Sun, 27 May 2018

Project Evaluation: Spring Site Visits

Dutch Creek Columbia Lake as viewed from the Hoodoos property
By Kathryn Martell and Christina Waddle

Project evaluation is a core component of HCTF’s grant programs. In addition to a thorough review of proposals and project reports, we conduct more in-depth evaluations of several projects each year. This assessment combines a detailed review of both financial and biological components of a project, ranging from questions about a project’s bookkeeping processes to a field day with the project leader to see the activities “on the ground”. These site visits provide us with an opportunity to better understand a project’s challenges and successes, to evaluate our conservation return on investment, and—best of all—to spend time with our project leaders somewhere outside in wild BC with an opportunity for them to tell us more about the projects they are passionate about.

One of the new interpretive signs funded with an HCTF Land Stewardship grant at NCC”s Dutch Creek Hoodoos property

HCTF staff had the opportunity to visit two of our continuing projects this spring. Our Conservation Specialist Christina Waddle attended the Official Trail Opening Ceremony at the Dutch Creek Hoodoos Conservation Area owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). Richard Klafki, Canadian Rocky Mountains Program Director for NCC, showed Christina some of the work that’s been accomplished with the Land Stewardship Grant from HCTF. This project included marking and improving the main loop trail and discouraging use of other informal trails on the property through directional signage and fencing. The other main component of the project was the design and installation of five educational interpretive panels. This will help meet NCC’s management goals for the property which include protection in perpetuity, providing a quality site appreciation experience, while limiting the effects of recreation on native vegetation and wildlife.

Evaluation Manager Kathryn Martell and Finance Officer Jade Neilson headed over to the Lower Mainland to meet up with provincial sturgeon specialist Erin Stoddard and his field crew for a day on the Fraser River. Now in its sixth year, the Lower Fraser White Sturgeon Telemetry Study is conducting long-term monitoring of adult sturgeon to gain a better understanding of movement patterns and habitat use of this Red-listed species in the Lower Fraser, Pitt, and Harrison Rivers. Although White Sturgeon is considered at risk, there is a limited catch-and-release fishery on the Lower Fraser River; a licence surcharge supports a dedicated HCTF fund for sturgeon research and recovery efforts.

HCTF Finance Officer Jade Neilson and project field technician Garrett enjoy some sunshine as they journey from one site to another.

Jade and Kathryn had a great day out on the water, with high flood conditions making it both challenging and interesting to retrieve and re-deploy the data loggers that record movements of individual sturgeon using acoustic tracking devices. It is surprising how little we know about this long-lived, large, prehistoric fish that is so important to local First Nations. This project is the first ever long-term telemetry study of sturgeon habitat use on lower Fraser River White Sturgeon, and it is already providing critical information about over-wintering sites, spawning areas, and development impacts, that is being used to improve fisheries and habitat management. In between hauling heavy equipment in and out of the boat, we had a chance to see some of the critical spawning areas being studied; to understand much more about the project’s study design, and how Erin and his crew have responded to many challenges (such as, what to do when your data logger is buried under 3 tonnes of log boom?) and learn about some of the complications of studying a fish that can live twice as long as humans and travel more than 125 km upstream and downstream each year in the ever-changing conditions of a large river system.

Field technician Garret preps a data logger before submerging in the river. IN the background, you can see an example of the battering some of these frames take from log booms.

Thank you to both Richard, Erin and Garrett for showing our staff the conservation work being accomplished with HCTF grants.

Thu, 24 May 2018
Tags: Wildlife

Dough for Does – Grants, Donations and Volunteers Support the Southern Interior Mule Deer Project

Southern Interior Mule Deer project volunteers collar a mule deer doe and use ultrasound to determine if she's pregnant.

A new, large-scale research project, involving multiple agencies and universities, has started to tackle one of the most pressing needs in wildlife management in British Columbia – how to understand and reverse declines of mule deer in the Southern Interior. With contributions from Indigenous people, the public, stakeholders, and industry, this project brings together cutting-edge research on deer ecology with multiple partnerships to advance both evidence and cooperative-based approaches to wildlife conservation.

“Mule deer declines have been a concern in portions of the southern interior since the 1960s, and decades of hunting regulation change have not reversed the declines,” said Jesse Zeman, Director of Fish and Wildlife Restoration, BC Wildlife Federation.

A combination of fire suppression, timber extraction, highways, urban sprawl and other factors affect the movement and size of mule deer populations in the Southern Interior of B.C. Sophie Gilbert, an Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho and co-investigator on the project, said, “in addition to landscape change, things like increases in competitor or predator species may also be affecting mule deer, as we’ve seen in other parts of western North America, and we want to identify which drivers are most important in the Southern Interior.”

