Sun, 21 Jul 2019

Saving Land for Bears and Badgers

Edgewater property

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is pleased to announce a new conservation property in the Kootenays.

Located near the community of Edgewater, the Columbia River Wetlands – Edgewater property covers 423 acres (171.5 hectares) and features outstanding habitat and connectivity for Grizzly Bears and American Badgers. It also provides winter range for Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer and Moose.

“The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is very pleased to support The Nature Trust of BC’s purchase of this conservation property, which provides important connectivity to the Columbia Wetlands,” said HCTF CEO Brian Springinotic. “Since 1981, HCTF has invested millions to help purchase over 20 conservation properties in the Kootenays, using funds provided largely by anglers, hunters, trappers and guides – the Edgewater project is the latest in a long history of investing for conservation in BC.”

 

This property will complement nearby Nature Trust conservation lands that are managed as part of the Columbia National Wildlife Area and Columbia Wetlands Wildlife Management Area. An additional benefit for wildlife is that the Edgewater property adjoins the Columbia Wetlands Wildlife Management Area which serves as significant migratory bird habitat for over 200 species.

“The Edgewater property has incredible diversity, ranging from wetlands to grasslands and open forest habitats,” said Chris Bosman, Kootenay Conservation Land Manager for The Nature Trust of BC. “From the upper benches, the views across the Columbia Valley and up and down the Rocky Mountain Trench are stunning. As a multi-generational family ranch, the land has been well cared for over the years by a conservation minded family. The Nature Trust looks forward to carrying on the tradition of responsible land stewardship.”

Sun, 14 Jul 2019
Tags: PCAF / Stewardship

Haliburton Wetland Turns Ten!

Haliburton wetland

A decade ago, a group of volunteers began an ambitious project: transform a field overgrown with invasive reed canary grass into a wetland able to support wildlife. Today, Haliburton Wetland in Saanich, BC, stands as a fantastic example of how people and nature can co-exist.

Last week, Dr. Purnima Govindarajulu gave HCTF staff members Karen Barry, Jade Neilson and Courtney Sieben a tour of the wetland located at Haliburton Community Organic Farm. Although it took some time for the constructed wetland to look natural, it is now fully functioning and has become home to a variety of wildlife species such as tree frogs, long-toed salamanders, and birds.

Over the years, HCTF has provided a total of $24,600 from the Enhancement and Restoration granting stream and from the Public Conservation Assistance Fund (PCAF) for this project. It’s great to see that this project is continuing to make a difference for wildlife species ten years on! You can read more about the Haliburton Wetland in the following HCTF project profile.


Background

The property is a former reservoir site for Saanich under the ALR. In 2001, the property was slated for a housing development but Saanich stepped in to purchase the land and lease it to the Haliburton Community Organic Farm Society. It is now run as a community farm and several producers grow food for consumption, plus there is a native plant nursery on site. The wetland was created in an adjacent area that was formally dominated by grasses.

HCTF provided $10,000 for wetland restoration and creation of a demonstration project, and later $5000 seed funding. More recently, the project received $9,600 from PCAF for tools, native plants, construction of watershed models and stream restoration expertise.

To see a video of the wetland construction (17 min), see https://haliburtonfarm.org/biodiversity/

Entrance to the wetland site

Entrance to the wetland site

Enhancement and Restoration Activities

The wetland site was overgrown with reed canary grass so early efforts focused on installing mats and removing the grass and other non-native species. Experts were called in to assist with designing the wetland. It took a few years for the constructed wetland to look natural.

Pond liner laid down to smother reed canary grass

 

Now that the wetland is functioning, tree frogs and long-toed salamanders have moved in, as well as wetland birds (herons, red-winged black birds). Other enhancement activities include installing bird nest boxes and maternal bat houses. Chickadees, Violet-green swallows, and Bewicks wrens have nested in the boxes, but the bat boxes have not been used yet.

Monitoring activities are conducted regularly and include checking bird boxes, minnow trapping the wetland, and checking wood structures and pit fall traps for amphibians.

