Tue, 5 Feb 2019
Tags: Stewardship

Enhanced farmland benefits farmers and fowl!

Snow-Cackling-Geese-Grazing-sm
Snow & Cackling Geese grazing on winter cover crop in Richmond.

HCTF grant recipients Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust have been working with farming operations on the Fraser River delta to enhance farmland with winter cover crops of cereal grasses, forage grasses, clovers and legume mixtures. Not only does this enrich the fertility of the soil, it also provides much needed fuel for migrating waterfowl passing through the delta.

“This project directly supports Delta and Richmond farmers committed to land stewardship. These 18 farmers have established over 2,850 acres of winter cover crops on farmland for the 2018 project year.” says Program Manager Drew Bondar.

Thu, 10 Jan 2019

Meet the Neighbours!

Animal-quartet
photo credit Dr. Naidoo

The South Chilcotin Mountains in south-central British Columbia are well-recognized as a wildlife haven, and contain some of the province’s most iconic wilderness species. However, there is little understanding of how an increasing human footprint in this region impacts the diversity and abundance of species. There is little information available on the key factors that regulate the distribution & abundance of wildlife here, which is a critical knowledge gap as human activity is increasing in large parts of the region, with unknown consequences.

To address these issues, HCTF is funding Dr. Robin Naidoo’s study in the South Chilcotin mountains. So far, camera traps have turned up a wide variety of species including cougars, bears, moose, wolves, coyotes, wolverine, lynx, and many more.

“Although our camera trap grid has been running for less than a year, it has revealed that the abundance and diversity of wildlife that share trails with people in the South Chilcotins is truly remarkable,” says Dr. Naidoo

Wed, 21 Nov 2018

The Curious Case of the Haida Gwaii Sooty Grouse

Sooty grouse sporting a radio telemetry collar

Guest post by Berry Wijdeven, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

On a clear day, you can see the British Columbia mainland from the shores of Haida Gwaii. The archipelago is only about 80 km from the mainland coast but weather and waves can make the distance insurmountable. The people of Haida Gwaii have learned to adapt to this relative isolation through patience and creativity, and so has the local flora and fauna.

The adaptations of local wildlife are wide-ranging and sometimes dramatic. Because Haida Gwaii rainforests tend to be dark, local birds, including goshawks, saw-whet owls and hairy woodpeckers have darker plumages compared to their mainland counterparts. It is hypothesized that this adaptation helps to conceal them. Goshawks have also adapted with decreased wingspans to manoeuvre more easily through the narrow flyways below the dense tree canopy. Haida Gwaii bears have developed the largest skulls of any North American Black Bear, likely due to a different suite of available prey items, while smaller critters such as marten and ermine sport skull shapes and sizes substantially different from those of their cousins on the mainland. Local marten, taking advantage of the large niche created by the lack of local mid-sized predators, have grown bigger than their mainland counterparts and may be capable of preying upon larger mammals, such as introduced deer.

The Haida Gwaii subspecies of saw-whet owl, known as the brooksi, is the only native species of owl on-island. This local subspecies has discovered that intertidal zones boast an abundance of food, such as beach hoppers and other invertebrates. Since the owls are not threatened by other night time predators such as the larger owl species found on the BC mainland, they can freely gorge themselves on these intertidal critters. Blue herons have changed their behaviour as well. In response, perhaps, to the vast numbers of island eagles, they have abandoned their colonies and now nest in single nests, well away – sometimes up to 10 km – from the ocean. In fact, while both blue herons and saw-whet owls are typically migratory birds, the local populations have adapted to live in Haida Gwaii year-round.

These unique relationships and interactions make studying wildlife on Haida Gwaii a fascinating undertaking. When the Haida Gwaii Sooty Grouse Research Project started seven years ago, the researchers weren’t looking for the unexpected; after all, grouse behaviour had been studied pretty comprehensively elsewhere. The research team was interested in finding out whether the local grouse population, an important prey item for goshawks, was in decline and if so, why. Was it the habitat changes brought on by forest harvesting? The influence of the large number of introduced deer? Other factors?

To find out what was going on, the team caught more than a hundred and seventy grouse and fitted them with radio collars. This enabled the researchers to track the birds’ movement patterns, determine seasonal habitat usage, and locate grouse nests. When, during the breeding season, a tagged female stopped moving for a few days, it was a good bet she had started nesting. Using radio telemetry, the nest was located and a motion detection camera deployed to hopefully record hatch success.

Radio telemetry is, at times, more of an art than a science. While the basics are pretty straightforward – you put a radio transmitter on a critter, release it and then use a receiver to lock onto its unique radio signal to help guide you to its current location – in the real world this guiding is less straight forward. The radio signals don’t travel in straight lines; they bounce off slopes, are re-directed by trees or rocks, are affected by high moisture content in the air and can be nearly silenced when the source signal is located in a depression. For rookie field crews, initial searches involve a lot of unnecessary bushwhacking, bog traversing and fighting off salal attacks, in search of an ever changing, at times seemingly illusive signal. Researchers quickly learn to “read the sign”, including accounting for topographical or vegetation impacts to the signal, checking directions frequently and constantly adjusting their path forward.