Mule deer are essential for food security, Syilx (Okanagan) cultural practice and knowledge transfer, hunter opportunity, and are a ‘canary in the coal mine’ for B.C.’s ecosystems.

“What we have heard from Indigenous communities, ecologists, and resident hunters is that the decline of mule deer matters to them and the status quo is no longer sufficient,” said Dr. Adam T. Ford, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus and co-investigator on the project. “It is time we bring more science to bear on issues affecting wildlife in B.C.”

The B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch, in collaboration with the BC Wildlife Federation, Okanagan Nation Alliance, volunteers and researchers at the University of British Columbia, and the University of Idaho, placed GPS tracking collars on 64 adult female mule deer (does) in the following areas: Kettle-Granby, Peachland/Garnet Valley, and Cache Creek/Elephant Hill fire.

There are an additional 33 adult female mule deer collared in the Kootenay study area.

Of the 64 deer captured in 2018, ultrasounds were used to assess pregnancy rates and general health on 56 does greater than one year of age. The project team found a 98 percent pregnancy rate, at least 80 percent of those does were carrying twins. Does and their offspring (fawns) are what drive deer population change, which is why the project is focusing on them.

The GPS collars in the Kettle-Granby, Peachland/Garnet Valley, and Cache Creek study areas track the deer movements every 4.25 hours and provide information on the deers’ habitat use, how they move across the landscape, which areas they avoid, when and how they die. When a collar is no longer moving, a message gets sent to the project team which allows them to investigate factors contributing to the animal’s death.

In addition to the collars, at least 200 remote cameras will be deployed in the project areas to provide an understanding of how other animals (predators, prey, and people) interact with mule deer. The cameras will also provide recruitment data (fawn survival) and sex ratios (buck: doe), and potentially help count mule deer and other large mammals.

This fall the group expects to place GPS collars on a minimum of 60 mule deer fawns and will also incorporate vegetation monitoring (food availability).

To date, nearly $300,000 in direct funding has been contributed to the project through multiple sources including, BC Wildlife Federation Clubs and partners, corporate donors, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ministry of Transportation, and B.C. Timber Sales. The project has also confirmed over $500,000 of in-kind support from collaborators, particularly project volunteers and the University of B.C. Okanagan and University of Idaho.

“While there has been tremendous community support, the project still requires additional financial and in-kind support to fund the remaining four years of the project,” said Jesse Zeman. “Please go to the BC Wildlife Federation website to make a donation and receive a tax credit receipt, get updates, or learn about volunteer opportunities for the project.” People can also donate directly to the Okanagan Nation Alliance

Thu, 24 May 2018
Tags: Stewardship

Sit Back, Relax, and Count Some Bats

A volunteer helps count bats for the Community Bat Program. Photo M. Kellner

The BC Community Bat Program is seeking volunteers and bat colonies for the Annual Bat Count. This citizen-science initiative encourages residents to count bats at local roost sites. “Bat counts are a wonderful way for residents to get involved in collecting important scientific information” says biologist Mandy Kellner, coordinator of the BC Community Bat Program. “No special skills are needed, you can be any age, and you can relax in a deck chair while counting.”

The Annual Bat Count will collect baseline data on bat populations before the devastating White Nose Syndrome fungal disease affects bats in the province.

“White Nose Syndrome is estimated to have killed more than seven million bats since it was first discovered in eastern North America a decade ago,” says Kellner. “In March 2016, the disease was detected just east of Seattle, and has now spread within Washington State. This has greatly increased our urgency to understand bat populations in BC. We need the public’s help to census local bat populations – we never known when it is our last year to obtain population estimates before White Nose Syndrome causes widespread declines in western North America.”

Counts are easy! Volunteers wait outside a known roost site, such as a bat-house, barn, bridge or attic, and count bats as they fly out at twilight. They record the final number along with basic information on weather conditions. Ideally, 1 – 2 counts are done between June 1 and 21 before pups are born, and 1 – 2 more between July 11 and August 5 when pups are flying.

We know relatively little about bats in BC, including basic information on population numbers” continues Kellner. “This information will be extremely valuable, particularly if it is collected annually. If people want to get involved but don’t have a roost site on their property, we will try to match them with a roost site nearby.”

Funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, and with support of the BC Conservation Foundation and the Province of BC, the BC Community Bat Program provides information for people dealing with bat issues on their property or who have questions about how to attract bats. To find out more about bat counts, or to get assistance dealing with bat issues, visit www.bcbats.ca or call 1-855-9BC-BATS.

Wed, 9 May 2018
Tags: Stewardship

Opportunity for BC Kids to Participate in Citizen Science

A metallic green sweat bee on a bitterroot flower (Lewisia rediviva) photographed by Valerie Huff in Trail, BC.

NatureKids BC is launching a new pollinator citizen science project this week that encourages kids and their families all over British Columbia to collect data on local pollinators. The project will provide opportunities for children to get involved in real science and learning about nature on their doorstep.

