Tue, 30 Oct 2018

Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing at Conservation Lands Operations and Management Funding Program Meeting

Lands Management Group Photo

On September 18-19th 2018, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) hosted a meeting of conservation land managers in Penticton, BC. These managers receive funding under the HCTF Conservation Lands Operations and Maintenance Funding Program administered in partnership with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and the Nature Trust of BC. HCTF currently provides $617,500 annually to assist with the operation and maintenance of approximately 115 significant wildlife habitat areas across BC.

This gathering represented the second opportunity for land managers and other stakeholders to come together in person since the establishment of our new partnered approach to administering operations and management funding. Taking a partnered approach to conservation lands management has a number of benefits, including the ability to combine assets and expertise, avoid duplicating efforts and leverage funding.

The meeting was a great opportunity for practitioners from across BC to share knowledge, give feedback on the administration of the program, discuss plans for its evolution, and collaborate to help improve conservation land management in the province.

A highlight of the two-day event was the field trip, which provided opportunities to witness conservation land management in action.

HCTF staff Christina Waddle hiking

First stop on field day was the McTaggart-Cowan/nsək’łniw’t Wildlife Management Area. This site is close to the heart of HCTF, as it is named in part for HCTF’s Founding Chair. The site name also honours the Penticton Indian Band; “nsək’łniw’t” is roughly translated from the Syilx language as “a gash on the side” and refers to a historic trail used for travel, trade, and access to medicine-gathering areas. The group then traveled onward to Skaha Lake Eastside, Vaseux Lake, and finally the South Okanagan Wildlife Management Area. Along the way, they shared common experiences, best practices and challenges related to conservation land management including wildlife usage, mineral claims, grazing, and infrastructure maintenance.

Overall, HCTF was pleased to help facilitate this important gathering and opportunity for conservation land managers to share knowledge and experience. We are in the process of refining the program administration details for the upcoming funding cycle, and look forward to incorporating the vital on-the-ground experience and feedback that was received during the event.

All photos generously provided by Karen Wipond.

Tue, 9 Oct 2018
Tags: Stewardship

Bringing Back the Bluebird!

Fledgling Bluebird photo provided Barry Hetschko

Guest post by Genevieve Singleton, Project Manager of the Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society Bring Back the Bluebird Project

Imagine standing in a Garry Oak meadow in the Cowichan Valley. You hear a low chirp and look up and see a bright flash of blue fly by! You are seeing a Western Bluebird on Vancouver Island, a beautiful bird making a comeback after almost thirty years away.

In approximately 1990, long time Cowichan Naturalist and mountaineer extraordinaire Syd Watts, now deceased, saw what was likely one of the last bluebirds in the Cowichan Valley on a hike with rare species biologist Trudy Chatwin and her daughters. Syd worked hard to encourage the birds’ return by placing nest boxes on Mount Tzouhalem and Richards Mountain, but to no avail.

It was not until 2012 that Western Bluebirds returned to Vancouver Island when the Victoria based Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (GOERT) started moving Western Bluebirds, with permits, from Washington State to the Cowichan Valley. This was done under the supervision of avian ecologist and songbird recovery expert Gary Slater of Ecostudies Institute. Many nest boxes were placed in good Garry Oak habitat in advance of the Bluebirds arrival; fortunately, these first birds stayed to breed. In his final days of life, Syd was comforted by the knowledge that the birds were making a comeback.

This past summer, under the lead of Cowichan Valley Naturalists Society (CVNS) biologist/conservation technician Hannah Hall, fifteen volunteer nest box monitors cared for their Bluebird Trails. This involved cleaning, fixing nest boxes and carrying out regular observations of the birds using the boxes. Over seventy landowners in Quamichan and Somenos Lake areas support the project, allowing a total of about two hundred and twenty-five nest boxes on their properties. While only a few of these boxes were occupied by Bluebirds, others provided safe cozy homes for other small songbirds including Tree Swallows, Violet Green Swallows, House Wrens, Bewicks Wrens and Chestnut Backed Chickadees. Songbirds are in a catastrophic decline in North America, so it is a wonderful side benefit that the Return of the Bluebird Project is providing habitat for other birds.

Volunteers banding Bluebirds

Volunteers banding Bluebirds. Photo by Genevieve Singleton.

It is thought that Western Bluebird became extirpated (locally extinct) from Vancouver Island due to a variety of factors. The main reason was likely increased farming and urbanization. Removal of trees led to a lack of tree cavities for Bluebird habitat. Increased use of pesticides and the introduction of invasive species such as House Sparrows were other stresses. Although beautiful, House Sparrows are very aggressive to Bluebirds and have been known to kill both adults and fledglings. Unfortunately, Bluebirds and House Sparrows require the same size nest box hole. Former CVNS staff member Ryan Hetschko, perfected the art of deterring Sparrows with sparrow spookers, built by Naturalist member, John Wheatley. These consist of sparkling mylar ribbons attached to a small dowel placed on the top of the box. Bluebirds like to fly up into the nest box hole, whereas Sparrows like to fly down. Since Sparrows do not like the pieces of myler flying in their trajectory, they leave the box alone. That’s innovation!

