Thu, 28 Mar 2019
Tags: E&R / Wildlife

Congratulations on Grizzly Study Publication

SWBC Grizzly Project

Exciting news from project proponent Michelle McLellan Ph.D.

“We have been monitoring grizzly bears in the threatened Stein-Nahatlach population since 2010. This project was funded by HCTF and we’ve recently published the results of this work. Thanks to HCTF for making this possible.”

View publication on “Divergent population trends following the cessation of legal grizzly bear hunting in southwestern British Columbia, Canada” here:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320718301538

Thu, 21 Mar 2019
Tags: Caribou / Wildlife

Hands-on conservation at the Klinse-Za caribou maternity pen

Maternal pen, photo: Shari Willmott

Transporting crew to the pen, photo: Wildlife Infometrics

More than half of the caribou herds in BC are listed as ‘Threatened’. Given that predation on calves is one of the most direct causes of caribou population declines, two First Nations have partnered with Wildlife Infometrics on a maternal penning project of the Klinse-Za herd, supported by an HCTF grant.

To protect cows and calves from predators during the calving season, a proportion of the herd’s pregnant cows were captured in late March and placed in a guarded pen where they are monitored and fed by a team of First Nations Guardians. The cows and their calves will be released back into the wild in late July when the calves are 2 months old. This project is located in the historical territory of the Klinse-Za herd, northwest of Chetwynd, and the traditional territory of the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations.

Follow the project on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pncaribou or Twitter at https://twitter.com/CaribouRecovery

 

Wed, 20 Feb 2019
Tags: E&R / Wildlife

CWD: Challenging, Worrying and Deadly – by Brian Harris

CWD-map

It could be the plot for a science fiction horror movie. A disease that reduces the brain to Swiss cheese, spreads insidiously, is always fatal, and is caused by something that is difficult to kill because it is not actually alive. Yikes! This is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). It is a disease of cervids (animals in the deer family), and in Canada in the wild, it has been identified most commonly in mule deer, but also in white-tailed deer, elk and moose. Recently CWD has been reported in wild reindeer in Scandinavia, so our caribou populations are also potentially at risk.

CWD is one of a group of diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy that affect the brain and nervous system of many animals including humans, cattle and sheep. The disease agent is most likely an abnormal form of protein called a prion (the acronym for proteinaceous infectious particle only). Why a protein becomes a prion is not known. Proteins are normal organic molecules of healthy cells in all living creatures. However, in an animal with CWD, contact with prions causes normal proteins to change shape, then go rogue and become deadly. These altered proteins so resemble normal ones that they are not destroyed by the animal’s immune system. In certain areas of the brain, the accumulation of these abnormal proteins kills cells, so that that part of the brain looks “spongy”. As the disease progresses, body functions associated with those areas of the brain begin to fail. An affected animal gradually loses weight, becomes listless, may salivate heavily and urinate frequently. The animal eventually wastes away (hence the disease name) and dies. However, the prions in excreted body fluids and feces (and some body parts once the animal dies) may persist in the soil and be taken up by growing plants. This is a unique feature of CWD. Then, healthy animals that eat such vegetation can become infected. Even transporting feed or hay grown on land where CWD has been present can spread the disease.

CWD is well established on game farms and in wild deer in much of central USA. In Canada, so far the disease is reported only in Alberta and Saskatchewan in farmed and wild deer and elk, but in 2018, CWD was recognized on a red deer farm in Quebec. The CWD Alliance website is a good source for more information.

Monitoring for CWD in BC began in 2001 and fortunately no samples have tested positive. This is partially attributable to Provincial regulations that prohibit the farming of native cervids or importing live cervids. Recent additional regulations prohibit the importing CWD risky body parts of deer harvested outside the Province, and possessing scents derived from cervids. However, there is no room for complaisance. The Alberta CWD Program has mapped the disease expanding slowly but relentlessly westward, especially following the valleys of the South Saskatchewan, Battle and Bow Rivers. In 2017, CWD cases were reported very near to both Calgary and Edmonton. In addition, recent cases in Montana mean that BC is becoming surrounded by a growing risk of CWD.

From CWD Alliance

Some of BC’s most cherished game animals are at risk, but the disease does not affect all animals equally. In Alberta, it is mule deer that are most susceptible, while in other jurisdictions it is white-tailed deer or elk. In 2017, the Alberta Government tested for CWD in 6,340 wild deer and elk. The disease was detected in 8.2% of mule deer, 1.8% of white-tailed deer and 0.4% of elk samples (so far the only recorded incidence in Alberta moose is a single positive in 2012). Males are more likely to be infected than females. Since 2005, CWD has been detected in 796 Alberta mule deer, 119 white-tailed deer, two elk and one moose. To obtain these samples, the Alberta Government CWD Surveillance Program “relies heavily on participation by hunters, guides and landowners”.

