Wed, 16 Aug 2017

Photos of Englishman River Estuary Restoration

We love to receive photos of our grant recipients’ conservation projects, and the Vancouver Island Conservation Lands Management Program (VICLMP), in conjunction with The Nature Trust of BC, has been doing a fantastic job of capturing and sharing their progress in restoring the Englishman River Estuary in Parksville, BC.  Thanks to Tom Reid, VICLMP Manager, for these images.

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.

Tue, 30 May 2017

BC Fisher Habitat Website

The BC Fisher Habitat Working Group has just launched a new website to assist BC forest licensees and their contractors to identify and retain important fisher habitat. 

The site allows forest practitioners to download information and tools specific to their location and operational focus. The site includes:

– spatial data that lets planning foresters identify habitats and retention targets for harvested areas

– pictorial guides to help on-the-ground field crews identify trees and other habitats important to fishers, and

– field guides to help operational staff retain fisher habitat in their day-to-day activities.

The web site is also designed for use by trappers, First Nations, and other people who are interested in learning more about fisher conservation.

Visit the BC Fisher Habitat Website

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is proud to be a major funder of this extension project. 


Wed, 26 Oct 2016
Tags: Wildlife

HCTF Visits the Cariboo

Project leaders Jim Young (far right), Ordell Steen (second from right) and their work crew pose for a photo with HCTF Biologist Kathryn Martell.

As part of our evaluation program to ensure HCTF funds are benefiting fish and wildlife conservation, HCTF staff regularly visit project leaders to get an in-depth look at their projects – both on paper (financials) and on the ground.

In late September HCTF staff biologist Kathryn Martell and financial officer Katelynn Sander travelled to Williams Lake to conduct evaluations on two projects. The first was the Fisher Artificial Reproductive Den Box Study led by Larry Davis of Davis Environmental Ltd.

Fishers are a threatened species in British Columbia and are also the largest obligate tree-cavity user in North America. They typically use cavities in large diameter trees both for resting in winter, and as reproductive dens. Suitable den trees are rare in the landscape and impacts in many areas of the province have further reduced the availability of this habitat feature. Larry’s project seeks to determine if fishers will use artificial (man-made) den boxes for reproductive dens, as a way to augment denning habitat in areas where natural den trees have been reduced.

This year of the study continued the monitoring efforts on the 56 den boxes installed during this project. Larry has been successful in attracting fishers to 50% of the den boxes, using them for resting, and more den boxes are being used for reproduction each year.

Biologist Larry Davis readies the ladder for inspection of one of the den boxes.

HCTF Finance Officer Katelynn Sander peers into the den box.

Nothing inside this one...

Close-up of the exterior of the den box.

HCTF biologist Kathryn Martell and Larry Davis pose for a photo after putting the ladder away.

The second project staff explored was the High Lake Grassland and Open Forest Restoration Pilot, led by the Friends of Churn Creek Protected Area Society. The goal of this project is to restore approximately 80 ha of mixed open grassland and dry, open forest habitats which have been degraded by tree encroachment and ingrowth in Churn Creek Protected Area (CCPA). The project is also designed as a pilot to evaluate an approach for encroachment and ingrowth removal that does not require broadcast burning. Logistical constraints restrict using broadcast burning in High Lake and other parts of CCPA, and many of the young trees are already too large to be killed using this technique. Rather, in this pilot, stems are slashed and piled and the piles burned in winter.


The project area is within important mule deer range and is located on a designated no-grazing benchmark within the CCPA. Fixed plots have been established to document pre-treatment tree cover, undergrowth vegetation, and mule deer use and measure changes following restoration treatments. Much of the tree encroachment and ingrowth on the project area consists of relatively large (> 4 m tall), often dense (closed or moderately closed canopy) stems.

Tree encroachment was felled and piled by a Stswecem’c-Xgat’tem First Nation crew. Felling on 51 ha (72%) of the encroached grasslands was completed in the summer of 2015, and they were nearly finished when the HCTF team visited in September 2016. Burning the piles is set to take place this winter. You can already see a dramatic difference on this landscape as encroachment areas are being opened up and restored to dry grassland and open forest. This piloted approach has the potential for significant habitat enhancement, in the Churn Creek Protected Area and elsewhere.

Katelynn stands next to a pile of slashed trees that will be burned in winter.

The slashing helps open up the grasslands, mimicking the historical fire regime and improving habitat for wildlife.


HCTF would like to extend a big thank you to the Friends of Churn Creek Protected Area Society, the Stswecem’c-Xgat’tem First Nation crew, and Larry Davis for taking the time to explain the projects and show HCTF around their sites. We were impressed with how well managed and implemented both projects were, and it was great to meet the passionate individuals who are making this happen.

Mon, 30 May 2016
Tags: Wildlife

Meet the 2015 Fisher Den Box Kits

It's a little hard to make out, but in this photo, Inga the fisher is working hard to remove her kit from the artificial denbox. Fisher moms frequently move their kits around, and Inga later returned with her kit and its sibling to the denbox.

