Tue, 27 Feb 2018
Tags: Wildlife

Whirling Disease Update

Whirling disease sampling


Last April, HCTF, FFSBC and the Province of British Columbia provided funding to hire a coordinator to lead the province’s efforts in preventing Whirling Disease from entering BC. Stephanie Whyte and her team sampled over 880 fish in the Columbia Basin for the presence of Myxobolus cerebralis, the parasite that causes whirling disease. The fish were sampled at six different sites:

  • Elk River
  • Premier Lake
  • Lower St Mary River
  • Koocanusa tributaries
  • Kootenay River (near Creston)
  • Columbia River (near Castlegar and Trail)

The team used sampling methods similar to those used in Alberta and by Parks Canada to create continuity in methodology in Western Canada. Because whirling disease is a reportable disease in Canada, Canada Food Inspection Agency collaborated with the Province of BC on a sampling methodology and to identifying priority sample sites in the Columbia Basin. The samples were sent to a FFSBC or a CFIA lab to test for the presence of Myxobolus cerebralis using PCR. All results came back negative for the presence of Myxobolus cerebralis.

In addition to testing for whirling disease, the team has developed effective decontamination procedures to help prevent the spread of the disease by human activity. They also created an Early Detection Rapid Response Plan (EDRR) to provide detailed direction on the decisions and actions required if whirling disease is detected in BC. This document is based on similar plans created for invasives such as Zebra and Quagga Mussels.

For 2018, the team have put together a plan that will continue to focus on areas of high human activity in and around the Columbia Basin.

Report Suspected Cases of Whirling Disease

While there are still no documented cases of Whirling disease in British Columbia, it has been confirmed in several locations in Alberta near the BC border. Fish infected with whirling disease may exhibit a “whirling” swimming behavior as the parasite attacks cartilage and impairs the nervous system. Fish may also show signs of physical malformations including head and tail deformities and darkened coloration near the tail area. If you see fish seeing any of these symptoms, please contact Front Counter BC Toll free: 1-877-855-3222; email: FrontCounterBC@gov.bc.ca

Tue, 30 Jan 2018

Update on the Fisher Den Box Project

Can’t get enough fisher footage? HCTF project leader Larry Davis has put together another video update on the artificial den box project with some fantastic video captured with some innovative use of a Go-Pro and a selfie-stick:


Larry writes: “Work at the start of this fiscal year focused on identifying any den boxes that were being used by fishers for reproductive purposes. We monitored all den boxes on a monthly basis by inspecting the inside of each box with a Go-Pro camera inserted through the door. In addition, hair-snaggers installed at the entrance of each box are examined and these were collected when any hair was present. Den boxes that were receiving attention by fishers also had motion detection cameras positioned to capture video of any fisher using the structure.

DNA samples from the winter of 2016-17 and the 2017 denning period were submitted for analysis in July 2017. Results of the analysis indicate 26 fisher samples were obtained out of the 39 samples submitted. Other species in the samples included red squirrel (8), American marten, (4), and one black bear. Of the fisher samples, we had 9 different individuals leave DNA at the denboxes (7F and 2M) during this period. Similar to the last two years, the denboxes appear to be selective for females. Out of the 9 fishers, 5 were individuals not previously identified.

During the reproductive denning period (April – June 2017), we observed females and kits at 4 different den boxes over the natal denning season. Three of the boxes used were in the Bridge Watershed and one was in the Chilcotin. The females had 1 at 2 denboxes and 2 at the remaining 2 denboxes. One of the fishers has used reproductive dens for three consecutive years at two different den boxes and a second has reproduced the past two years using two different denboxes.

A cannibalism event was also recorded on video at one denbox. A female with two kits had left to forage for several hours when a male fisher arrived at the structure. The male chewed at the opening to the denbox and, over approximately 0.5 hours, enlarged it sufficiently to enter the structure. The male was then observed to remove one kit at a time from the structure with one eaten on top of the denbox. Female fishers are selective for denbox entrance size, in theory, to prevent the larger males from entering and killing kits. However, to my knowledge, no one has recorded an actual cannibalism event. The female returned to the denbox that day and several other times over the next week.