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation supported this project from 2013-2018. For the past two years Cowichan Valley Naturalists have been the lead of the project, taking over on the strong foundation built by GOERT. CVNS was thrilled to have one hundred per cent nest success this year. This year, fifteen adults were seen on southern Vancouver Island producing forty-two fledglings. Over the past year, over sixty volunteers put in thousands of hours completing a wide variety of activities ranging from project management, fundraising, checking boxes, visiting land owners, providing technical expertise and education outreach, and much more.


How Can you Help the Bluebirds?

If you see Bluebirds on Vancouver Island over the winter, email your sightings to cowichanbluebird@gmail.com. Bluebirds typically migrate south, but recently a few have stayed around for at least part of the winter.

You can learn more about the project at www.cowichanbluebird.ca or attend the public CVNS talk at the WildWings Festival Oct. 27, 7 pm at Vancouver Island University, Duncan Campus.

A version of this article was previously published in the Cowichan Valley Voice. Photos provided by Barry Hetschko and Genevieve Singleton. Thank you to Hannah Hall for additional assistance.


Tue, 21 Aug 2018
Tags: Wildlife

Meet Molly – Vancouver Island Marmot Super Mom

Molly the Marmot and one of her six pups. Photo by Jordan Cormack.

Earlier this year, a field crew on an inventory trip made a surprising, and welcome, discovery in Strathcona Park . A new marmot mom, Molly, had six pups! Veteran Field Crew member Jordan Cormack managed to snap some photos of the busy mom and her brood. Vancouver Island Marmots usually have 3 or 4 pups once every second year and field teams have only seen litters of six weened pups a few times, never in Strathcona Park.

Less than 10 years ago, no marmots remained in Strathcona Park, and it has been a struggle at times to re-establish the species there. Historically, the Park was part of the Vancouver Island Marmot’s range, but the species was extirpated from the region sometime during the 1990s, with only a small handful surviving nearby at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Re-establishing the marmot in the Park is an important part of the Recovery Plan for the species. In addition to being a large protected area within the marmot’s former range, marmot habitat in the Park may be more resilient as our climate changes.

Re-introducing a vanished species is never simple, and Strathcona Park is particularly challenging. Weather and terrain in the Park are harsher than in the marmots’ more southern colonies. Even more difficult was the loss of marmot “infrastructure” – burrows and hibernacula – that disappeared when the marmots were extirpated from the Park.

It is immensely rewarding to see a large litter of wild-born pups there. It suggests that Molly must have great body condition, which in turn means she must have had a good hibernaculum, and likely the support of a small, but functional, colony at her home on Castlecrag.

Playtime for two of Molly’s pups. Photo by Jordan Cormack.

Molly’s litter is a small step towards the recovery of her species in Strathcona, and a hopeful sign that the species is beginning to find ways to thrive in this beautiful and rugged wilderness. That Molly and her brood have this chance at all is due to the partners, donors, and funders, including the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, that have supported re-introduction work.

A huge thank you to Adam Taylor, Executive Director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation, for sharing this project update with us. The Reestablishing Vancouver Island Marmots in Strathcona Provincial Park project is funded in part through HCTF’s North Island Conservation Fund.


Mon, 13 Aug 2018
Tags: Stewardship

Bats in Your Belfry?

A California myotis (Myotis californicus) photographed in a building roost.

Have you noticed more bats around your house or property? You are not alone! Midsummer is the time when landowners typically notice more bat activity, may have bats flying into their house, and occasionally find a bat on the ground or roosting in unusual locations. These surprise visitors are usually the young pups. “In July and August, pups are learning to fly, and their early efforts may land them in locations where they are more likely to come in contact with humans“, says Mandy Kellner, biologist and coordinator with the BC Community Bat Program.

If you find a bat, alive or dead, never touch it with your bare hands. Bats in BC have very low levels of rabies infection, but any risk of transmission should not be treated lightly. Contact a doctor or veterinarian if a person or pet could have come into direct contact
(bitten, scratched etc.) with a bat.

Landowners can visit the BC Community Bat Program’s website (www.bcbats.ca) for information on safely moving a bat if necessary and to report bat sightings. The Program also has a 1-800 number (1-855-9BC-BATS) with regional coordinators across the province able to offer advice. The Program is also currently seeking reports of mortalities at bat colonies in houses, barns, or bat houses. The BC Community Bat Program and their support with batty matters is funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, and the Government of BC. Female bats gather in maternity colonies in early summer, where they will remain until the pups are ready to fly. Some species of bats have adapted to live in human structures, and colonies may be found under roofs or siding, or in attics, barns, or other buildings. Having bats is viewed as a benefit by some landowners, who appreciate the insect control. Others may prefer to exclude the bats. Under the BC Wildlife Act, it is illegal to exterminate or harm bats, and exclusion can only be done in the fall and winter after it is determined that the bats are no longer in the building. Again, the BC Community Bat Program can offer advice and support. To find out more, download the “Managing Bats in Buildings” booklet, or contact your local Community Bat Program by calling 1-855-9BC-BATS.