We received the following video update on the Fisher Artificial Den Box Study from biologist Larry Davis. Davis and his team are trying to determine if female fishers will use human-constructed den boxes to raise their young, as there are very few of the fisher’s natural denning sites left in some areas of their range. “Fisher require large diameter trees with heart-rot cavities for reproduction,” says Davis. “These trees are rare in managed landscapes.”


2015 was the third year of this HCTF-funded project, and Larry and his team continued monitoring the 56 installed den boxes to see if they were being used by fishers.

“We have been successful in attracting fishers to 50% of the den boxes, with many of the structures used for resting during winter,” reveals Davis. “We identified 45 fisher samples using hair snaggers located at the entrance to the den boxes. Of these, 14 were identified as being unique females, with 8 of them using the structures more than once, and 4 of them detected at 2 different den boxes.”

During the 2015 reproductive season, two fisher females used artificial den boxes to give birth to and raise their young. The video features footage of “Debbie”, who gave birth to one kit in April 2015. Davis explains that fisher moms often move their kits around, and Debbie was no exception: the video shows her leaving the den box with her kit on April 8th and returning the kit to the den box at the end of May. In the Chilcotin, 2 kits were photographed inside a den box on April 8, 2015. A trail cam set up to document the female (“Inga”) and her kits using the den box again in early June, 2015.



Davis has continued monitoring the den boxes in 2016 and reports there are already 3 being used by female fishers. We look forward to receiving an update on how the moms and kits are doing later this year.

Tue, 15 Dec 2015

New Nesting Platform Eagle-Approved

Photo by Fiona Wright

Residents of Vancouver’s North Shore have some new feathery neighbours. A pair of bald eagles has moved into a nesting platform built last summer at MacKay Creek estuary, which was recently restored as part of HCTF’s Burrard Inlet Restoration Pilot Program. Eric Anderson of the BC Institute of Technology led the project to construct a platform at the head of the estuary, adjacent to the Spirit Trail. The host tree was selected by biologist David Hancock, whose extensive experience with eagle nest construction was critical to identifying a cottonwood of suitable size, shape, and location. To get the tree eagle-ready, arborists carefully pruned some of the non-dominant stems to improve accessibility. Next, a cedar frame was attached using special lines designed to allow the tree to move and grow unharmed.

The frame is put in place - Photo by Ryan Senechal

Finally, the frame was lined with cedar boughs to make it a little more inviting for any prospective tenants.

Cedar branches are added to make the nest more inviting - photo by Ryan Senechal

It appears to have worked!

Photo by Fiona Wright

HCTF provided a grant both for the construction of the platform as well as complementary studies by four BCIT students? of eagle ecology that will inform future nest construction projects. The grant was made possible through an endowment HCTF received from the Ministry of Transportation as part of a compensation strategy for a bald eagle nest tree removed for the 2010 Highway 91 Interchange project. ?

Mon, 30 Nov 2015
Tags: Wildlife

Return of the Roosevelts

Elk charge out of the truck at the release site near Chehalis, BC. This translocation was part of the Coastal Mainland Roosevelt Elk Recovery and Management Project. Photo: Dan Kriss


Elk Translocation Program on Vancouver Island Aims to Restore Roosevelt Elk to Their Former Range 

BC’s magnificent wildlife has long formed part of our province’s identity. Take the provincial Coat of Arms: while other Western provinces have chosen to include the likes of lions and unicorns into their designs, a pair of iconic ungulates make up BC’s provincial emblem. On the right, a bighorn ram represents the wildlife of the mainland. On the left, a rather wild-looking Roosevelt elk symbolizes Vancouver Island.


The Roosevelt is a fitting representative for the Island: it remains a stronghold for this species whose range was severely reduced following the arrival of the Europeans in the mid-19th century. Though Roosevelts remain on BC’s list of species of concern, populations in some areas of the Island are thriving, to the point where conflicts are arising between humans and herds.

On the Island’s east coast, near the village of Sayward, the Salmon River watershed is ideal habitat for elk. The moist, rich soils of the river’s floodplain produce optimal forage for Roosevelts, both in the form of native plant species and agricultural crops. This vegetational bounty has allowed elk numbers to increase to the point where herds have become a nuisance for local residents. Crop predation and highway collisions are of primary concern, and elk have also been known to browse nearby forestry plantations. Having a local overabundance of a highly-valued species of concern presents an interesting challenge – and opportunity. Rather than focussing their efforts on culling the herd, wildlife managers have chosen to spread the wealth, so to speak, by moving some of Sayward’s surplus elk to wilderness areas where Roosevelts once roamed.

Wildlife biologist Billy Wilton works for the B.C. Government, helping develop and implement the Roosevelt Elk management plan. The plan aims to increase the elks’ numbers in ranges where ecological conditions are suitable. He also spent four years working with the Government’s senior Roosevelt elk specialist, Darryl Reynolds on the Lower Mainland Roosevelt elk recovery project. Through ongoing financial support from organizations such as the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, this project has achieved a significant increase in the number of elk on the South Coast. Of the 25 wilderness areas identified as candidates for Roosevelt reintroduction in 2000, 19 have been successfully repopulated. By transporting elk from nuisance herds on the Sunshine Coast to these prime habitat areas, the lower mainland Roosevelt population has grown from an estimated 315 animals in 2000 to approximately 1600 individuals in 2015, an increase of more than 500%. These impressive results have inspired Wilton and his colleagues to continue elk translocations on the Island.

