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!
Penticton—The Nature Trust of British Columbia is pleased to announce the purchase of the Skaha Lake Eastside property near Penticton with the support of many partners and donors.
“So glad there’s been success with the Skaha Lake property,” said Judie Steeves, West Kelowna freelance writer. “As a kid, I used to go hike up on those bluffs and sit and contemplate the future as I looked out over Skaha Lake. I love that area. Saw my first rattler in the wild there, too.”
This property which spans 35.4 hectares (87.5 acres) features critical habitat for Bighorn Sheep and other wildlife on the eastside of Skaha Lake. It is adjacent to our existing Skaha Lake Property complex which is included in the McTaggart-Cowan/Ns?k’?niw’t Wildlife Management Area.
This land has a variety of habitat ideal for Bighorn Sheep. The open grassland dotted with ponderosa pines and Douglas-fir provides grazing area and the rocky steep bluffs provide protection from predators.
“This property is one of the last remaining undeveloped benchlands on the eastside of Skaha Lake,” said Nicholas Burdock, The Nature Trust of BC’s Okanagan Conservation Land Coordinator. “It takes you only a few steps to recognize how beautiful this location is and why it is so important that it remain in a natural state. There are many rare plants and animals that rely on this landscape; it really is a special place in the South Okanagan.”
The Skaha Lake parcel is located in two of the most endangered biogeoclimatic zones: Bunchgrass and Ponderosa Pine. In addition to Bighorn Sheep, this property supports other species at risk such as the White-throated Swift and Western Rattlesnake and potentially the endangered American Badger.
This property is an infill piece, surrounded by our conservation lands to the north and east with the Eastside Road to the west and the south adjacent to a housing development.
“You only have to take one look at a map to understand the risk of this property being developed and its habitat values lost forever,” said Ross Peck, Chair of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. “By helping The Nature Trust purchase these lands for conservation, we’re confident they’ll continue to support Okanagan wildlife in perpetuity.”
Management objectives will focus on increasing the quality of Bighorn Sheep habitat, improving connectivity and sheep movement within the adjacent Wildlife Management Area and decreasing human caused disturbance. Purchasing the property will reduce the risk of disease transmission by excluding domestic sheep and goats.
This project was made possible with the generous support of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, BC Conservation Foundation, Sitka Foundation, Gosling Foundation, Wild Sheep Society of BC, Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (Government of Canada through Environment and Climate Change Canada) and individual donors.
The Nature Trust of British Columbia is dedicated to protecting BC’s natural diversity of plants and wildlife through the acquisition and management of ecologically significant land. Since 1971 The Nature Trust along with our partners has invested more than $95 million to secure over 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres) across British Columbia.
Day 1: Removing the remnant roadway that bisected the estuary.
Day 2: Road removal continues
Day 3: 1500 cubic metres of fill removed…
Resulting in water flowing through this area of the Englishman Estuary for the first time in over 50 years!
The next day, the first new occupants are already moving in.
By the end of day 4, the team has removed 2500m3 of fill.
Day 5: An early start, but more than half way there.
Shorebirds come to check out the newly restored area:
Week 2: Placement of large woody debris for fish habitat and connecting the channels.
By the end of week 2, 3500 cubic metres of fill had been removed, channels connected, and fish habitat structures installed. Great job!
You can read more about the Englishman River Estuary Restoration Project here, or follow VICLMP on twitter for more updates on this project.
Thu, 20 Jul 2017
Help Stop Whirling Disease from Entering BC
Photo: State of Colorado
Last August, Canada’s first case of whirling disease was confirmed at Johnson Lake within Banff National Park. Alberta’s Bow River, Red Deer and Oldman River watersheds have now been declared infected with whirling disease by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the rest of the province declared a buffer zone. The disease devastated wild trout populations in the Western United States in the 90s, but its effects on fish populations can vary. In a recent interview with the Calgary Herald, Aquatic Invasive Specialist Kate Wilson said scientists are unsure how the disease will impact Alberta’s wild fish. As there’s no cure for whirling disease, Alberta is focused on monitoring, education and following protocols to stop its spread. Though BC has not (yet) had a confirmed case of whirling disease, HCTF is helping to fund a coordinator to lead a whirling disease monitoring and education program in BC. Here’s a quick primer on whirling disease, and what you can do to help stop it from spreading.
What causes whirling disease?
Whirling disease is caused by a microscopic parasite (Myxobolus cerebralis) that infects both fish and freshwater worms during different phases of its lifecycle.
What are the symptoms?
In fish, the parasite affects the cartilage near the spine, leading to skeletal deformities of the spine or skull. This causes the fish to abnormally whirl in a tail-chasing behaviour and/or display a blackened tail. Whirling disease can cause a large number of mortalities in susceptible fish populations (trout, salmon, whitefish) potentially killing up to 90% of juveniles; however not all populations or species may be affected to the same level.
Photo: State of Colorado
What types of fish are affected?