Thanks to the BC Community Bat Program for providing this update.

Sun, 22 Jul 2018
Tags: Wildlife

New Research Into Managing Mange (with photos that will have you saying “awww” instead of “eww”)

You don’t expect to get warm fuzzies from a project about mange, until you receive photos like this:


This little lamb is part of a herd of California bighorns were the test subjects in a project testing treatments for Psoroptes ovis, a microscopic mite that’s been causing big problems for some BC bighorns.

The first confirmed case of this highly contagious parasite was in the Similkameen Valley in 2011. Psoroptes ovis, also known as sheep scab or psoroptic mange, is highly irritating to infected sheep, causing ear crusting and in some individuals, itchiness that drives them to rub out their haircoat and develop sores. Psoroptic mange is thought to be at least partially responsible in the decline of the one infested bighorn herd in BC and numerous infested herds in the United States.

Not so cute: a closeup of the crusting caused by psoroptic mange on one of the bighorn sheep study subjects.

Prior to this project being conducted, the only way to effectively treat Psoroptes was through multiple applications of every animal in a herd of an anti-parasitic – hardly a practical solution when dealing with wild animals. The goal of this HCTF-funded project, carried out as a joint effort between the University of Saskatchewan, the Government of British Columbia, and the Penticton Indian Band, was to try to find a treatment that could be delivered in a long acting single dose, greatly reducing both animal stress and costs associated with having to capture every wild sheep in a herd multiple times.

Onesie blindfolds are used to keep the sheep calm while they are weighed and treated.


The first drug to be tested was LongrangeTM, an extended-release eprinomectin solution that had shown promise during pilot studies. In the winter of 2017, Adam and his team captured 18 naturally Psoroptes-infested bighorns from Penticton Indian Band lands and housed them in one of two purpose-built wildlife enclosures. While in the enclosures, the sheep were fed, watered and carefully monitored, with sampling monthly to track the success of the treatment. While there, some gave birth to bouncing bighorn lambs. Unfortunately, the LongrangeTM treatment proved ineffective, so Adam decided to try a second drug: fluralaner. In Canada, fluralaner is licenced under the brand name BravectoTM as an anti-tick and flea treatment for cats and dogs. Both topical and oral formulations were trialled and the oral formulation worked! No live mites were found in any ear crust samples collected from orally-treated sheep one month after treatment and ear lesions were also significantly reduced.

This project is also investigating where the infection in the Canadian herd originated and evaluating different methods of detecting disease in asymptomatic carriers to help prevent further spread of this parasite into currently uninfested Canadian herds.

Science in the field

Further research is needed to find out how long Bravecto-treated individuals would be protected from reinfection and to ensure drug safety at different dosages and for different animals before moving forward with administering the drug in the wild, but this project’s findings are a significant step forward in discovering an effective tool for managing – or even eradicating – psoroptic mange in bighorn sheep throughout North America. The bighorn sheep subjects were successfully released back into the wild (mange-free) at the conclusion of the testing.


All of the photos were taken by the very talented Darryn Epp. Thank you Darryn and Adam for sharing them with us!

Tue, 19 Jun 2018
Tags: Education

BC Parks Contributes $30K from Licence Plate Sales to HCTF GO Grants Program

Environment Minister George Heyman announces BC Parks will contribute $30,000 to HCTF's GO Grants program.

VICTORIA – To get more students out of the classroom and into the great outdoors, BC Parks is contributing $30,000 from the sales of specialty licence plates to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation’s (HCTF) GO Grants Program.

“By supporting the GO Grants Program, we are giving youth a chance to experience nature and gain a unique learning experience in some of the most beautiful provincial parks B.C. has to offer,” said George Heyman, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “We hope a new generation of young people will form a lifelong attachment to our province’s diverse and rich natural environment.”

Minister Heyman announces GO Grants funding

The GO Grants Program provides funding for school field trips to provincial parks, and other natural areas, so students can learn about B.C.’s fish and wildlife habitats, as well as biodiversity, while fostering an appreciation for the environment. The trips give youth a chance to spend time outdoors and participate in hands-on learning activities, such as beach seining, releasing salmon fry, nature scavenger hunts, and plant and animal identification.

Last year, licence-plate funding supported outdoor learning in provincial parks for more than 700 students. Up to 2,500 students are anticipated to go on field trips this year, as demand for the program is at an all-time high.

“We want every student in B.C. to have the opportunity to experience first-hand the incredible diversity of animals and plants that are part of their communities,” said HCTF education committee member Ken Ashley. “BC Parks’ contribution will enable an additional 2,100 students to participate this year. Connecting kids to nature helps build a conservation ethic that is critical to protecting B.C.’s biodiversity for future generations.”

Dr. Ken Ashley speaks on behalf of HCTF at GO Grants at Goldstream Provincial Park

The B.C. government is reinvesting all net proceeds from the sale and ongoing renewals of BC Parks licence plates back into provincial parks, to ensure action is taken to protect the environment and achieve conservation goals.

Students from Ecole Margaret Jenkins Elementary School on a GO Grant field trip to Goldstream Provincial Park.