Thu, 20 Nov 2014
Tags: Wildlife

Declining Den Sites: Finding Cavities Fit for a Fisher

Photograph of Fisher by Larry Davis

What’s furry, fierce and likes to dine on porcupine? It’s the fisher, Pekania pennanti, a member of the weasel family that is seldom seen in the wild, but is an important part of British Columbia’s carnivore community. Despite its name, fishers do not fish and are dependent on forests for all their life history needs. The fisher is blue-listed (threatened) in BC, largely due to habitat loss. Female fishers require large diameter trees with cavities to birth and raise their young. They will only use cavities with entrance holes that are approximately 8 – 12 cm in diameter: large enough for them to squeeze into, but small enough to keep larger predators away from their kits. Den trees also need to have other trees and shrubs around them to allow the female approach her den unseen. These specific requirements (along with the fact that females usually require multiple cavities to accommodate the growing kits) make fisher populations extremely vulnerable to extirpation through loss of suitable denning habitat.

 

In the Bridge River Watershed, north of Lillooet, BC, fisher habitat has been impacted by the creation of two large hydro-electric reservoirs, large-scale fires, mountain pine beetle, and an ongoing history of forest harvesting that is dominated by clear-cut systems. Understandably, there is concern about the combination of these habitat impacts on local fisher populations.

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and BC Hydro funded a three-year project that would provide an accurate population estimate for fishers in the Bridge River watershed, as well as estimate the distribution, abundance, and supply of potential reproductive dens. In-kind support for this research was provided by the Lillooet Tribal Council, BC Ministry of Environment, and the BC Trappers Association.

Estimating Fisher Density

Fisher expert Larry Davis and his research team determined fisher density estimates using a winter hair snag survey. Davis explains: “We used sticky mousetrap paper to pull a sample of hairs from fishers that were attracted to traps baited with a chicken wing. Fishers trying to get the wing would press against the mousetrap paper and leave a hair sample behind for us to collect. We sent the samples to a laboratory specializing in wildlife genetics that identified the samples by species, sex, and individual identity.”

“Of course, we captured many other animals that went after the bait,” Davis continues. “We even had one wolverine chew the top half of the trap off.”

In the end, Davis and his team were able to identify 8 different fishers from the data, some of which were captured multiple times. The data was inputted into a computer program that used this information to estimate that there were 14 fishers in the 771-km2 study area. This yields an estimate of 18 fishers per 1000 km2: relatively abundant when compared to estimates from elsewhere in BC.

“It’s important to note that this estimate is based on only one season of sampling and animal numbers can vary considerably between years,” clarifies Davis. “Also, only three of the 8 fishers sampled were females and some are likely to be young from last year’s litter or transient animals. Despite this caveat, Davis believes that “the Bridge River area supports a healthy population of fishers, and that a sustainable population can be maintained if important habitats, such as den sites, are retained in managed forests”

Fisher_head_in_cavity.jpgEstimating Available Denning Sites

To estimate the number of trees that would make suitable fisher den sites, Davis concentrated on areas where track transects had found fisher. Potential fisher den trees were identified as those meeting the following criteria:

  • right species;
  • large diameter stems; and
  • the presence of a heart-rot decay cavity with an entrance hole 8 – 12 cm in size.

The “right species” criterion was based on previous research that found fishers using cottonwood, balsam poplar, trembling aspen, Douglas-fir, and lodgepole pine as den trees in BC. Common to these tree species is that they can have extensive heart-rot forming large internal cavities while the tree is still living. Other trees, such as spruce, also get heart-rot, but don’t maintain the hard exterior shell that preserves the standing tree and cavity for many years. The minimum tree diameter depends on the tree type, but is generally large for the particular tree species.

Davis and his team estimated the number of potential trees in the landscape by counting the number found in 1 hectare transects distributed across the study area.

“It turns out that trees meeting all our criteria are rare in the landscape,” says Davis. “Even in the ‘best’ habitat, there was less than 1 tree in 2 ha, and most forest types had much lower densities of potential den trees.” As Larry explains, the actual densities may be even lower still: “There is one additional criterion a fisher would have that we couldn’t easily check – the size of internal cavities. Cavities large enough for a female fisher and her kits are estimated at 25 – 30 cm in diameter, based on the size of an average female and internal measurements we have taken at fisher dens. Given this, fisher reproductive dens are likely to be much scarcer than we think, but our estimate provides a starting place for making recommendations to forest companies on targets for protecting fisher den trees.”