Many of the denboxes have had the entrances enlarged by squirrel chewing over the years of the project and I suspect that this prior chewing may have aided the male fisher in entering the denbox. To address this problem, we have installed 2cm thick by 4cm wide door frames made from solid wood on every denbox. Future monitoring will seek to determine if this addition helps address the problem of squirrel chewing at the entrance. Another possible fix would be to embed galvanized metal sheets at the entrance during construction. Two metal sheets could be waffered between the 3 plywood layers at the opening. Plans for the final report are to update denbox construction plans to reflect these changes.

Other work this year includes visiting known fisher den trees to determine the potential supply of natural denning structures. Some delays for this component of the project were caused by the wildfires and my evacuation this summer. However, we have also commenced with this portion of the project and have some limited data to report. Near the Williston Reservoir, 6 out of 10 cottonwood den trees were still standing roughly 20 years after discovery. In the Chilcotin, only 2 out of five den trees are still standing approximately 10 years after they were identified. For the cottonwood trees, advanced decay appears to be the primary cause of all fallen trees. In the Chilcotin, recent fire has taken two trees and advanced decay impacted the third. There are 10 additional trees we plan to examine in the Chilcotin this winter and a biologist in the Peace has information on fisher den trees in that area that will help support this portion of the project.

Winter monitoring will commence in January 2018, when the boxes will be examined for chewing since last June. All den boxes will have lure added to attract fishers to the structure with trail cameras and hair snaggers used to monitor use over the winter. In late February / early March, we will move the cameras to den boxes that are receiving interest from fisher to prepare for the reproductive denning season.”

The artificial den box project is proudly supported by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Forest Enhancement Society of BC.


Mon, 15 Jan 2018

Tunkwa Lake Watershed Project by Brian Chan

There are a lot of great fishing lakes located in the Southern Interior region of BC. Ideal water chemistry, long, hot growing seasons and managed populations of stocked rainbow, brook trout and kokanee provide a diversity of angling experiences. A quick look at a map of the Merritt, Logan Lake and Kamloops area will reveal just how many small lake fisheries are waiting to be fished. One of the most popular groups of stillwaters is those found within the Tunkwa Lake watershed. They include Tunkwa, Leighton, Morgan and Six Mile lakes. Each year over 30,000 angler days are spent plying these waters in search of rainbow trout. Recreational fishing within this watershed has been a popular pastime for over 70 years. Tunkwa Lake Resort has been in operation for over the past 40 years and in 1996 Tunkwa and Leighton lakes were the cornerstones of the newly created Tunkwa Lake Provincial Park.

The development of the recreational fisheries within the Tunkwa watershed was in large part the result of creek diversions and construction of dams on key lakes in an effort to store and supply water for downstream agricultural purposes. Some of the original irrigation works done by pioneering ranching families date back to the late 1800s. Those initial diversions and dams provided enough additional water in Tunkwa Lake to support fish life. The first recorded government stockings of Tunkwa date back to 1939. Those first stockings produced some amazing fish and fishing action. However, over the years, the demand for water increased as more land was cleared and put into forage production. Years with a good snowpack combined with adequate rainfall during summer months meant good survival of trout in both Tunkwa and Leighton lakes. Conversely, low snowpack and summer drought conditions would result in more winterkills and summerkills.

Over the past 75 years, there have been a lot of physical improvements made to the dams, diversions and water delivery systems that have made these lakes what they are today. Perhaps the most significant enhancement project in the Tunkwa watershed began in 1994 when the Provincial Ministry of Environment completed a study of the watershed of water use and availability while considering ways to optimize the use of water to benefit fish, wildlife and agricultural interests. During the same time period, the ownership of Six Mile Lake Ranch near Savona changed hands. A large portion of this cattle and alfalfa production ranch was being redeveloped into a golf course and housing complex. During the government approval process, the province was able to obtain some of the Six Mile Ranch water rights. Converting these water licences from irrigation to conservation use was key to allowing much of the planned watershed enhancement work to move forward.

