Tue, 5 Feb 2019
Tags: Stewardship

Enhanced farmland benefits farmers and fowl!

Snow & Cackling Geese grazing on winter cover crop in Richmond.

HCTF grant recipients Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust have been working with farming operations on the Fraser River delta to enhance farmland with winter cover crops of cereal grasses, forage grasses, clovers and legume mixtures. Not only does this enrich the fertility of the soil, it also provides much needed fuel for migrating waterfowl passing through the delta.

“This project directly supports Delta and Richmond farmers committed to land stewardship. These 18 farmers have established over 2,850 acres of winter cover crops on farmland for the 2018 project year.” says Program Manager Drew Bondar.

Thu, 10 Jan 2019

Meet the Neighbours!

photo credit Dr. Naidoo

The South Chilcotin Mountains in south-central British Columbia are well-recognized as a wildlife haven, and contain some of the province’s most iconic wilderness species. However, there is little understanding of how an increasing human footprint in this region impacts the diversity and abundance of species. There is little information available on the key factors that regulate the distribution & abundance of wildlife here, which is a critical knowledge gap as human activity is increasing in large parts of the region, with unknown consequences.

To address these issues, HCTF is funding Dr. Robin Naidoo’s study in the South Chilcotin mountains. So far, camera traps have turned up a wide variety of species including cougars, bears, moose, wolves, coyotes, wolverine, lynx, and many more.

“Although our camera trap grid has been running for less than a year, it has revealed that the abundance and diversity of wildlife that share trails with people in the South Chilcotins is truly remarkable,” says Dr. Naidoo

Mon, 7 Jan 2019

New Year, New Land

Park Rill Creek by Nick Burdock

HCTF is pleased to announce the acquisition of two new parcels of land in the Okanagan. A hotspot of biodiversity and of species at risk in Canada, the Okanagan has experienced significant conversion of wild land to other uses in recent decades.

The Park Rill Creek property was purchased by The Nature Trust of BC. Located in the White Lake Basin in the South Okanagan, this 32.2 hectare (80 acre) parcel is home to some of the most endangered and rare species in our province such as the endangered Half-moon Hairstreak butterfly and the rare Painted Turtle. The property is rich with vegetation including aromatic gray sagebrush, desert grassland and broadleaf woodlands.

The R.E. Taylor Conservation Property, is named in honour of Ron Taylor of Winfield, BC, whose dedication and commitment to wildlife conservation in BC has spanned more than half a century. Ron helped to create the Southern Interior Land Trust (SILT), the purchasers of this property.

The property is a gem of intact streamside Water Birch forest, one of very few remaining in the Okanagan-Similkameen. It provides habitat for at least five federally-listed species at risk, including the Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Screech Owl and Lewis’s Woodpecker. It is also good habitat for deer, bear, bobcat and badger that travel across the valley, and for rainbow trout in the creek.

Significant contributions from HCTF, along with other funders mean long-term protection for these valuable ecosystems.

Thu, 29 Nov 2018

Coquihalla River Rehabilitation Project Update

Crew working to break up boulder on Coquihalla River

HCTF is delighted to share an update from one of our more explosive recent projects, the Coquihalla River Summer Steelhead Migration Rehabilitation Project.

In the spring of 2014, an unfortunate combination of erosion, shifting of boulders and the settling of a failed bridge foundation introduced a new obstacle for summer steelhead attempting to access the upper 20 km of the Coquihalla River. The location of Othello Falls, combined with seasonal water levels, have always made this stretch very difficult to pass, but the 2014 events made this barrier almost fully impassable. Loss of access to the upper river threatened the long-term viability of this unique steelhead population. In response, a dedicated group of biologists, engineers, conservationists, and fisheries enthusiasts came together to make a plan.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants was contracted to oversee modifications to the barrier. In September 2017, the team rappelled down the bridge at Othello Falls, drilled holes in the most problematic boulder, and used low-impact explosives to break the blockage into smaller pieces. Over the winter, high water flows redistributed the rocks, creating a more accessible passage for steelhead.

While it is still too early to assess the full impact of the rehabilitation work, preliminary results are encouraging, according to Mike Willcox, project leader and Fish Biologist with Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development for the South Coast Natural Resource Region. His team conducted snorkel surveys both up- and down-stream of the barrier in late summer 2018 to determine the percentage of summer steelhead that successfully traversed the blockage. “Our observations indicate the works were at least partly successful in improving access at the barrier,” says Willcox. “As well, anglers were pleased with the fishery upstream of the barrier this season. We will continue to monitor fish movement each year past the barrier to determine whether any further works are required.”