Bird box and mason bee box

 

Wetland and replanted area

Wooden cover boards used as an active trap for salamanders

Challenges

The restored area will require ongoing maintenance. In other words, it’s not possible to leave it and “let nature take its course”. In particular, removal of invasive plants is a significant challenge (morning glory, thistles, reed canary grass, etc.). The group has limited capacity for conducting detailed monitoring, so there is a desire to have more student groups, graduate students, and volunteers involved.

Another concern is the high number of non-native European wall lizards. With the increase in these lizards, there seems to be a decline in crickets at the site and it’s possible these lizards are eating many native insects.

Future plans

  • To create more riparian area in order to provide suitable habitat for red-legged frogs.
  • To create another series of small vernal ponds.
  • To increase the involvement of students and initiate an ongoing education program linked to school curriculum.

Purnima with Jade and Courtney

Tue, 2 Jul 2019

East Kootenay Invasive Mussels Monitoring Continues

More than ten lakes in the East Kootenay region will be sampled for invasive Zebra and Quagga mussels this year, thanks to a $17,305 grant approved as part of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation’s annual funding program in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

Lakes included in the project are: Tie, Windermere, Koocanusa, Premier, Wasa, Whitetail, Whiteswan, Columbia, Moyie, St Mary, Surveyor’s and Lillian.

Zebra and Quagga mussels have not yet been detected B.C. but constant vigilance is needed as these invasive species can have dramatic impacts on fish populations and human use and have been moving across fresh-water bodies from the east to the west in North America.

“Recreationists have a huge responsibility on their shoulders,” said Jessie Paloposki, Education and Communications Manager for the East Kootenay Invasive Species Council (EKISC). “To continue enjoying the rivers and lakes as we do, we have to ensure we’re not cross-contaminating the water as we move from one lake or river to another. Mussel larvae is microscopic, so the only way we can confirm they’re not hitch-hiking on our gear or watercraft is to ensure that we Clean, Drain, and Dry this equipment before moving to another waterbody.”

The East Kootenay Invasive Species Council will use the grant to carry out plankton tow sampling, using the British Columbia Dreissenid Mussel Lake Monitoring Field Protocol.

The samples are sent to a designated lab by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to check for the presence of veligers, the microscopic free-swimming stage of the mussels’ larva. Sampling is done by using a cone-shaped fine-mesh net. Sampling is usually done between May and October around boat launches, marinas and docks, as the invaders can spread through water-based recreation activities.

This grant was one of 12 awarded by the Habitat Conservation trust Foundation for invasive mussel early detection monitoring in 2019 after a thorough technical evaluation. The grants are part of a record $9 million in funding for 170 conservation projects announced by the Foundation earlier this year.


Photo:


HCTF Contact:

Shannon West

Manager, Program Development, HCTF

shannon.west@hctf.ca

250-940-9789

 

Project Contact:

Jessie Paloposki

East Kootenay Invasive Species Council

jessie@ekisc.com

(250) 939-8649

 

BC Government Contact:

Martina Beck

Invasive Fauna Unit Head

BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Martina.Beck@gov.bc.ca

 


 

Quick Facts:

 

  • The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) began as an initiative of BC anglers, hunters, trappers and guide outfitters.
  • Since 1981, HCTF has provided over $180 million in grants for more than 2600 conservation projects across BC. This year, a total of $9 million has been awarded for conservation projects in all regions of the province.
Thu, 27 Jun 2019
Tags: Wildlife

Tackling Invasive Plant Species Improves Bighorn Sheep Habitat in the East Kootenays

2008 photo of the Bull River bighorn herd. Beginning in 2009, wildlife managers noticed a rapid spread of yellow hawkweed and other invasive plant species in this herd’s winter range.

Bighorn sheep are well suited to the rugged mountains of southeast British Columbia. But it’s a tough life, and it’s even tougher when invasive plant species crowd out nutritious native forage.

The BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is in the midst of a five-year project to manage invasive species on three critical sheep winter ranges in the region – near Bull River, at Wigwam Flats east of Elko, and at Columbia Lake East north of Canal Flats. The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is contributing approximately $160,000 to this project.

“Loss of habitat is one of the reasons why Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep are blue listed as vulnerable in BC,” says ministry wildlife biologist Irene Teske of Cranbrook, who is leading the initiative. “By reducing invasive plant species, we can increase the quality of grasslands in southeast BC and improve habitat for bighorn sheep and other ungulates.”

Invasive plants alter habitat by displacing native vegetation. They reduce soil productivity, impact water quality and quantity, threaten biodiversity, and alter natural fire regimes. They can be bitter tasting and some even cause health issues or death. A 2016 Forest Practices Board report on rangelands identified invasive plants as an issue that threatens the sustainability of rangelands in the long term.

St John’s Wort in flower in Wigwam Flats

Early in the 2000s, it appeared that spread of invasive species was somewhat under control in Bull River, and herbicide treatments focused on transportation corridors. The situation in Wigwam Flats was similar thanks to previous herbicide treatments (HCTF project 4-303) and biocontrol for knapweed and St. John’s wort. In about 2009, wildlife managers noticed reduced habitat quality for low-elevation ungulate winter ranges due to a rapid spread of yellow hawkweed, declining effectiveness of biocontrol for St. John’s wort, and continuing infestations of sulphur cinquefoil and spotted knapweed.

“We proposed a five-year project using a variety of methods to control these invasive species and try to restore natural grasslands, including chemical treatments, biocontrol and seeding/fertilizing,” Irene says. “We have also established vegetation sampling plots so we can monitor the change over time.”

Close up of Yellow Hawkweed taken at the Wigwam Flats study area.

So far it appears the treatments are working. In some plots, the coverage of invasive plants dropped from as much as 13% to as little as 1.6%. And bighorn sheep populations are up slightly, although this could be for a variety of reasons such as low snowfall or reduced predation. “We are certainly under no illusion that the problem has been fixed,” Irene says. “It is vitally important to keep these areas free of aggressive invasive plants so we will need ongoing periodic management to maintain the positive outcomes.”

A literature review in 2017 showed that the best option to control the invasive plants is through early detection and treatment of small sites. If the infestation gets too extensive, it requires a long-term management plan to replace weeds with desirable species, manage the land carefully, and prevent new infestations.

In 2018, 18 plots were resampled in Bull River and Wigwam Flats following treatment. The monitoring showed that invasive plant coverage in the two study areas had dropped substantially, total grass cover had increased slightly, and there was more bare ground where weeds had been removed. It is important to re‑establish vegetation on this bare ground as soon as possible to discourage the return of the unwanted species.

There are plans to continue herbicide treatments in spring 2019, with seeding in selected areas in the fall and fertilization trials in spring 2019 and 2020. Permanent vegetation plots have been installed and will continue to be monitored to determine the success of the treatments.

This project includes ministry staff from the wildlife, habitat and range divisions, and landowners such as BC Hydro, Nature Trust of BC, Nature Conservancy of Canada, and TransCanada Pipelines. The East Kootenay Invasive Species Council has been involved in some of the herbicide spraying, and Irene says that all contractors have done exceptional work, adding “we could not have done much of this without the dedication and high standards of the backpack herbicide crew from Crabbe Contracting who have been working in some very difficult terrain.”

Irene says a lot has been learned through the project, and many of the findings can be applied to other areas. Range agrologist Hanna McIntyre from the ministry’s range program agrees: “In areas where cattle grazing and bighorn sheep winter range overlap in the Bull River, we are working closely with range agreement holders in an effort to improve bighorn sheep habitat.”

Another example is work by biologist Catherine Tarasoff from Agrowest Consulting Scientists. In 2018, she studied whether St. John’s wort is becoming resistant to the Chrysolina beetle, used since the 1950s as a biocontrol. “Land managers were telling me St. John’s wort was increasing when they had been told it was under control,” Catherine says. “We found strong evidence on one site that the plants were producing a higher level of predatory defense chemicals, which drive off the insects. It’s not surprising – if you use the same vaccine for 70 years you would expect the target to develop resistance over time.”