Ongoing discussions began with other user groups within the Tunkwa watershed as all had a stake in ensuring their licenced water was protected while at the same time realizing that water conservation improvements would benefit all users. Individual ranchers, the Durand Creek Water Users Community, government agencies, First Nations, Ducks Unlimited and member clubs of the BC Wildlife Federation worked cooperatively to realize the goals of the watershed enhancement plan.

The biggest obstacle to making this plan work was seeking out appropriate funding sources. The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation proved to be the perfect fit for this project. The origins of this not for profit foundation started with anglers, hunters, trappers and guide-outfitters, who were willing to pay more for licensing fees if this extra funding resulted in enhancements to fish and wildlife populations and the protection of important fish and wildlife habitats. Members of the BC Wildlife Federation were a major push behind this initiative. In 1981 the BC government established the Habitat Conservation Fund, whose revenues would be collected through surcharges on fishing, hunting and trapping licenses. The goal of the fund was to partner with individuals or groups to deliver projects that restored, enhanced and increased fish and wildlife habitat in the province. In 2008 HCTF received charitable status and the current name of Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation was established.

Beginning in 2001, the provincial Ministry of Environment began applying for funds from the HCTF. The Ministry partnered with Ducks Unlimited Canada to further leverage funds for the improvement of both lakes and wetlands within the project boundaries. Over the next 5 years, almost $350,000 was spent on water conservation projects within the Tunkwa Lake watershed. This work included rebuilding the existing diversion and control structures, new dam construction and rebuilding of both dams on Tunkwa and Leighton lakes. An additional 11 wetland basin improvement projects were constructed in the upper end of the Tunkwa watershed. These newly created wetlands provided habitat not only for waterfowl but also a wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Water licencing now owned by the provincial fisheries program was used for conservation purposes to develop Morgan Lake, which historically was a small pond that laid alongside the old Trans-Canada Highway, just east of the town of Savona. It was a fishless waterbody that had tremendous potential to support fish life with increased water levels. HCTF funds were used to build a dam at the east end of the lake, and water from Durand creek (which originated at Tunkwa and Leighton lakes) was used to fill the basin. At completion, almost 5 meters of water was added to the original basin, creating the new Morgan Lake. The lake now had a maximum depth of over 10 meters and could definitely sustain fish life. An open ditch was constructed to deliver water from Morgan to nearby Six Mile Lake to allow seasonal flushing and filling of water. Water that eventually reached Morgan and Six Mile lakes arrived by a newly constructed 6 km long open ditch that diverted water from Durand Creek. The dam on Six Mile Lake was also rebuilt and a small sheet pile weir dam was installed on Turtle Pond, which lies just east of Six Mile Lake. This is an important waterfowl nesting and migration wetland. Several other smaller wetland ponds were created using this new water from Tunkwa and Leighton lakes. Upper Pond, Boyd’s Marsh and Harley’s Marsh lie just south of Morgan Lake and all receive water via the Durand Creek diversion ditch.

In all, 15 wetland habitats making up a total of 280 ha were created within the Tunkwa watershed. The additional work of rebuilding or constructing new dams, diversion structures and delivery channels significantly increased the ability to deliver water efficiently while at the same time conserving water for fish, wildlife and agricultural uses. HCTF continues to contribute $12,000 annually for the operation and maintenance of structures built within the watershed.

So how are the trout fisheries in these 4 lakes doing some 16 years after the initiation of this project? Tunkwa and Leighton lakes continue to be very popular fisheries, no doubt aided by the fact that there are two large campgrounds and a thriving resort operation within this provincial park. Tunkwa and Leighton lakes are back to being stocked with Pennask rainbow trout after almost a decade and a half of being augmented with Blackwater rainbows. Fishing success continues to be good on both lakes and a public fishing dock located on Tunkwa Lake has proven to be a very popular addition to the park. Both lakes are also open to ice fishing which has allowed even more anglers to enjoy these resources.

Morgan Lake continues to be a great success story. Since its creation, it has been managed as a catch and release fishery that is stocked annually with both Blackwater and Fraser Valley strains of rainbow trout. Both strains reach in excess of 5 lbs. The lake is quite popular in the early spring, as it and Six Mile Lake are generally the first lakes to become ice-free each year. Six Mile Lake has a long history of being a great spring and fall fishery and is very popular with local anglers. It is also stocked with both Blackwaters and Fraser Valley rainbows. Both lakes provide anglers with a backdrop of sagebrush and grassland vistas along with consistent fishing action.