The Coquihalla River supports one of only two natural, coastal summer-run steelhead stocks on the lower Fraser River. This stretch of river provides a rare opportunity for artificial fly-only summer steelhead fishing. From both a conservation and recreation viewpoint, individuals and organizations from across BC are very keen to support this important piece of habitat. HCTF is keen to follow the monitoring updates from the talented and creative folks on the ground and in the water at the Coquihalla River.

This project was supported by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, the Steelhead Society, Kingfisher Rod and Gun Club, the BC Conservation Foundation, BC Parks and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.




Wed, 21 Nov 2018

The Curious Case of the Haida Gwaii Sooty Grouse

Sooty grouse sporting a radio telemetry collar

Guest post by Berry Wijdeven, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

On a clear day, you can see the British Columbia mainland from the shores of Haida Gwaii. The archipelago is only about 80 km from the mainland coast but weather and waves can make the distance insurmountable. The people of Haida Gwaii have learned to adapt to this relative isolation through patience and creativity, and so has the local flora and fauna.

The adaptations of local wildlife are wide-ranging and sometimes dramatic. Because Haida Gwaii rainforests tend to be dark, local birds, including goshawks, saw-whet owls and hairy woodpeckers have darker plumages compared to their mainland counterparts. It is hypothesized that this adaptation helps to conceal them. Goshawks have also adapted with decreased wingspans to manoeuvre more easily through the narrow flyways below the dense tree canopy. Haida Gwaii bears have developed the largest skulls of any North American Black Bear, likely due to a different suite of available prey items, while smaller critters such as marten and ermine sport skull shapes and sizes substantially different from those of their cousins on the mainland. Local marten, taking advantage of the large niche created by the lack of local mid-sized predators, have grown bigger than their mainland counterparts and may be capable of preying upon larger mammals, such as introduced deer.

The Haida Gwaii subspecies of saw-whet owl, known as the brooksi, is the only native species of owl on-island. This local subspecies has discovered that intertidal zones boast an abundance of food, such as beach hoppers and other invertebrates. Since the owls are not threatened by other night time predators such as the larger owl species found on the BC mainland, they can freely gorge themselves on these intertidal critters. Blue herons have changed their behaviour as well. In response, perhaps, to the vast numbers of island eagles, they have abandoned their colonies and now nest in single nests, well away – sometimes up to 10 km – from the ocean. In fact, while both blue herons and saw-whet owls are typically migratory birds, the local populations have adapted to live in Haida Gwaii year-round.

These unique relationships and interactions make studying wildlife on Haida Gwaii a fascinating undertaking. When the Haida Gwaii Sooty Grouse Research Project started seven years ago, the researchers weren’t looking for the unexpected; after all, grouse behaviour had been studied pretty comprehensively elsewhere. The research team was interested in finding out whether the local grouse population, an important prey item for goshawks, was in decline and if so, why. Was it the habitat changes brought on by forest harvesting? The influence of the large number of introduced deer? Other factors?

To find out what was going on, the team caught more than a hundred and seventy grouse and fitted them with radio collars. This enabled the researchers to track the birds’ movement patterns, determine seasonal habitat usage, and locate grouse nests. When, during the breeding season, a tagged female stopped moving for a few days, it was a good bet she had started nesting. Using radio telemetry, the nest was located and a motion detection camera deployed to hopefully record hatch success.

Radio telemetry is, at times, more of an art than a science. While the basics are pretty straightforward – you put a radio transmitter on a critter, release it and then use a receiver to lock onto its unique radio signal to help guide you to its current location – in the real world this guiding is less straight forward. The radio signals don’t travel in straight lines; they bounce off slopes, are re-directed by trees or rocks, are affected by high moisture content in the air and can be nearly silenced when the source signal is located in a depression. For rookie field crews, initial searches involve a lot of unnecessary bushwhacking, bog traversing and fighting off salal attacks, in search of an ever changing, at times seemingly illusive signal. Researchers quickly learn to “read the sign”, including accounting for topographical or vegetation impacts to the signal, checking directions frequently and constantly adjusting their path forward.