“I’ve been really fortunate to work with Darryl and learn from his experiences,” says Wilton. “We work really hard to minimize the stress on the animals, and we’ve fine-tuned the process to protect both the elk and people involved.”

Wilton says the first step is to identify a suitable herd of “nuisance” elk, composed primarily of pregnant cows in order to boost the reproductive potential of the herd. Then, the team set up a portable chain-link corral in an area known to be frequented by the target herd so that they become comfortable with its presence. Once winter sets in, the trap will be baited with a tempting combination of alfalfa, grain, and molasses, along with some minerals to keep the animals healthy.

HCTF Board and staff visit the elk trap that will be used to capture one of the Sayward herds.

“We wait until the elks’ natural food sources start to dry up before trying to entice them with bait,” says Wilton. “Waiting until winter also helps ensure the bears are asleep, as we like to avoid accidently feeding any large carnivores.”

Last year, Wilton and his colleagues trapped and transferred twenty-four nuisance elk from the Sayward area to the Mahatta River population unit west of Port Alice. The project went off without a hitch, and Wilton and his team are eager to repeat the translocation process. Plant communities in the release locations are similar to those in the Salmon River area, but the habitat is not as suitable, making it highly unlikely that the transplanted herd will increase to the levels seen in Sayward. The goal is to establish a sustainable population that will both benefit the ecology of the area and allow for some opportunities for harvest.

“Reintroducing elk to their historic range helps restore biodiversity,” says Wilton. “They’re a piece of the puzzle that went missing. Roosevelts are large, generalist grazers, so taking them out of the system impacts plant composition and has implications for a whole range of species.”

In addition to their influences on habitat, Roosevelts are an important prey species for wolves, cougars, and even black bear. They are also highly valued by hunters and First Nations. Each year, the province receives around 16,000 applications for just 250 Limited Entry Hunt Authorizations for Roosevelt Elk on Vancouver Island, and First Nations harvest around the same number annually. Both groups are eager to see populations return to historical levels, and are willing to assist in making it happen.

“Last year, we talked with the Quatsino First Nation [whose territory the elk will be released in], and they expressed an interest in helping us with the project,” says Wilton. “We also had a really dedicated group of guys from the Sayward Fish & Game Association working with us on the Mahatta River translocation last winter. They were out there every day, baiting the trap, monitoring the cameras, maintaining the equipment – we really couldn’t do this project without the help of the volunteers.”

Darryl_elk_picture_Sechelt_web.jpgA remote camera captures an image of a bull looking rather relaxed inside a temporary elk trap near Sechelt, BC. Biologists set up and bait the corrals well before the planned capture date to get the target herd comfortable with its presence.

While there are no guarantees that elk translocations will result in increased hunting opportunities, the results from the Lower Mainland project are certainly encouraging. Project leader Darryl Reynolds estimates that nine out of ten translocations from that project have resulted in new hunting opportunities, usually within five years of the release.

“The Limited Entry Hunting opportunities we have on the South Coast today can be directly attributed to the success of the Elk Recovery program,” says Reynolds. “Without it, there wouldn’t be any hunt.”

Elk charge out of the truck at the release site near Chehalis, BC. This translocation was part of the Coastal Mainland Roosevelt Elk Recovery and Management Project. Photo: Dan Kriss

Wilton agrees that five years is a reasonable time frame when forecasting potential new harvest opportunities. “Putting 20-25 elk in an area really makes a big difference in terms of the recovery of that population. Their numbers tend to increase quite quickly. We’ll be working with First Nations and stakeholders to evaluate if and when the population can sustain a harvest: we certainly don’t open it up just because it’s been five years, but that’s been our experience in many other areas.”

To keep tabs on how the population is doing, the project team will be conducting helicopter surveys in the spring of each year, as well as using strategically-placed GPS and radio collars.

“Elk differ from most other North American ungulates in that they are social herd animals,” says Wilton. “Matriarchal herds have a lead cow and a couple of other elders that hold knowledge about how to find food, water, and what to watch out for on the landscape. These are the cows we’ll be trying to collar.”

The GPS collars send regular emails to the biologists with information about their locations and habitat use. They also send out a mortality signal if the animal stops moving for 8 hours, hopefully giving the project team a chance to investigate the cause of death before scavengers move in.

“Understanding mortality is important for our management of these herds, and previously it was very difficult to get this information in real time,” says Wilton. “The collars also help us reduce survey helicopter costs by pinpointing the herd’s location.”

Only time will tell if Wilton’s elk relocation project is successful in establishing herds robust enough to provide additional harvest opportunities on Vancouver Island. Regardless, working to restore the iconic Roosevelt to its former range is laudable from an ecological perspective, and an initiative the hunters of British Columbia can be proud to support through surcharges on their licence purchase.