The funding made available through the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation was instrumental in making all this enhancement work possible. Partnering with Ducks Unlimited Canada strengthened not only the financial end of this project but also helped ensure existing wetlands were enhanced and new ones were created to the benefit of many species of wildlife. In the end, recreational users and the agricultural community continue to benefit from more effective management of the water resources within the watershed.

The next time you purchase your fishing or hunting licence, remember that you’re helping to fund conservation projects like this one. To date, HCTF has invested over 165 Million dollars in fish and wildlife projects in BC. To find out more about conservation projects happening in your community, take a look at HCTF’s interactive project map.

Brian Chan has been fortunate enough to live and work for the past 35 years in Kamloops, British Columbia. It is here that Brian, as a provincial fisheries biologist, managed the recreational stillwater trout fisheries in the Thompson/Nicola Region, and developed his fishing skills. Brian’s lifelong passion for fly fishing has resulted in his spending literally thousands of angling days on these world class waters. He has shared his extensive knowledge of aquatic biology, trout ecology, entomology, and lake fly fishing tactics with others, through magazine articles, books, and instructional DVDs. Brian has been featured on many TV fishing shows and is currently a regular guest on Sport Fishing on the Fly and co-host of The New Fly Fisher.

Sun, 5 Nov 2017

Poop Gives the Scoop on Who’s Roosting Where

Many thanks to the Habitat Acquisition Trust for providing this update on the Community Bat Project!

Victoria, BC – November 2, 2017.

During annual bat counts, Habitat Acquisition Trust volunteers and Bat Habitat Stewards collect guano samples from beneath the bat roosts. That’s a polite way of saying, we collect bat poop.

Not to whisk away to fertilize gardens and restoration sites, but in the name of citizen science. The guano collected gets sent off for genetic analysis, to determine the species of bats living at each roost. We can’t tell what bats are living in a colony when they whoosh out of their homes at night and we don’t want to disturb the bats by physically capturing them. So this provides a safe means of understanding who’s roosting where.

This genetic analysis, coupled with listening devices that interpret bat calls called Echometers is allowing HAT to build a more comprehensive understanding of bat populations. On their own, Echometers are most useful for sites where there isn’t easy access to collect guano. Since the listening devices can pick up bats roosting in nearby trees, and since the device sometimes narrows the calls down to several different species.

Some of the bat colonies HAT’s team of dedicated Bat Counters monitor are home to multiple different species. At a particular site there are Yuma and Little Brown Bats living in the same roost. Perhaps we could learn from our little bat friends about coexistence too!

From the 2016 field season, the BC Community Bat Program sent away 151 guano samples from across BC for analysis. 135 of the samples successfully yielded DNA for analysis. 80 of the 135 samples were Little Brown Myotis bats. The rest of the samples belonged to Yuma Myotis (21 samples), Big-brown Bat (16 samples), California Myotis (2 samples), Long-legged Myotis (5 samples), Long-eared Myotis (7 samples), and Silver-haired Bats (1 sample). Amongst the bat DNA, deer mouse and red squirrel were also found.

Of the 11 sites where HAT volunteers and bat stewards were able to collect guano the results were:

  • 5 Little Brown Bat colonies
  • 1 Yuma Bat colony
  • 2 Big Brown Bats
  • 1 California Myotis
  • 1 Western Long-eared Myotis
  • 1 Long-legged Myotis

Each of these species have different characteristics as part of their roles and adaptations to their surroundings. Even though telling bats apart without genetic analysis can be a real challenge, even for experts.

Facts about these BC Bat species:

Little Brown Bats

Myotis lucifugus

Little Brown Bats primarily feed on tiny insects, without hard shells like midges, caddisflies, and moths. They do their foraging over calm waters like lakes and ponds.