The lesson learned, she says, is that all available tools need to be used to tackle invasive species – biological, chemical, mechanical and cultural. “What’s most important with resistant plants is to get rid of them before the resistant gene spreads to other plants.”

Another key element of the broader ministry project is public education. A new education sign about the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd will be installed at Bull River this year. It reminds visitors to respect the conservation property complex, and offers tips on what they can do to limit their impact on sensitive wildlife.

“Without a doubt, the best way to protect native plant species and natural habitat is to make sure land users learn how to spot invasive species and report them to government through a Report-A-Weed app or website,” says Todd Larsen, a range habitat specialist with the ministry. “It’s also important to follow best management practices such as washing equipment, recreational equipment, and boots or clothing to avoid spreading invasive species.”

 

Invasive species are one of the leading threats to native wildlife and plant communities in BC. Report-a-Weed and Report Invasive apps let you report invasive species sightings anywhere in BC in a few quick and easy steps. Learn more about the apps at www.reportaweedbc.ca/.

 

Fri, 3 May 2019
Tags: Wildlife

Translocation Project Returns Roosevelt Elk to Historic Range

Translocated elk leaving the truck.

 

Seeing a herd of majestic Roosevelt elk is a marvelous sight for almost anyone exploring B.C.’s coastal wilderness.

Early in the last century, unregulated harvest led to extirpation of the elk from much of their range on the mainland and in many areas of Vancouver Island. Today, while the animals remain on B.C.’s list of species of concern, in some areas they are doing so well they are seen as a nuisance – raising traffic safety concerns, damaging crops and delaying maturation of seedlings. The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has recorded 72 elk fatalities since 2009 on Vancouver Island, most near agricultural areas.

Billy Wilton, a wildlife biologist with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), is entering into the fourth year of a five-year project aimed at identifying elk herds that are a potential nuisance, and relocating them to places where they are more welcome. The work he is leading enhances native wildlife populations so the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Forest Enhancement Society of BC provided $15,000 for the project in 2017 and another $15,000 in 2018.

“Our goals are to re-establish viable populations of Roosevelt elk where they once lived historically, and at the same time mitigate potential problems,” Billy says.

“We are expanding their current range to match their historical distribution by moving them to unoccupied watersheds where ecological conditions are suitable, removing them from areas where they present a highway traffic hazard, and represent a conflict with agriculture or industrial forest management.”

As part of government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations, the ministry is working closely with First Nations on managing Roosevelt elk, including through elk translocation.

Elk translocation is not a new tool – other elk species were moved into Alaska from the southern states as early as the 1920s. “Translocation has the advantage of allowing us to target a specific herd and move them all,” says Billy. “Research shows that moving a population of 20 or more elk into underutilized habitat gives them the most success for a self-sustaining population.”

In February 2017, with support from partners and volunteers, Billy’s team moved 18 elk from the Lower Salmon Elk Population Unit (EPU) near Sayward, the traditional territory of Wei Wai Kai, We Wai Kum and K’omoks First Nations on the north Island to the Sarita/Pachena EPU, in Huu-ay-aht First Nation territory near Bamfield. In their new home, the ten cows, five calves and three yearling bulls have the potential to disperse and grow, and may even provide future harvest opportunities for local First Nation and licenced hunters.

The work began in March 2016 when project participants surveyed the Lower Salmon EPU to identify potential herds and areas where they could be contained. As winter approached and natural food sources became scarce, they worked with local Sayward Fish and Game Association volunteers, First Nations and farmers to entice the elk to move to a proposed trap site to feed. “Cow Elk weigh up to 600 lbs and bulls up to 1000 lbs so they are very food motivated animals, especially in winter,” says Billy.

Once the elk were used to feeding in the area, a large circular chain-link corral with a remote-controlled gate was put up, and they were encouraged to feed inside it.