Fisher_Kits_R_Weir.jpgSo how are these findings being used to inform fisher management? These results, combined with the findings of more than 20 years of fisher research in BC, have been used to create management recommendations and targets for fisher habitat. Davis and his colleagues have created a website summarizing this information at www.bcfisherhabitat.ca . For foresters and government, the website supplies targets on the amount of area and number of structures fishers need for breeding, resting, foraging, and movement habitats. This means tenure holders, such as trappers, can use this information to ask foresters how they are meeting fisher targets for logging operations on their trap lines.

“Fishers are a blue-listed species in BC, and forest professionals are legally required to manage landscapes to help maintain this species,” says Davis. “The website allows the BC Fisher Working Group an opportunity to continue working with trappers, government, the forest industry, and others to update and refine management strategies for fisher in a timely fashion.” Davis and his team have also created resources to encourage private landowners to preserve suitable den trees on their land (view). “Preserving these types of trees not only help fishers, it also benefits around many other native species reliant on them for their continued survival.”

Many thanks to Larry Davis for supplying much of the information and images for this article. In recognition of the fact that studies like this one indicate suitable fisher denning habitats are becoming increasingly rare, HCTF is currently funding a project to determine if artificial den boxes will be used by reproductive fishers, and the extent to which these devices might mitigate the loss of natural denning habitat. Check back here for future updates on this project.

Did you know?

The scientific name for fishers was formerly Martes pennanti, putting them in the same genus as marten. Fishers recently acquired a new scientific moniker as a result of DNA analysis proving that (despite appearances) they are actually more closely related to wolverines (Gulo gulo) than martens, but still distinct enough to warrant a separate genus, hence, Pekania pennanti. Discoveries like this are great examples of how we still have a lot to learn about wildlife, even those species in our own backyard!

View updates about this project>>

Thu, 13 Nov 2014
Tags: Wildlife

Tiny Technology: Mapping Marten Movement

A marten recovers after being fitted with a GPS collar. Animals are anesthetized using isoflurane, as it is quickly expelled from the system. They have fully recovered by the time they are released back into the wild. Photo Credit: Willa Crowley

In the frozen wilderness of North-central BC, a small, furry head pops out from under the snow. Its fox-like profile stands out against a creamy orange bib of fur. In a flash, the animal’s long, lithe body and bushy tail spring from the powder. It is an American Marten (Martes americana), a medium-sized mustelid known for its tree-top acrobatics and cat-like curiousity. She boldly lopes across the snow towards a tasty morsel, conspicuously placed to entice her into a cage trap disguised with branches and straw. Marten are commonly trapped for their pelts, but this cage won’t spell her demise. Instead, she will become part of a ground-breaking study examining marten’s movements, and how they might be affected by forestry practices.

Shannon Crowley, a researcher with the John Prince Research Forest (co-managed by UNBC and T’laz’ten Nation), and his colleagues check the study traps daily: if they’re lucky enough to get a marten, they fit it with the latest in GPS collars before releasing it safely back into the forest.

“They’re tough little critters,” confides Crowley. “Based on our experiences capturing them, they’re not fearful at all. We’ve had marten in cage traps that we’ve released, only to have them come back moments later to steal a piece of bait sitting right next to us.”

Crowley and his colleagues are working on their second year of an HCTF-funded project to determine how marten populations are affected by salvage logging of Mountain Pine Beetle-ravaged stands. They are comparing the species’ use of logged and unlogged areas by remotely tracking the movements of their collared subjects.

“We’re working with very new technology,” explains Crowley. “Really, this study is pioneering the use of GPS collars light enough to go on an animal this size. To my knowledge, we and a group in Scotland are the only ones to have tried them on marten.”

Marten_recovery_HCTF_7-412_credit_Willa-Crowley.jpg

The general rule of thumb for tracking collars is that they shouldn’t exceed 5% of an animal’s body weight. The collars used by Crowley and his team are below that threshold, sitting at around 3%.

“The marten really don’t seem to be bothered by them,” says Crowley. “We happened to get a video of one of the collared animals at one of our remote camera sites, and he was heading up into the trees, behaving very much like a typical marten.”

 

Above: Video showing typical marten behaviour. These curious creatures often travel under the snowpack, but are equally adept at climbing trees. See more videos of marten and other mesocarnivores filmed in the John Prince Research Forest at the end of this post.

Crowley says the location data from the new GPS collars is a significant improvement over what they could previously obtain using radio units.