Telemetry

When you walk towards a radio signal, you judge your progress by how strongly the signal is received. When the signal gets stronger, the beep gets louder, signalling that you are getting closer. This aural assistance disappears when you get within 20-30 meters of the transmitter. At this point, the signal is as strong as it is going to get and it now becomes a matter of visually locating the grouse wearing the collar. Crews tread carefully at this stage, not just to prevent the grouse from moving off her nest, but also, literally, from not stepping on a grouse.

Sooty grouse belong to the family Tetraoninea which also includes Spruce grouse, Ruffed grouse, Sharp-tailed and Sage grouse as well as Ptarmigan and Prairie chickens. This family has a wide distribution ranging from Iceland and Greenland to Eurasia and North America. While they have adapted to a wide variety of ecosystems, one characteristic that has remained commonplace is their choice of nesting sites. Whether it’s the arctic tundra, coastal rainforest or inland plains: grouse typically nest in shallow depressions on the ground, often beneath cover, with a thin lining of plant material. Not the most secure of locations, but somehow it has been sufficiently successful to maintain the species.

In characteristically Haida Gwaii fashion, local Sooty grouse behave atypically. The research crew discovered that somehow the island grouse must not have gotten that ground-nesting memo. They first observed some grouse nests located on high stumps, which was unexpected and interesting. Soon thereafter, a grouse nest was detected 2.5 meters up in the air on a 45 degree leaning tree. That created some excitement amongst the crew, thinking they might have located the highest known grouse nest in North America.

That was only the beginning. By the next field season new nest champions emerged, nestled ever higher in the crooks of trees or on mossy platforms on tree branches. While exciting, trying to find these nests often proved problematic. Locating nests in dense understory was one thing, but looking up into a cluster of trees, hoping to spot a remarkably well camouflaged grouse took time, skill and a healthy dose of luck. Mossy platforms, more often associated with Marbled Murrelet nests, turned out to be popular sites for the non-conformist tree dwelling grouse. Sometimes, after extensive circling, using binoculars and zoom lenses, looking for the right angle to get a glimpse, it would be the tail feathers, sticking up or sticking out which would give the grouse away. Or, surprisingly perhaps, often it was the bird’s eye in the sky, staring intently at the interlopers below.

Recording grouse data

By the end of the study, some 15 grouse tree nests had been located with the highest one hidden away 18 meters up high. Straight up. And they say grouse aren’t good flyers! Mind you, not all Haida Gwaii grouse nested in trees, in fact they nested just about anywhere: on stumps, on logs, on top of root wads, on a cliff, inside hollow trees, inside waste wood piles in a variety of tree species, and on the ground. Every nest search created excitement. The crew would never know what nest location choice that particular grouse had made, or why. Was it to evade predators? Avoid the wet understory? Hopefully, the upcoming data analysis will provide answers. Meanwhile, the research team will remember this particular study fondly. In spite of the aches and pains, the ineffectiveness of their rain gear for the Haida Gwaii weather, the miles and miles of searching and bushwhacking, they gained a new respect for the adaptiveness of the Sooty grouse.

For more information on this project contact:

Frank Doyle at wildlifedynamics@gmail.com or

Louise Waterhouse at Louise.Waterhouse@gov.bc.ca

The Haida Gwaii Sooty Grouse Project was spearheaded by Frank Doyle of Wildlife Dynamics Consulting and Louise Waterhouse, Coast Area Research, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Other team members included Melissa Todd, Coast Area Research, FLNRORD and Ross Vennesland, Parks Canada. Field technicians included Gerry Morigeau, Kiku Dhanwant, James MacKinnon and Miranda Barnhardt. Special thanks to management and staff at the Haida Gwaii District, FLNRORD without whose enthusiastic participation and support this project would not have succeeded. Thanks also to Mike Schroeder. Funding of the project courtesy of Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, FLNRORD, Parks Canada, Husby Forest Products and the Upland Bird Society.

Wed, 7 Nov 2018

Wolverines in the News

Wolverines

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is very pleased that one of the projects we support has received a bit of media attention as of late!

Cliff Nietvelt of the Government of British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development (FLNRORD) is pursuing a 3 year project on Wolverine movements, home range and habitat use in the South Coast region. Cliff has been a wildlife ecologist for 20 years, and has led and conducted the entire wolverine inventory in the South Coast region since 2012.

Cliff’s project was highlighted in a variety of publications, including the Globe and Mail and the Squamish Chief.

We’re proud to partner with the Forest Enhancement Society of BC to help fund this vital project. In early November, FESBC committed $3 million towards conservation projects that will be awarded and administered by HCTF.

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.

Bighorn_lamb_bounding

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

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