Whirling disease affects salmonids, including:
Cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarkii
Bull trout Salvelinus confluentus
Rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss
Kokanee Oncorhynchus nerka
Sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka
Coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch
Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
Mountain whitefish Prosopium williamsoni
Atlantic salmon Salmo salar
Brown trout Salmo trutta
Brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis
Can whirling disease make people or pets sick?
There are no health concerns for people swimming in or drinking water that contains whirling disease. Eating an infected fish is not known to cause harmful effects to people or other animals.
How is whirling disease treated?
There is no treatment currently available for whirling disease; containment and prevention are the best response.
Is whirling disease in BC?
Whirling disease has not yet been found in BC, but it has been found in neighbouring watersheds in Alberta.
What can I do to help keep whirling disease out of BC?
Whirling disease can be spread by moving of fish, mud, and water between water bodies.
It can be transmitted through spores that attach to equipment (used for swimming, paddling, boating, water pumping, fishing), pets, or through infected fish (alive or dead) and fish parts.
– Never move fish or fish parts from one waterbody to another.
– Use fish-cleaning stations where available or put fish parts in the local solid waste system. Do not dispose of fish, or any fish parts, in a kitchen garburator.
– Before moving a boat or any equipment (e.g. hip waders, life jackets, kayaks, etc.) between water bodies, be sure to:
Clean and inspect watercraft, trailers, and all equipment that has been in contact with water or fish. This includes boats, motors, boots, waders, bait buckets, and swimming floats.
Remove all mud, sand, and plant materials before leaving the shore.
Rinse, scrub, or pressure wash your boat and equipment away from storm drains, ditches or waterways. Use hot water if possible (90°C or hotter).
Bathe pets before allowing them to enter another water body.
Before leaving the shoreline, drain water from watercraft and equipment onto dry land.
Dry the watercraft and/or equipment completely between trips and allow the wet areas to air dry. Allow for a minimum of 24 hours of drying time before entering new waters.
Leave compartments open on boats and equipment and sponge out standing water
What should I do if I find a fish that is exhibiting signs of whirling disease?
If you see a fish showing symptoms of whirling disease, contact Front Counter BC on 1-877-855-3222, or email FrontCounterBC@gov.bc.ca
Remote cameras provide researchers with a window into the secret life of wild wolverines. We’re finding these animals are far more social than previously thought.
When you read the word “wolverine”, what comes to mind? A snarling, snapping North-American version of the Tasmanian devil? A fearsome furball taking down prey ten times its size? Hugh Jackman?
For a creature whose reputation has reached mythical proportions, it might surprise you to learn that there’s still a lot we don’t know about wolverines. Naturally rare, wolverines are found in remote wilderness areas, making them challenging study subjects. But with increasing pressure on the landscapes that wolverines and other wildlife call home, it’s more important than ever for land managers to have accurate information on wolverine populations in BC. Advances in research techniques and technology are not only providing the data necessary to protect wolverines, they’re actually changing the way we view this elusive species.
Cliff Nietvelt is a BC government wildlife biologist who has been studying wolverines since 2009. It was that year, working on a collaring project in the North Cascades, that he had his first up-close encounter with a wolverine. “We had set up a box trap and caught other carnivores but had no luck getting any wolverines,” recalls Cliff. “I’d actually gone out to close the trap for a few days when I noticed a wolverine track. I tapped on the top of the box and heard this low, guttural growl, the kind that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.” The wolverine – nicknamed “Rocky”- was fitted with a satellite collar and sent on his way to collect information about the species’ habitat use and range.
Now, Cliff has just completed another wolverine conservation project supported by the Province and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. Using a combination of remote cameras and genetic analysis, the project examined how wolverine distribution and density could be affected by factors such as human disturbance. This question is of particular importance in the South Coast region of BC – a paradox of development and wilderness.
“Here, we have the bulk of BC’s human population and Canada’s third largest metropolitan centre adjacent to this really rugged terrain that’s home to grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolverines – all species with big space requirements,” says Cliff. “It’s good habitat for the most part, but it’s becoming more and more fragmented by roads and human habitation.”
Cliff and his team set up over 70 data collection sites in the South Coast’s Sea-to-Sky District. Each site was equipped with a remote camera, a run-pole and specially-designed hair snaggers made from alligator clips and barbed wire. The setup was based on research done in Alberta and Alaska, but the BC team had to customize some of their techniques to meet the unique challenges posed by West Coast weather.
To attract wolverines to the site, they started with a “lure”: a tantalizing mix of beaver castoreum, marten or fisher musk, and essence of skunk. “We mix it all up in a 2L milk jug with a glycerin base,” explains Cliff. “It’s pungent at first, but it loses its potency fairly quickly in wet conditions.” To offset this, the team had to bring in an extra ingredient tolerated by only the toughest of researchers: rotten cattle blood.