“We’re pretty impressed: we’re getting the kind of movement data that we could have never gotten in the past,” says Crowley. “Getting a location used to be very labour intensive, especially in harsh winter conditions. We would typically get about three locations a week. Now, we’re averaging between six and twelve locations a day.”

The increased amounts of data allow Crowley and his team to examine how marten are moving across the landscape at a much finer scale. “Previously, we could see where they were, but we couldn’t see how they got there. Now, we have a clearer picture of how they’re using different habitat types.”

Crowley’s team has been working closely with local forest company Conifex to compare martens’ response to different logging practices. Eventually, their results could be used to inform forest management decisions so as to reduce the impact on marten, as well as other species.

“Marten have proven to be really good indicators of ecosystem health,” emphasizes Crowley. “They’re generally associated with mature forests with lots of structural complexity, which are also important for animals such as woodpeckers and mule deer.”

Though Crowley’s marten study is a short-term project, the data collected will become an important component of a long-term monitoring program focused on mesocarnivores, a group that also includes fishers, river otters, foxes and Canada lynx.

“The mesocarnivores encompass a diversity of species that require different habitat types,” explains Crowley. “Studying one species alone can tell you something, but when you look at a bunch of them together, by inventorying and surveying in different habitats, they can give you a much better idea of what’s happening on the landscape.”

This level of understanding is particularly important when considering the rapid rate of environmental change associated with salvage logging. Though marten populations as a whole are thought to be stable in BC, they have become endangered or even extirpated from other jurisdictions through habitat loss.

“Research like this is really about taking preventative action, so that marten don’t become endangered in BC as a result of land use practices.” Crowley states.

Despite the economic pressures to maximize timber harvest, Crowley remains optimistic about the potential for this research to make a positive difference for habitat conservation. “Within the forestry industry, I think there’s definitely an appetite for finding ways to reduce impacts. Wildlife and habitat have definitely become part of the conversation, though we still have a long way to go before wildlife values are incorporated as a standard practice.”


 

The John Prince Research Forest is the largest research forest in North America, more than 32 times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Situated 50 km north of Fort St. James, the JPRF lies between Lakes Chuzghun (Tezzeron) and Tesgha (Pinchi)in traditional Tl’azt’en territory and provides research opportunities for UNBC staff and students and education and employment opportunities for the local community. Check out some of the other amazing wildlife footage captured by remote cameras in the forest (submitted to us by Shannon Crowley):

 

American Marten:

Canada Lynx:

 

Wolverine:

Fri, 19 Sep 2014
Tags: Wildlife

Out of the Ashes

Each spring, BC’s fire crews brace themselves for the intensity of the fire season ahead. At the time of writing, 2014 was on track to become a record year. Since the beginning of the season in April, more than 330,000 hectares had burned, only ~8,000 HA shy of the 30 year record. News coverage of evacuations and threats to human infrastructure have shaped our perception of forest fires. We think of them as catastrophic forces of destruction: unpredictable disasters to be suppressed or extinguished at all costs.

There is, however, another side to forest fires, one that would suggest this year’s increased fire activity – if kept away from human settlement and infrastructure – is actually beneficial. Ecologists have confirmed empirically what First Nations have known and practiced for centuries: fire is as much a force for renewal as it is of destruction.

After a forest fire, what appears as scorched wasteland is actually an ecosystem ready to begin anew. Under the charred earth, roots and seeds lie waiting to capitalize on the nutrients provided by the ashes of their predecessors. Sunlight, once scarce under the thick canopy of mature trees, now reaches the ground, allowing grasses and berry-producing shrubs to flourish. Burned trees still standing provide habitat for many species of insects and birds. Fire is nature’s own highly effective method of ecological restoration.

Block_22_on_fire.jpgWe live in a province shaped by fire; the plants and associated animals found in a particular location are a product of that area’s fire regime. Before the introduction of modern fire-suppression techniques, scientists estimate that around 500,000 hectares of forest burned in BC each year, a figure that dwarfs the sum of even the most prolific fire seasons of recent years. Just as fire shaped BC’s landscape, an absence of fire is shifting it again. In the many areas where the natural fire cycle has been interrupted, trees have invaded grasslands, forcing wildlife to look elsewhere for forage. Fuel, in the form of dead wood and debris, has built up on forest floors, creating the potential for more intense, more dangerous fire events than would have occurred under the natural fire regime. Perhaps one of the most graphic unintended consequences of fire suppression is the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic. Historically, areas of pine forests would have burned down and regenerated roughly once every 100 years, resulting in multi-aged forests that were more resistant to insects and disease. Modern fire suppression has led to vast, interconnected stands of old pines- a favourite food of the beetle. Add to this increased temperatures that allow the beetle to survive through the winter, and you have the worst insect epidemic in BC’s history.