When you walk towards a radio signal, you judge your progress by how strongly the signal is received. When the signal gets stronger, the beep gets louder, signalling that you are getting closer. This aural assistance disappears when you get within 20-30 meters of the transmitter. At this point, the signal is as strong as it is going to get and it now becomes a matter of visually locating the grouse wearing the collar. Crews tread carefully at this stage, not just to prevent the grouse from moving off her nest, but also, literally, from not stepping on a grouse.

Sooty grouse belong to the family Tetraoninea which also includes Spruce grouse, Ruffed grouse, Sharp-tailed and Sage grouse as well as Ptarmigan and Prairie chickens. This family has a wide distribution ranging from Iceland and Greenland to Eurasia and North America. While they have adapted to a wide variety of ecosystems, one characteristic that has remained commonplace is their choice of nesting sites. Whether it’s the arctic tundra, coastal rainforest or inland plains: grouse typically nest in shallow depressions on the ground, often beneath cover, with a thin lining of plant material. Not the most secure of locations, but somehow it has been sufficiently successful to maintain the species.

In characteristically Haida Gwaii fashion, local Sooty grouse behave atypically. The research crew discovered that somehow the island grouse must not have gotten that ground-nesting memo. They first observed some grouse nests located on high stumps, which was unexpected and interesting. Soon thereafter, a grouse nest was detected 2.5 meters up in the air on a 45 degree leaning tree. That created some excitement amongst the crew, thinking they might have located the highest known grouse nest in North America.

That was only the beginning. By the next field season new nest champions emerged, nestled ever higher in the crooks of trees or on mossy platforms on tree branches. While exciting, trying to find these nests often proved problematic. Locating nests in dense understory was one thing, but looking up into a cluster of trees, hoping to spot a remarkably well camouflaged grouse took time, skill and a healthy dose of luck. Mossy platforms, more often associated with Marbled Murrelet nests, turned out to be popular sites for the non-conformist tree dwelling grouse. Sometimes, after extensive circling, using binoculars and zoom lenses, looking for the right angle to get a glimpse, it would be the tail feathers, sticking up or sticking out which would give the grouse away. Or, surprisingly perhaps, often it was the bird’s eye in the sky, staring intently at the interlopers below.

Recording grouse data

By the end of the study, some 15 grouse tree nests had been located with the highest one hidden away 18 meters up high. Straight up. And they say grouse aren’t good flyers! Mind you, not all Haida Gwaii grouse nested in trees, in fact they nested just about anywhere: on stumps, on logs, on top of root wads, on a cliff, inside hollow trees, inside waste wood piles in a variety of tree species, and on the ground. Every nest search created excitement. The crew would never know what nest location choice that particular grouse had made, or why. Was it to evade predators? Avoid the wet understory? Hopefully, the upcoming data analysis will provide answers. Meanwhile, the research team will remember this particular study fondly. In spite of the aches and pains, the ineffectiveness of their rain gear for the Haida Gwaii weather, the miles and miles of searching and bushwhacking, they gained a new respect for the adaptiveness of the Sooty grouse.

For more information on this project contact:

Frank Doyle at wildlifedynamics@gmail.com or

Louise Waterhouse at Louise.Waterhouse@gov.bc.ca

The Haida Gwaii Sooty Grouse Project was spearheaded by Frank Doyle of Wildlife Dynamics Consulting and Louise Waterhouse, Coast Area Research, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Other team members included Melissa Todd, Coast Area Research, FLNRORD and Ross Vennesland, Parks Canada. Field technicians included Gerry Morigeau, Kiku Dhanwant, James MacKinnon and Miranda Barnhardt. Special thanks to management and staff at the Haida Gwaii District, FLNRORD without whose enthusiastic participation and support this project would not have succeeded. Thanks also to Mike Schroeder. Funding of the project courtesy of Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, FLNRORD, Parks Canada, Husby Forest Products and the Upland Bird Society.

Wed, 7 Nov 2018

Wolverines in the News


Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is very pleased that one of the projects we support has received a bit of media attention as of late!

Cliff Nietvelt of the Government of British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development (FLNRORD) is pursuing a 3 year project on Wolverine movements, home range and habitat use in the South Coast region. Cliff has been a wildlife ecologist for 20 years, and has led and conducted the entire wolverine inventory in the South Coast region since 2012.

Cliff’s project was highlighted in a variety of publications, including the Globe and Mail and the Squamish Chief.

We’re proud to partner with the Forest Enhancement Society of BC to help fund this vital project. In early November, FESBC committed $3 million towards conservation projects that will be awarded and administered by HCTF.