Yuma Myotis

Myotis yumanensis

In May 2017, the deadly White-nose Syndrome was detected in this species, the second recorded case of the fungal disease in Washington State. Currently, eight species of bats have been discovered affected by the disease. Yuma Myotis maternity colonies, where females gather together to raise pups, have been documented to have over 1,000 individuals in some places in BC.

Big Brown Bats

Eptesicus fuscus

Big Brown Bats forage mainly above fields, trees, water, and open spaces. They focus their feeding efforts on moths, beetles, termites, caddisflies, lacewings, carpenter ants, and midges.

California Myotis

Myotis californicus

California Myotis are one of the smallest bat species in BC. Their maternity colonies for pup-rearing mothers are small and usually only have about 20 individuals.

Long-eared Myotis Bats

Myotis evotis

Long-eared Myotis Bats have been recorded hibernating in caves and mines in the Western United States, and there is a record of one found in a garage in Oregon during December. So keep an eye out for these little guys during the winter, so we might better understand their cold-weather habits. They feed both by catching bugs in flight or by picking bugs off the ground and trees.

Long-legged Myotis Bats

Myotis volans

Long-legged Myotis Bats are active all night long, even when it’s cold outside. They are more tolerant of lower temperatures than other bats.

Silver Haired Bats

Lasionycteris noctivagans

Silver Haired Bats are solitary tree roosters that make their homes in forests and grasslands in logs, beneath bark, and in abandoned woodpecker holes.

If you see bats roosting over winter we would like to hear you reports at bat@hat.bc.ca , so we can better understand the winter-time habits of bats on South Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Habitat Acquisition Trust’s Community Bat Program is funded by LUSH, MEC, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF), and people like you. If you would like to support the Community Bat Program’s continued work with these incredible animals, please donate online today at http://hat.bc.ca/bats or call 250-995-2428.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017

Explosive Start to Restoring Steelhead Passage on the Coquihalla River

A huge chunk of rock and debris preventing summer steelhead from reaching their spawning grounds has been at least partially cleared, thanks to a partnership between government, engineers, and non-profits. A fallen railway support abutment from the historic Kettle Valley Railway had been blocking fish passage up Othello Falls on the Coquihalla River since 2014. Using low-velocity explosives, engineers have split the blockage into smaller pieces, which should be able to be washed downstream by fall and winter high-water events. HCTF provided funding for this project along with the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, who have a fantastic write-up of the project on their blog.

Mon, 18 Sep 2017

HCTF Visits the Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship Project


The Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship Project (CSSP) has been restoring riparian habitat along Cowichan Lake and River since 2014. HCTF staff were invited to a tour of various restoration sites on the 1st of September, and we were pleased to attend to see the results of this important HCTF funded stewardship project.

The CSSP is a combined effort between the BC Conservation Foundation (BCCF) and the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society (CLRSS), with the later as the main “community lead”. The CLRSS is made up of local residents with a strong desire to preserve and protect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that surround and sustain the lake.

In the initial three year phase of the project 2014-17, a total of 26 lake/river shoreline properties have been restored under CSSP, totaling 7,239 square metres of riparian habitat improvements. To date, average plant survival has exceeded 85% for the majority of sites. In this same period, CLRSS volunteers have conducted a total of 282 riparian owner visits around the lake/river, and administered 227 standard surveys designed to gauge shoreline owner knowledge and preferences for preservation of natural riparian habitats. The project has been funded for another three-year phase (2017-10), we look forward to seeing the results of this project moving forward.

The tour included a mix of sites planted in each year of the project to date (see photos below). It was interesting to see the site planted in 2014 looking quite established and naturalized, compared with the recent plantings which still required frequent watering and protection from grazing by deer, elk and beaver.

Below: Photos of the lakefront site planted in 2014. Plants are well-established, requiring little ongoing maintenance.

2015 Riverfront Site: Two adjacent private residences (the sign marks the restored area)

2016 Riverfront site (owned by Town of Lake Cowichan): Site was previously solid Blackberry. Ongoing maintenance has included regular pulling of regenerating blackberry.

2017 Lakefront site (private residence). This site includes a creek passing through property also undergoing restoration.

Thank-you to Christine Brophy, Field Manager for the tour if this important stewardship project. Keep up the good work!