Jordy McAuley has witnessed first-hand the effects of fire suppression on lands where burning was once an integral part of the forest lifecycle. His outfitting territory in the Williston area of BC includes large stands of mature aspen and pine-beetle affected forest. The encroachment of trees on previously open areas, combined with flooding caused by the creation of the Williston reservoir, has severely reduced the amount of winter range available for ungulates such as moose. They have begun to travel beyond their traditional range to higher elevations. With them come the wolves, and that’s bad news for the caribou who overwinter there.

“The caribou are easy targets… they’re really struggling,” says McAuley. “If we can improve range conditions for moose and other ungulates at elevations lower than where the caribou are, it would hopefully lure the predators away and give them a chance.”

Since purchasing the territory nine years ago, McAuley has been keen to bring fire back to the landscape after witnessing the improvements to range conditions following prescribed burns in other regions.

Block_22_Understory_Before_burning.jpg“Once you burn, everything comes back new,” McAuley says. “The canopy opens up, and there’s this rejuvenation of forage for all kinds of wildlife. Moose do well, same with elk and goats. The berries come back, providing food for bears – even birds seem to benefit.”

McAuley’s observations are consistent with research showing increased species use of habitats after burning. Properly executed, prescribed burns create a mosaic of habitat types that can support an increased number of species, and provide the resources necessary to sustain their populations. Indeed, the broad scale restorative properties of prescribed burning make it an attractive land management tool, but conducting burns is expensive, and some of the Province’s burn programs are reliant on external funding. Using hunting licence surcharge revenue, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) has supported prescribed fire projects, such as the Peace-Liard Burns, for thirty years. In 2014-15, the Foundation invested over $350K in prescribed burning programs across BC, including McAuley’s moose habitat enhancement project.

With funding for his project secured, McAuley began working with a team of biologists on the burn planning and consultation process. In an era of multiple (and often competing) uses on the landscape, accommodating the perspectives of all stakeholders can be a difficult task. It’s a delicate balancing act between protecting everyone’s interests and still accomplishing an effective burn. Biologist and Wildlife Infometrics’ staff member Stephanie Rooke agrees that the burn approval process can be daunting.

“There are many, many factors to consider, and some real constraints on what we’re able to do,” says Rooke. “Often, the lands we’re working on are next to forestry plantations, and there are First Nations communities nearby… safety is always our number one concern. We can’t afford to lose a fire.”

Rooke says there are a number of precautions that are used to make sure that burns stay in control and away from human settlements. “The Wildfire Management Branch has indices that we use to determine when it is safe to burn: factors such as temperature, moisture, and relative humidity all have to line up before we’ll start a fire. But our biggest control mechanism for spring burns is high-elevation snow load: because we’re burning uphill, we try to have the edge of where we want burned bordered by snowpack.”

Despite challenges in the planning process and narrow windows for burns, the project team persevered and managed to get their first burn done this May. McAuley was on site for the big event, excited to finally see his idea become reality.

“It was such a big build up: in the beginning, it was like running into walls. I’d tell people what I wanted to do, but with all the merchantable timber up here, they’d say it can’t be done. But I just kept pecking away, and found some folks that knew the benefits of fire on the land,” recounts McAuley. “To see that helicopter show up, ready to go… well, it was pretty exciting to see that smoke start coming out of the bush”

a1sx2_Original1_Moose_HCTF_Meeting.jpgOver the next few years, the project team will monitor this and other planned burn sites to determine what effect fire has had on forage availability and use by ungulates.

“Our hope is that the herbaceous plants and shrubs that recolonize burned areas really make a difference for moose populations in the area,” says Rooke. “Shrubs are particularly important in winter, when the deep snow makes it difficult for moose to access other forage.”

If the project proves a success, the team is hopeful they can share their experiences with others interested in using fire to enhance range conditions.

“There was a steep learning curve for everyone, but now that we’ve done it, I think there’s the potential for others to follow in our footsteps, and maybe initiate their own projects,” encourages McAuley. “I think getting fire back on the land, when done properly, has the potential to benefit everyone.”

In addition to HCTF funding, this project also received financial support from the Peace/Williston Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program. For more information on projects made possible by angling, hunting, guiding and trapping licence surcharges, click here.

