Creek.

 

It’s been sixty years since Penticton Creek, Okanagan Lake’s third largest tributary, was able to support healthy fish populations.

The creek, which runs right through downtown Penticton, was channelized in the early 1950’s in response to seasonal flooding. Transformed into what is essentially a concrete trough, the creek lost much of its spawning and rearing habitat for cutthroat and rainbow trout. Other tributaries to Okanagan Lake have been impacted by a range of habitat losses, resulting in a dramatic decline in fish spawning numbers from historic levels.

Now half a century old, the concrete lining the creek is failing. Rather than replacing the current structure with more of the same, the City of Penticton is using this opportunity to rehabilitate the creek in a way that will restore critical fish habitat while still providing flood protection for surrounding communities. A $63,000 grant from HCTF will provide much-needed funding to complete the design stage of the project, allowing incorporation of leading science and current best practices into the plan.

In an interview with Global News, Acting Penticton Mayor Garry Litke commented on the positive effect that creek rehabilitation will have on the surrounding environment: “The long term benefits are the health of Okanagan Lake. Fish (…) are like the canary in the coal mine: the healthier the fish are, the healthier your lake is.”

Improving fish populations will also have economic and recreational benefits for local communities. During Downtown Plan consultations, the rehabilitation of Penticton Creek was identified as among the top priorities for residents and businesses.

“Sustainability and economic activity are key factors in revitalizing Downtown Penticton and the community as a whole, and Penticton Creek rehabilitation is a huge step toward realizing both of those goals,” said Litke. “The City of Penticton recognizes the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and anglers, hunters, trappers and guides who contribute to the Trust, for making a significant financial contribution to support the Penticton Creek rehabilitation project. Without such support, this project would not have been possible.”

You can learn more about the Penticton Creek Rehabilitation Initiative in the City of Penticton’s Downtown Plan, in this article from the Penticton Daily News, or by watching the video segment appearing on Global News (Okanagan).

 

 

 

Wed, 24 Apr 2013

Mission Creek Celebration

Mission Creek

On Tuesday, HCTF had the opportunity to take part in a wonderful event on the banks of Mission Creek in Kelowna, celebrating the recent acquisition of 2.7 hectares of land immediately beside the creek (see video). Working with the MCRI, City of Kelowna, Regional District of Central Okanagan and a cast of others, HCTF is supporting the long term plans to return parts of the heavily-channelized Mission Creek to a more natural state.

Mission Creek was channelized many years ago to control the destructive flooding that was impacting adjacent landowners. What was formerly a sinuous, natural and fish-friendly stream became, in effect, a much straightened “chute”. That straightening helped to solve the flooding problem, but removed important fish habitat.

HCTF has provided $315,000 in funding to purchase some adjacent land from the Casorso family (without whom this project would not be possible) which will eventually be restored to provide critical habitat for native Kokanee stocks. It’s an important first step in a long process, and HCTF is happy to be part of this initiative. For more information on the plan to restore Mission Creek, please visit the MCRI website.

Fri, 19 Apr 2013
Tags: Wildlife

HCTF Staff Visit Delta Farmland Project

A flock of snow geese land in Ladner.

HCTF staff may be coming to a project near you!

On April 12th, Lynne Bonner and Jane Algard visited Ladner to do a project site evaluation on the “Provision of Waterfowl and Raptor Habitat within Managed Grasslands on Lower Fraser River Farmland” project. Christine Terpsma of the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust took us on a tour of farmlands that are under stewardship agreements in the Ladner/Delta area near Vancouver. HCTF funding ensures local farmers plant winter cover crops (for waterfowl) and grassland set-asides (for raptors) to provide a diversity of habitats for wildlife.

We saw the evidence of success: some winter cover crops were eaten down to bare ground, we spotted a number of hunting northern harriers in the set-asides, and hundreds of snow geese landed in a field next to us. As an added bonus – we sighted three snowy owls! Thanks Christine, for your time and your enthusiasm for wildlife conservation.