Elk approaching trap

Within two weeks, the herd was comfortable moving into the corral. In mid-February, Billy’s team and the volunteers shut the gate remotely just before dusk, loaded the animals through a chute onto a stock truck, and drove them to a location near the Sarita River where they were released. Three of the cows were marked with radio collars to help assess the success of the project.

About 20 members of the Campbell River Fish and Wildlife Association helped move a herd in 2016 that was creating highway safety issues. “It is a really neat project that is right in line with the goals of our organization,” says club president Wade Major. “We do anything we can to improve fish or wildlife habitat, and assist with wildlife management.”

Roosevelt elk, the second-largest member of the deer family after moose are generalist grazers that have an impact on plant composition. Returning them to their native range increases biodiversity and re-establishes predator-prey dynamics.

The project receives funding and support from a variety of organizations – including the Ministries of FLNRORD and Transportation and Infrastructure, First Nations, fish and wildlife associations and the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C.

The transportation ministry has recorded 72 elk fatalities since 2009 on Vancouver Island, most near agricultural areas. Sean Wong, manager of biological programs, says animals that frequent busy highway corridors, especially large ones like Roosevelt elk, are a concern to transportation planners. “By supporting the translocations, we are able to reduce vehicle-animal collision risks and help rebuild elk populations in areas where they have historically been found, and where they represent less risk to the travelling public,” he says.

Since its inception in 1981, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has invested more than $180 million into fish and wildlife conservation projects across British Columbia. The Foundation gives priority to projects like this one because they deliver proven results for native species.

As Billy Wilton says: “It is a pretty rare opportunity to be able to take what might be seen as a problem and turn it into a conservation solution and a success story.”

This article was first published in May-June 2019 issue of BC Outdoors magazine.

Wed, 20 Feb 2019
Tags: E&R / Wildlife

CWD: Challenging, Worrying and Deadly – by Brian Harris

CWD-map

It could be the plot for a science fiction horror movie. A disease that reduces the brain to Swiss cheese, spreads insidiously, is always fatal, and is caused by something that is difficult to kill because it is not actually alive. Yikes! This is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). It is a disease of cervids (animals in the deer family), and in Canada in the wild, it has been identified most commonly in mule deer, but also in white-tailed deer, elk and moose. Recently CWD has been reported in wild reindeer in Scandinavia, so our caribou populations are also potentially at risk.

CWD is one of a group of diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy that affect the brain and nervous system of many animals including humans, cattle and sheep. The disease agent is most likely an abnormal form of protein called a prion (the acronym for proteinaceous infectious particle only). Why a protein becomes a prion is not known. Proteins are normal organic molecules of healthy cells in all living creatures. However, in an animal with CWD, contact with prions causes normal proteins to change shape, then go rogue and become deadly. These altered proteins so resemble normal ones that they are not destroyed by the animal’s immune system. In certain areas of the brain, the accumulation of these abnormal proteins kills cells, so that that part of the brain looks “spongy”. As the disease progresses, body functions associated with those areas of the brain begin to fail. An affected animal gradually loses weight, becomes listless, may salivate heavily and urinate frequently. The animal eventually wastes away (hence the disease name) and dies. However, the prions in excreted body fluids and feces (and some body parts once the animal dies) may persist in the soil and be taken up by growing plants. This is a unique feature of CWD. Then, healthy animals that eat such vegetation can become infected. Even transporting feed or hay grown on land where CWD has been present can spread the disease.

CWD is well established on game farms and in wild deer in much of central USA. In Canada, so far the disease is reported only in Alberta and Saskatchewan in farmed and wild deer and elk, but in 2018, CWD was recognized on a red deer farm in Quebec. The CWD Alliance website is a good source for more information.