Thu, 7 Aug 2014
Tags: Wildlife

Project Evaluation: Bringing Back the Bluebirds

A few times a year, HCTF staff get to escape from the office and check out some of our projects in the field. We conduct project site evaluations as an accountability measure, and to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing our proponents. These evaluations include a financial review and a site visit, where we get to see firsthand the important conservation work being done by our proponents. This summer, HCTF Biologist Lynne Bonner and Finance Officer Katelynn Sander were excited to spend some time with the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) and get the inside scoop on their Bring Back the Bluebirds project.

 

Though once plentiful, Western Bluebirds have been extirpated (locally extinct) in southwestern BC since 1995. They like to make their nests in Garry Oak meadows, but these ecosystems have become increasingly rare due to human development. As their habitat was lost and fragmented, Western Bluebirds eventually stopped returning to Vancouver Island to nest and raise their young. In their Bring Back the Bluebirds project, GOERT is aiming to re-establish a breeding population of Western Bluebirds on Vancouver Island. This project took flight in 2012, and has hatched an international partnership which allows Bluebirds from a healthy population in Washington to be re-located to Vancouver Island. There are currently multiple nest sites in the Cowichan Valley where pairs of Bluebirds have nested and are tending to their fledglings.

Male_House_Sparrow.jpgBluebird_Family_GOERT.jpgThe first two years of the project enjoyed remarkable successes with 9 nestlings fledged in 2012 and 32 nestlings fledged in 2013. This year saw some challenges for the nesting bluebirds. While some bluebirds were lost to predators (likely suspects: domestic cats, mink or raccoon), the most harm came from depredation from the invasive House Sparrow. These small birds are highly territorial and aggressive, attacking any birds (adults and nestlings) within their breeding territory. This year 6 nestlings were lost to House Sparrow attacks. Thanks to the determined efforts of the GOERT Recovery Team, volunteers and the Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre, several injured nestlings were rescued, rehabilitated and returned to the wild. You can read more about this on the GOERT website’s July 2014 news article. Despite these losses, there have been more successful nests this year than in previous years and by early August 2014, four nests had fledged successfully and four currently active nests are expected to fledge by mid-August.

We would like to extend a big thank you to GOERT Conservation Specialist Kathryn Martell, summer student Reanna Schelling, and bluebird translocation expert Gary Slater (Ecostudies Instutite, Washington) for taking the time to show us around the nest sites, and introducing us to some adorable baby Bluebirds. If you are interested in learning more about the Bluebird Reintroduction project and the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, check out their website at http://www.goert.ca/

 

See other Bluebird Project Posts >>

Fri, 27 Jun 2014
Tags: Wildlife

Catching a Glimpse

A radio-tagged female Sooty Grouse on Haida Gwaii. Tagged grouse will provide researchers with information that will help determine the effects of forest conversion, fragmentation or hunter harvest on juvenile recruitment and nest success. Photo courtesy of Barry Wijdeven

The following story was submitted to us by Berry Wijdeven, a biologist working on HCTF project 6-235, Juvenile Sooty Grouse Dispersal and Winter Survival on Haida Gwaii. Berry works for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) as the Species at Risk Coordinator for Haida Gwaii.

The radio receiver, though dialed way down, squeaks loudly, insistently. Somewhere, within 10 meters or so, a radio collared female grouse is hiding. Possibly nesting. We want to find that nest and put a camera near it to see whether the chicks fledge successfully or whether the nest fails. But we don’t want to disturb the bird, potentially flush her off her eggs, so we proceed with great caution. The radio signal originates from a nearby stump, which is surrounded by a dense growth of salal. Entering that growth would surely alarm the grouse, so here we stand, hoping to catch a glimpse of a bird that is likely watching us.

Inventory studies have suggested that the number of Haida Gwaii Sooty Grouse has declined substantially. That’s a problem for the grouse population, but also of concern to the Northern Goshawk, a species listed as threatened, which is having a tough go of it on Haida Gwaii, and for whom grouse is a major prey item. Figuring out why the grouse population has declined could help manage both species.

Thanks to a partnership including MFLNRO, Haida Gwaii District and Coast Area Research, Parks Canada and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, we have been studying grouse for the last three years, looking at habitat use, seasonal movement, juvenile dispersal, survival rates and causes of mortality. As part of this research, we are monitoring nesting success where motion detection cameras have proven to be a cost-effective method of determining what happens at the nest site. But first we have to find the nests. Over the last three years, we have caught some 70 female grouse and equipped them with radio transmitters, each with their own radio frequency. We monitor these transmissions year round to see where the birds are and what habitat they use.