In BC, the increasing proximity of the disease to the Province’s eastern border and the low number of samples from the Peace Region (7B) has increased the urgency for improved monitoring. In 2018, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) and partners contributed funding to improve CWD surveillance in the Peace. Most of the HCTF funding comes from the surcharge on hunting, fishing, trapping and guide outfitting licences sold in BC. This money is used to fund conservation projects benefitting wildlife and fish populations, beyond the basic management by governments.

BC’s Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr. Helen Schwantje, said, “The Peace is considered the Region at highest risk of natural expansion of CWD from Alberta into British Columbia and hunters have a key role in helping to avoid this disease from entering our Province”.

An objective of the HCTF-funded project is to increase by 10 times the number of samples from Peace Region from less than 30 to at least 300 annually. To test for CWD, the whole head of the suspect animal is required. One of the best ways to gather such samples is to involve hunters.

“Hunters are probably the group that should be the most concerned about the spread of CWD ”, says CWD Project coordinator Brian Paterson, “And coincidentally, they are the group that can help the most with early detection efforts by submitting the heads of harvested animals to our program.” Paterson continues, “As outreach coordinator, it is my role to spread information, increase awareness, and let hunters know how important the submission of a single head is in the fight against CWD.”

In 2018, Paterson delivered information on CWD to hunters in the Peace Region through contact with sportsmen’s groups, outdoor sports equipment stores, trappers, meat cutters as well as interviews on CBC and via social media sites like Facebook.

In the first year, Paterson says the response to the project has been really good, but he wants to continue the outreach and recruitment, so that “Submission of heads becomes part of the hunt. If you know that your buddies are submitting heads, you are more likely to do the same. The program can’t be truly effective without hunter participation”.

Awareness and cooperation are key, but with a sample as large as a whole head, getting to a collection site (such as dedicated freezers) must also be convenient. The locations of collection sites and a summary of the results of CWD testing will be posted on the BC Wildlife Health CWD website (www.gov.bc.ca/chronicwastingdisease.ca). If any samples test positive, the hunter will be contacted directly and confidentially.

To date, there is no treatment for affected wild animals and no vaccine, so prevention is key. The risk to BC’s game animals is real and the consequences potentially dire, but hopefully the science fiction plot of CWD does not play out in this Province. Our best defence is vigilance, and cooperation between wildlife agencies, First Nation and local governments, stakeholders and the communities most likely to be affected.

Hunters Note. Although CWD is not known to affect humans, the meat should not be eaten. Suspect animals or carcasses should be reported to the BC Wildlife Health Program (250 751-3219 or the RAPP line 1-877-952-8277). When processing a suspect animal, hunters should take care to avoid direct contact with the animal’s body fluids and especially the brain, backbone or internal organs. Avoid sawing through any bones by separating the carcass at the joints. Leave the high-risk body parts behind.

Wed, 20 Feb 2019
Tags: E&R / Wildlife

Supporting the Survival of Marten in an Era of Intensifying Fires, Climate Change and Other Pressures

American Marten
photo T. Gage

In the context of record forest fires, climate change and growing development pressure, a research project funded through a partnership between Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Forest Enhancement Society of BC is exploring how American marten interact with landscapes altered by fire and salvage logging.

Logan Volkmann is pursuing a PhD under the supervision of Dr. Karen Hodges at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. For the past two years, he has been overseeing parallel American marten field projects; one is in the Okanogan National Forest in northern Washington and the other is being pursued on the Chilcotin Military Reserve near Williams Lake, BC.

As Volkmann explains, the new normal of more frequent and intense forest fires makes understanding how to better balance wildlife and harvest interests more important than ever.

“We know that we are going to have a fiery future and that will have a big impact on the species that depend on forests, including American marten,” he says. “The related question is, how does this inform how we manage landscapes, both before and after they’re burned?”

“From both a science and industry perspective, marten are an important indicator species because they are so dependent on forests. A lot of policy makers look at marten when setting new guidelines, including the timber industry. Because not a lot is currently known about how marten respond to the impact of wildfires, they are a really great species to consider when drafting new policy.”