Monitoring for CWD in BC began in 2001 and fortunately no samples have tested positive. This is partially attributable to Provincial regulations that prohibit the farming of native cervids or importing live cervids. Recent additional regulations prohibit the importing CWD risky body parts of deer harvested outside the Province, and possessing scents derived from cervids. However, there is no room for complaisance. The Alberta CWD Program has mapped the disease expanding slowly but relentlessly westward, especially following the valleys of the South Saskatchewan, Battle and Bow Rivers. In 2017, CWD cases were reported very near to both Calgary and Edmonton. In addition, recent cases in Montana mean that BC is becoming surrounded by a growing risk of CWD.

From CWD Alliance

Some of BC’s most cherished game animals are at risk, but the disease does not affect all animals equally. In Alberta, it is mule deer that are most susceptible, while in other jurisdictions it is white-tailed deer or elk. In 2017, the Alberta Government tested for CWD in 6,340 wild deer and elk. The disease was detected in 8.2% of mule deer, 1.8% of white-tailed deer and 0.4% of elk samples (so far the only recorded incidence in Alberta moose is a single positive in 2012). Males are more likely to be infected than females. Since 2005, CWD has been detected in 796 Alberta mule deer, 119 white-tailed deer, two elk and one moose. To obtain these samples, the Alberta Government CWD Surveillance Program “relies heavily on participation by hunters, guides and landowners”.

In BC, the increasing proximity of the disease to the Province’s eastern border and the low number of samples from the Peace Region (7B) has increased the urgency for improved monitoring. In 2018, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) and partners contributed funding to improve CWD surveillance in the Peace. Most of the HCTF funding comes from the surcharge on hunting, fishing, trapping and guide outfitting licences sold in BC. This money is used to fund conservation projects benefitting wildlife and fish populations, beyond the basic management by governments.

BC’s Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr. Helen Schwantje, said, “The Peace is considered the Region at highest risk of natural expansion of CWD from Alberta into British Columbia and hunters have a key role in helping to avoid this disease from entering our Province”.

An objective of the HCTF-funded project is to increase by 10 times the number of samples from Peace Region from less than 30 to at least 300 annually. To test for CWD, the whole head of the suspect animal is required. One of the best ways to gather such samples is to involve hunters.

“Hunters are probably the group that should be the most concerned about the spread of CWD ”, says CWD Project coordinator Brian Paterson, “And coincidentally, they are the group that can help the most with early detection efforts by submitting the heads of harvested animals to our program.” Paterson continues, “As outreach coordinator, it is my role to spread information, increase awareness, and let hunters know how important the submission of a single head is in the fight against CWD.”

In 2018, Paterson delivered information on CWD to hunters in the Peace Region through contact with sportsmen’s groups, outdoor sports equipment stores, trappers, meat cutters as well as interviews on CBC and via social media sites like Facebook.

In the first year, Paterson says the response to the project has been really good, but he wants to continue the outreach and recruitment, so that “Submission of heads becomes part of the hunt. If you know that your buddies are submitting heads, you are more likely to do the same. The program can’t be truly effective without hunter participation”.

Awareness and cooperation are key, but with a sample as large as a whole head, getting to a collection site (such as dedicated freezers) must also be convenient. The locations of collection sites and a summary of the results of CWD testing will be posted on the BC Wildlife Health CWD website (www.gov.bc.ca/chronicwastingdisease.ca). If any samples test positive, the hunter will be contacted directly and confidentially.

To date, there is no treatment for affected wild animals and no vaccine, so prevention is key. The risk to BC’s game animals is real and the consequences potentially dire, but hopefully the science fiction plot of CWD does not play out in this Province. Our best defence is vigilance, and cooperation between wildlife agencies, First Nation and local governments, stakeholders and the communities most likely to be affected.

Hunters Note. Although CWD is not known to affect humans, the meat should not be eaten. Suspect animals or carcasses should be reported to the BC Wildlife Health Program (250 751-3219 or the RAPP line 1-877-952-8277). When processing a suspect animal, hunters should take care to avoid direct contact with the animal’s body fluids and especially the brain, backbone or internal organs. Avoid sawing through any bones by separating the carcass at the joints. Leave the high-risk body parts behind.