Through pollinator surveys and education materials, children will learn about wild pollinators and how to identify them. They will collect data on the abundance and diversity of bees, wasps, and butterflies in green spaces in their local area through data collection events and be encouraged to get involved in stewardship activities that increase pollinator habitat.

Pollinators in British Columbia include insects such as beetles, wasps, flies, butterflies and bees that distribute pollen from one flower to another as they forage and as a result fertilize plants. Bees and other pollinators are a key component of global biodiversity because they play a vital role in maintaining wild ecosystems as well as pollinate plants that produce food (crops, fruits, nuts and seeds) that wildlife and humans rely on to survive.

World-wide, pollinator populations are declining with parallel declines in the plants that rely on them for pollination. Both wild and domesticated pollinators are suffering from a range of threats including diseases, pesticide exposure, malnutrition, habitat loss and climate change.

Erin Udal, Pollinator Citizen Science Coordinator with NatureKids BC, says: “Pollinators are a critical component of our environment both here in BC and globally and it takes all of us to help protect them and their essential habitats. Through this citizen science initiative, youth all across BC can contribute to generating local knowledge and awareness and can help our communities make more informed conservation decisions.”

Louise Pedersen, Executive Director with NatureKids BC, adds: “Citizen science is an opportunity to dive into a new universe for children and it’s a great educational tool that harnesses the intrinsic curiosity of children for the natural world. It’s incredibly powerful when children come to understand that they can make a real difference.”

To get involved with NatureKids BC’s pollinator citizen science project and to download instructions and pollinator ID information, visit https://www.naturekidsbc.ca/be-a-naturekid/stewardship-citizen-science/pollinators/

As part of the launch of the pollinator citizen science project, NatureKids BC will host a pollinator survey led by NatureKids BC pollinator educator, Erin Udal on Saturday, May 12 at 1-2:30 pm. by UBC Forest Sciences Center, 2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4. Learn more here: https://naturekidsbc_2018agm-and-pollintor-explorer-day.eventbrite.ca

NatureKids BC’s pollinator youth citizen science project is supported by the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, TD Friends of the Environment and Nature Canada.

Thu, 3 May 2018

Premier Announces Eagle Heights Purchase

Premier John Horgan Announces the purchase and protection of the Eagle Heights property on Vancouver Island

Victoria, BC – Premier John Horgan has announced the successful acquisition of Eagle Heights Grasslands near Koksilah River Provincial Park. Premier Horgan, along with Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, made the announcement on Thursday morning at West Shawnigan Lake Park. They were joined by representatives from Cowichan Tribes, the Cowichan Valley Naturalists and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) who spoke about their roles in protecting this property and the value of partnerships.

HCTF contributed $400,000 to the purchase of Eagle Heights as part of its habitat acquisition granting program. HCTF CEO Brian Springinotic said the Foundation’s decision to partner with BC Parks on the purchase was because the property contains high-value habitat for many species of wildlife. “Eagle Heights is an interesting mix of habitat types, from pocket grasslands to old-growth forest,” said Springinotic. “These support a diverse assemblage of wildlife, including cougar, black bear, Roosevelt elk, and threatened species like Western Screech Owl and Northern Goshawk.” The Federal Recovery Strategy for the Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies has identified Eagle Heights Grasslands as one of 10 critical habitats on Vancouver Island. The property is also home to many rare and endangered plant communities.

Springinotic credits the province’s hunters and anglers for providing HCTF with the funding used to secure important habitat. “The reason we’re able to help with the purchase of Eagle Heights and the many other conservation properties we’ve helped fund over the years is the conservation surcharge on all angling, hunting, trapping and guide outfitting licences sold in BC,” says Springinotic. “We put a lot of effort into making sure the money raised through licence sales is invested into projects that will make a real difference for fish and wildlife. Buying land to protect its habitat in perpetuity is one way we are working to conserve this province’s incredible natural assets, for the benefit of all British Columbians.”

Wed, 2 May 2018

2018 Invasive Mussel Monitoring Grant Recipients

Mussels

The following organizations have been approved for funding under our Invasive Mussels Lake Monitoring program:

  • Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society
  • Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance
  • Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council
  • Fraser Valley Invasive Species Society
  • Lillooet Regional Invasive Species Society
  • Central Kootenay Invasive Species Society
  • East Kootenay Invasive Species Council
  • Invasive Species Council of British Columbia (Cariboo)
  • Skeena Fisheries Commission
  • Northwest Invasive Plant Council
  • Boundary Invasive Species Society
  • Christina Lake Stewardship Society
  • Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society

Funding will be used by proponents to undertake monitoring of substrates and plankton tow sampling for mussel veligers.

For more information, contact Christina Waddle at christina.waddle@hctf.ca