After a forest fire, it is common practice for the timber industry to pursue salvage logging. Even after very intense fires, only the bark and foliage are burned off on many trees – the core wood is still marketable. However, as Volkmann points out, “there is still a lot of guesswork, for both scientists and industry, in terms of what landscape we want to leave after fire. How much should we log and how much should we leave? There are a lot of unanswered questions and I’m hoping that my work gets at least some of them answered.”

“Large fires are inherently very patchy. After a fire, there will be areas that are severely burned as well as areas with residual live trees. We’re finding that marten are making use of the residual patches of live trees. In terms of salvage logging, our initial observations suggest that it’s critical to leave some remnants of dead standing trees for marten habitat. Areas where lots of trees have been removed tend to be very open and we aren’t finding marten there. This observation is similar to what we already know about how marten respond to regular timber harvest. You don’t want to make your cuts too big, and you need to leave a little bit of clutter and residual structure.”

The research project is being pursued under the supervision of Dr. Karen Hodges, who has overseen multiple ongoing and recent HCTF-funded conservation science projects, including a current MSc project by Angelina Kelly, who is exploring how small mammals are using the post-fire landscape in the Williams Lake region. Both projects enjoy the support and interest of local industry, First Nations, government and trappers.

The project has been running since the winter of 2016. Volkmann has overseen two winter field seasons and one summer season; in 2017, summer fieldwork was impossible due to active forest fires.

In winter field season, a typical day starts with a 30 minute snowmobile ride. Depending on the weather, the team will either run a survey for marten tracks, or find and follow marten trails. They record GPS data from these trails to capture how the animals move through the landscape, and use that data to inform vegetation surveys during the summer field season. Starting in 2017, the team has also deployed remote wildlife cameras.

Data gathered from this project will also shed light on how other carnivores are using the landscape and adjusting to post-fire conditions. “It’s a different story for every species, depending on how strongly they need forest structure,” says Volkmann. “Species like weasels and coyotes are comfortable in more open habitat so we’re finding they are making use of salvage logged areas more than species like lynx, who are very dependent on forests.”

Staff from British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) have also been a great source of support.“FLNRORD staff have been kind enough to provide a lot of the GIS data that we need for analyzing how marten use the landscape. They provide all the mapping data in terms of forest fire size and severity. They also give us leads on local resources – where to go for housing, who to talk to for snow mobile repairs. Having never worked in Williams Lake before, they were wonderful in terms of connecting us to the local network,” says Volkmann. In particular, he says, Becky Cadsand and Carole Mahood provided key support.

Another source of expertise has been Larry Davis, a wildlife biologist conducting HCTF-supported research on fishers in the same region. “He has been extremely helpful, in terms of getting us equipment and providing local knowledge on where we should be looking for marten,” says Volkmann.

Volkmann says that it’s vital to remember that the uncertainty associated with climate change affects wildlife as well as humans, “More than ever, wildlife are contending with a landscape that’s broken up with roads and cities. As their landscapes change, they will have a harder time moving to new suitable areas. That means that understanding how animals perceive and move across landscapes, and how they respond to landscape change, is going to be more important than ever.”

HCTF is grateful for researchers like Mr. Volkmann and Dr. Hodges as well as the generous community of local conservationists, who are working together to help inform long-term decision-making to support the people and wildlife who rely on BC forests.

 

Thu, 14 Feb 2019
Tags: Wildlife

Feel the love today!

Haida and Pup
Oli Gardner for https://marmots.org/

Featuring Vancouver Island marmot mama Haida and her pup (possibly Muffin). Haida was born in 2002 and was one of the first released from Mountain View Conservation Centre. Despite the challenges of learning to survive in the wild, Haida went on to produce her first litter in 2006. One of those pups was Muffin. Now 12 years old, Muffin still lives at Haley Lake. She is currently hibernating with marmot Alan, and we are hoping that the pair produce a litter of pups this summer! Haida passed away a few years ago, but her loving legacy lives on.

HCTF continues to fund grants in support of the conservation of this endangered species <3

Tue, 5 Feb 2019
Tags: Wildlife

Research paper from an HCTF funded project awarded top scientific paper of 2018 by the International Wildlife Society

 

 

Congratulations to lead author and HCTF project leader Clayton Lamb!
The article “Forbidden fruit: human settlement and abundant fruit create an ecological trap for an apex omnivore.” Clayton T. Lamb, Garth Mowat, Bruce McLellan, Scott E. Nielsen, Stan Boutin, came out of the ongoing HCTF-funded South Rockies Grizzly Bear Project.
Since 2006 this project has monitored grizzly population trend in some of the highest non-hunting mortality areas in BC, in the hopes of reducing risk to local grizzlies.

View an infographic overview of the article here.