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Updates from the Team

Marmots Returning to Strathcona Park

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to join our Field Coordinator, Cheyney Jackson, on a trip to a number of Vancouver Island marmot colonies in Strathcona Provincial Park.  It was a remarkable experience for me to visit this incredibly beautiful Park. Wildflower meadows, glacial blue lakes, limestone cliffs, and snow-topped mountains define a landscape occupied by an abundance of wildlife. 

Photo by Adam Taylor

Cheyney Jackson checks-in from Strathcona Park. Photo by Adam Taylor

We were there to collect data from remote cameras we use to monitor hibernaculums, and hopefully see a few marmots along the way. In particular, we were hoping to see pups, and we were not disappointed.

Until recently, marmots had been completely extirpated from Strathcona Park. Why marmots in the Park disappeared is not entirely clear. Perhaps with new roads in and around the Park, predators found it easier to get into the high elevation meadows where marmots live. Possibly the construction of the Strathcona Dam, which greatly changed Upper Campbell and Buttle Lakes, made it more difficult for marmots to find each other’s’ colonies, which would have made them more vulnerable to many threats.

Photo by Trevor Dickinson

Photo by Trevor Dickinson

With funding from the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, the Recovery project began the long process of re-introducing marmots to the Park in 2008. Since then the marmots we have released have established small colonies around Buttle Lake. The population is not yet stable, and there have been challenges, and setbacks along the way.

There are encouraging signs too however. Just in the past few years, marmots have begun to move successfully between colonies. One marmot even made the journey all the way from Mt Washington to a colony on the west side of Buttle Lake. It took two years, with stops at several colonies along the way, but is exactly the kind of trip we wanted to see. The pups Cheyney and I saw are another positive sign that these unique animals are making a comeback in Strathcona Park.

It would not be possible see and hear these animals without the support of donors and funding from the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Fund. Thank you for making our work possible!

-Adam Taylor, Executive Director

This Project is funded by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP). The FWCP is partnership between BC Hydro, the Province of B.C., Fisheries and Oceans Canada, First Nations and public stakeholders to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife impacted by the construction of BC Hydro dams.

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Marmot Recovery Foundation mourns death of Jim Walker

It is with great sadness that we announce that Jim Walker, our Board Chair, passed away unexpectedly on June 20th, 2017. Jim was a tireless advocate for nature, having held many senior government position, including the Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Protection, and Director of Wildlife. After his retirement, Jim continued to volunteer his time and expertise as a Board Member of the Marmot Recovery Foundation and the Nature Trust of BC.

Jim has been the Foundation’s Board Chair since 2006, and we will miss his steady leadership and gentle guidance. Jim had a special place in his heart for the marmots, and spent countless hours volunteering in the recovery effort.

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Good Overwinter Survival for marmots

While it is still early in the year for marmots, our survey results so far have been positive.  Overwinter survival for the marmots has been high, particularly among breeding aged females. This is exactly what we hope to find at this time of year.  Later in the summer when pups start to emerge, we will be looking for signs of reproduction – that is to say active pups. We have feeders out at a number of colonies, which we believe may help the marmots reproduce more frequently.  Our fingers are crossed that lots of those breeding-aged females have litters!

Many people have been asking about the weather. Vancouver Island has had a particular cold and wet spring, which followed a cold winter! However, it does not seem to have had any negative impact on the marmots. In fact, weather station data suggests that after a few mild alpine springs, this year’s alpine weather was closer to the historic norm.

While there is a lot of work ahead of us this year, this is good news for the start of the season!

 

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Marmots emerging from hibernation

Vancouver Island marmots are emerging from their winter hibernation. As often happens, some marmots emerge earlier than others, and many wake up briefly only to return to torpor for some time. Weather conditions in Vancouver Island’s alpine are within normal ranges for this time of year – that includes a fair amount of snow covering the ground.

Marmots are herbivores, with a wide ranging diet of leaves, grasses, shrubs, and even tree bark, and they are able to find food even with snow covering the ground. However, at several colonies, our field crews have set up feeders to provide the marmots with supplementary food. This extra, high quality food may help breeding age females improve their body condition quickly – and perhaps reproduce more often than normally would. 

Waking up from hibernation is an important and challenging time for the Vancouver Island marmot.  Their long winter sleep takes a toll on their bodies, and to recover from hibernation takes even more energy. The BBC produced an excellent segment on this challenge for their show ‘Animals: The Inside Story’

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Our first marmot rescue of the season is complete!

Late last year, we learned of a family of Vancouver Island marmots that established themselves near Knight Lake. We knew from past experience that they would not survive long low elevation, unsuitable habitat and sought to capture and relocate them. We were able to catch two pups and the father, but the mother and another pup eluded us. With winter coming, we struggled to decide how to give these marmots, especially the breeding age female, the best survival chance possible. In the end we made the decision to release the father back to the cutblock with a transmitter that would enable us to track him and his family again in the spring. This meant that we could follow up as early as possible in the spring to get them out.

This year, by tracking the transmitter, our crew was able to find the marmots in the spring snow. Our veterinarian, Malcolm McAdie, with crew members Norberto and Steve, snowshoed in and captured the mother. We’ll return once a bit more snow has melted to capture the father and other pup. Malcolm, Norberto, and Steve hiked the mother out – not an easy task with a marmot on your back! She will be released to a marmot colony later this summer, hopefully with her yearling and the father.

By the way, the mother is the first marmot to be named this year. First on our name-a-marmot winners list was Vanna. Given where she was recovered from, we have dubbed her Vanna Knight!

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Yesterday we went into Strathcona Provincial Park to replace remote camera batteries and cards we use to monitor marmot hibernaculums. We were fortunate enough to see marmot pups at 2 sites! 😍

However, there was no space for a telephoto lens in our backpacks, so that means it's time for Spot the Marmots!
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Vancouver Island Marmot Release at Mount Washington July 5th, ... ... See MoreSee Less

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