“The cattle blood was primarily used for grizzly bear DNA stations and sourced from a local abattoir. We have to keep it at the local dump, where it’s stored in barrels, baking in the sun. After a few months, it gets quite the bouquet on it. Ninety-nine percent of people who’ve experienced it vow never to touch the stuff again,” shares Cliff. “We splash it on the trees in the periphery and it mimics a kill site or rotting carrion. Even a couple of weeks later, the scent of blood will still be in the air. It draws the animals close enough to spot the bait. We primarily use beaver meat, as we can source it from local trappers. But we’ll also use road-killed moose, elk and deer when we can get it.”
Like the lure, Cliff’s description of bait preparation is not for the squeamish. “We have to freeze it solid first so we can easily cut it up with a chainsaw, and we need to be able to drill through bone to hang it at the site. Otherwise, an animal can rip it off pretty quickly.” If the bait disappears, Cliff says it doesn’t take long for the animals to stop coming, and this impacts the effectiveness of the study. “You risk underestimating what’s out there. To mitigate this, we hang a cattle femur at each site, as it serves as a visual attractant and wolverines can also break the bone to access to marrow. If there’s at least a bone still hanging, you’ll still get wolverines coming to check it out and chew on it.”
To reach the bait, wolverines make their way across the run-pole, a platform of sorts constructed from two 4x4s braced to a tree. At the end of the 4x4s is a reinforced plastic frame attached to a 2×4 cross piece, and behind this are two plastic rods with a carefully arranged series of alligator clips with jaws open in wait. As the wolverine vigorously attempts to take down the bait, they knock the alligator clips shut and leave a hair sample behind. This technique works well for matching a wolverine caught on camera with its DNA from the hair sample, but an additional modification had to be made after the team found they had multiple wolverine visitors. “The disadvantage of the alligator clips is that they usually only collect hair from one animal, so if there are three or four wolverines in a sampling session, you’re not collecting the hair from all of them,” explains Cliff. “So we found a way to add barbed wire to the tree and run-pole. We’ve really refined it to the point that we’re getting much better samples from the wire than the alligator clips.’”
In total, Cliff’s study collected 1,560 hair samples in the Squamish-Lillooet and Garibaldi-Pitt regions. The DNA from these samples was analyzed in the lab and determined to belong to 36 different wolverines (20 males and 16 females), and as many as 45 wolverines were identified visually. While the number of individuals was higher than expected, it was the degree of genetic isolation between the geographic populations that the lab described as “remarkable”. After incorporating the results of hair samples from a separate wolverine study in the Bridge area, the lab found there is almost no mixing of individuals between the 3 regions: the populations are almost completely distinct. Not only is it highly unusual to find such clear separation between populations in an area of this size, it also has important conservation implications. “Isolated populations are much more susceptible to any kind of disturbance or mortality,” says Cliff. “And if they’re wiped out, there’s a much lower chance of an area being recolonized.”
With the rapid pace of development on the South Coast, Cliff feels there’s cause for concern. “You’re dealing with a species that’s likely not as tough as we think, and maybe not as resilient as we think,” he says. “Because of the [remote] cameras, we’re getting a very different picture of wolverines.” While the cameras’ primary role in Cliff’s research is to match up an individual wolverine’s unique throat and chest markings with the genetics from the hair samples, they also act as a fantastic window into the secret world of wolverines. Multiple clips show wolverines playing and socializing with each other, and Cliff’s study has identified up to six different wolverines visiting a particular site. It would seem that wolverines (on the South Coast, anyway) are hardly the reclusive loners they’re reputed to be. The footage also shows a side of wolverines that is far more vigilant than vicious. Even when engrossed in a meal of beaver bait, the animals frequently pause to look, listen, and smell, behaving more like prey than predator. While there’s no doubt that wolverines can be fierce hunters, they are not fearless, and seem easily spooked by the presence of other predators – and humans.
“We see higher detection rates of wolverines at sites that are truly backcountry, with no human access,” explains Cliff. “Sites in the front country that are adjacent to snowmobile trails and the like have a much lower rate of detection.” Development and a reduced snowpack caused by climate change could result in increased access to areas where wolverines have traditionally lived undisturbed. Increased access could also lead to increased competition from wolves and coyotes in habitats that were formally a niche for wolverines. Neither scenario bodes well for the species.
“If you look at where wolverines are found, they are true wilderness areas,” says Cliff. “In places such as Ontario, the range of wolverines has decreased over 50% since 1850, and now they are only found in the province’s far north. In BC, we have the advantage of very rugged terrain that, thus far, has been difficult to access.” Cliff says the real importance of this research is to get a clear understanding of what factors are important to wolverine survival, so that we can work to protect them before the damage is done. The benefits are likely to go far beyond saving the South Coast’s wolverines. Cliff explains: “I have this saying: If we protect wildness, we protect wilderness. The wolverine is a species that is representative of wildness, and if we can keep species such as wolverine on the landscape, we can BC help maintain BC’s wilderness that so many British Columbians hold dear.”
You can watch a video of footage from this project here.