Grouse move between breeding and winter home ranges, so in spring, we increase our monitoring efforts to pinpoint their breeding home range. When the signal stops moving through the landscape, it could indicate that the female has started to nest. For our research, we have chosen an area which is dissected by logging roads, which makes getting around the rugged Haida Gwaii landscape somewhat feasible. Sometimes the hens are kind enough to locate their nest close to one of those roads. At other times we are not so lucky, and a serious crosscountry slog is required. Cedar stands with boggy soils and chesthigh salal stands which suction your boots or tangle them in a web of branches remain my favourite hiking destination. As we follow the radio signal through the forests, trying to compensate for signals bouncing off trees, hills and rocks, we become increasingly vigilant, for the birds have some creative methods to hide their nests.

Grouse are the Rodney Dangerfield of the bird world, often getting little respect. Stupid and tasty are the two adjectives heard most often when discussing grouse. Truth be told, people generally don’t pay much attention to a grouse they see them standing by the side of the road, or worse, in the middle of the road. But once you see a mother hen, mostly defenceless, guard her chickens throughout the summer from a multitude of dangers, you start revisiting your thoughts on grouse, and what she is potentially guarding as she stands motionless in the middle of that road.

Up close grouse are beautiful birds, with delicate and intricately patterned feathers. Males, generally a dark blue, puff themselves into magnificent creatures during the mating season, showing off their bulging yellow air sacks, fanned tail and (when inflated) orange combs. Their size and appearance at this time of year contrasts sharply with their usual look and provide a rare splash of colour amongst the multitude of forest greens.

 

But it’s a hen we are trying to locate, and the females, mostly shades of brown, are blessed with impressive camouflage. We circle the salal, trying to determine from which side the radio signal is strongest, but fail to determine the bird’s location. So we stand there, staring intently at the growth. And then we see something, through a small opening between some leaves. An eye. Staring back at us just as intently. There she is! We quickly determine that the hen is indeed nesting, note the location and deploy the camera. Then we retreat, leaving the grouse to do her thing. Hopefully she’ll be successful in fledging her young. We’ll see.

 

Fri, 14 Feb 2014

Biologists and Winter Recreationalists Team Up to Save Telkwa Caribou Herd

 

Northern_Edge_Of_Telkwa_Range_HCTF_6-236.jpgIn the Telkwa Mountains near Smithers, BC, a small herd of Mountain Caribou persists after nearly disappearing from these ranges only two short decades ago.

With their rich colouring and impressive antlers, Mountain Caribou are striking animals, highly recognizable as the local cousins of the legendary reindeer. They are also among the most endangered animals in Canada, and have been reduced to a fraction of their historic range. Over the last half century, the Telkwa herd’s population has undergone a steep decline, hitting a low of six herd members in the mid 1990s. Recovery efforts have helped increase their numbers to around thirty animals, but this still leaves them at high risk of becoming locally extinct.

Since 1996, HCTF has invested in Telkwa herd monitoring projects to provide data essential to recovery programs. The most recently-funded Telkwa Caribou project is a collaborative effort between biologists and local winter recreationalists to determine the effect that activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, and ATVing could have on the survival of the Telkwa herd.

The Impacts of recreation and wolves on Telkwa caribou recovery project uses satellite technology to collect data that will eventually be used to inform management practices. The project team has fitted herd members with GPS collars that email researchers their locations twice a week. Researchers will use the data collected to track caribou distribution and response to different levels of recreational activity. As the project name suggests, the project will also examine how collared wolves use the Telkwa mountains and interact with caribou.

Telkwa_Caribou_Collared_HCTF_6-236.jpgThe recreation portion of the study will incorporate citizen science, asking locals participating in activities such as snowmobiling, backpacking and backcountry skiing to use hand-held GPS units to record the location of their activities. Data collected from these volunteers and the collared caribou will help researchers determine the relationship between herd and human activity. Project leaders hope that involving local user groups in data collection and management techniques will inspire ongoing stewardship by participants. Already, the Smithers Snowmobile Association has created a page on their website providing updates on the location of collared caribou so their members can avoid disturbing them. Ideally, the result of this research will allow for development of a solution that provides protection for the caribou while still allowing opportunities for winter recreation.

Telkwa_Caribou_Tongue_HCTF_6-236.jpg

You can keep up to date with the latest news on the Telkwa Caribou project by visiting their facebook page