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2017 Marmoteer

SWEET DREAMS

Right now in the mountains of Strathcona Park, two adolescent marmots are bundled underground in a burrow stuffed with grasses and shrubs. Their bodies are cold, their breathing impossibly slow: the deep sleep of hibernation has overtaken Clayton and Aberfeldy. Until next spring, they will barely move, their bodies surviving on the stored energy of a summer spent eating and packing on weight. When they emerge next spring, these marmots will shoulder the burden of conservationists hopes, to produce the next generation of marmots.

Clayton and Aberfeldy were the first marmots to head into hibernation this year, but they were followed by others, including a bumper crop of pups. The Foundation’s field crew counted at least 42 pups this summer, and we suspect there are more, in mountains of Vancouver Island. After a difficult year in 2016, it is exactly what the Foundation’s Field Coordinator Cheyney Jackson hoped to see. “It was a huge relief,” says Cheyney. “Pups are the future of the species, but for me, seeing that the marmots are reproducing successfully in the wild, even after a really difficult year, shows that they do have the resiliency to bounce back.”

If you’re reading this, know that you played a role in creating this bounty of young marmots. In addition to supporting other recovery efforts, your support made it possible for us to put out 12 feeders this year – specifically to help boost the number of pups born. Like any good biologist, Cheyney is hesitant about crediting the feeders too much. “We are still in the process of collecting the data we need to show what difference the feeders make, but it does seem like marmots that have access to them produce pups more often.”

While Clayton, Aberfeldy, and their relations hibernate, we will busy preparing for next year. We are very happy to again have marmots at the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre, plus we have more marmots to release, more feeders to place, more sites to restore as we take another step towards the marmot’s recovery.

REMEMBERING JIM WALKER

In June, our Board Chair Jim Walker passed away unexpectedly. For over 20 years, Jim volunteered countless hours to helping the marmots. He was a tireless voice for the marmots: through letters, phone calls, and meetings, Jim sought to bring anyone who could make a difference to the table. His efforts and energy have helped keep the marmots from extinction.

Jim had a passion for nature, wildlife, and service, and he took action through his volunteerism and donations with the Marmot Recovery Foundation and other conservation organizations in Canada and internationally.

We will miss Jim’s advice and support tremendously, but are proud to continue his conservation legacy.
Thank you Jim for all that you have given the marmots and us.

MACALLAN’S JOURNEY

Strathcona Provincial Park is stunning: a landscape of snowcapped mountains, ice-blue glacial lakes, and waterfalls cascading over granite cliffs. Nestled among these giants are eight small marmot colonies. Nothing gives away that these particular meadows, among many in the Park, happen to be home to one of the rarest mammals in the world, recently reintroduced into the Park after more than 20 years of absence.

Despite the ruggedness of this wilderness area, marmots still need to move between colonies sometimes. At two years old, many marmots strike out from their natal colony in search of a mate at a new site. This movement is important: it ensures that marmots mix genes and prevents inbreeding. Along the way, some marmots do get lost, and one of our jobs is find and return these marmots to suitable habitat. More incredible is that many marmots somehow find their way.

Take Macallan. Born at Mt Washington, when he turned one year old in 2015 we moved him 12km to Mt Albert Edward in Strathcona Park. We hoped he would contribute to the young colony there, but Macallan had other ideas. Over the next year, he traversed the mountains, cliffs, lakes, and forests back to his home at Mt Washington. His presence at Mt Washington is welcome: the colony needed another male about his age.

Macallan’s journey was not part of our plan, but it is one we are happy to witness. Ensuring that marmots can travel between colonies is one of our goals – even if some of them chose to move back home.



 

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First look at our Winter’s Work

A quick glance at the Mt Washington Alpine Resort webcams confirms that snow has arrived on the mountains of Vancouver Island. Fortunately, all indications are that the marmots headed into their hibernacula for their long winter nap right on time. While that means that the marmots may be tucked away for the season, the humans at the Foundation still have plenty of work to do!

One of the first aspects of winter work that we want to highlight involves Mount Washington. We are thrilled to have marmots overwintering in the high elevation Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre for the first time in several years. These marmots will be released next year, and having them at the Centre gives them a head start on acclimating to the conditions they will encounter on west coast mountains. Veterinarian Malcolm McAdie is caring for the marmots during the winter, and he’ll be giving them periodic health checkups and monitoring their hibernation cycles to make sure they are doing well.

Your support has made it possible for us to take this step – thank you so much for helping!

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Will the last marmot awake please close the door and turn out the lights?

Our survey this week at Mt Washington showed most of the marmots are in hibernation. In fact, all but one: just Violet is still awake. We’re still waiting for her to plug her hibernaculum and settle down for her long winter’s nap. 

The timing this year is pretty typical, but we do hope to see Violet go into hibernation soon. Our team would like to see marmots tucked in safely within the next couple weeks, because as autumn progresses, vegetation dies back. With less food, marmots still awake may begin burning body fat just to stay active, and that could reduce the energy available for them when they emerge from hibernation in the spring. To be clear, having a few marmots still awake in late October is completely normal, and we are not concerned for Violet’s well-being. 

But, really, Violet, it is time for bed. Just go to sleep. Goodnight…

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With a lot of help from our Friends: Restoration at Mt Hooper

Last week, with more than a little help from our friends, we were able to restore a big section of marmot habitat at Mt Hooper. We need to thank Cam William-Johnston and Matt Kelly from the Port Alberni Thunderbirds Fire Fighting Unit, and Trudy Chatwin, retired Species-at-Risk biologist, for volunteering their time to work in this challenging terrain! Thank you also to TimberWest for facilitating the work, and Environment and Climate Change Canada for funding it! 

This crew was working to restore open sightlines by removing brush and low branches from the marmot’s habitat. Marmots rely on these open sightlines to spot and avoid predators, and this restoration work will help keep the delicate balance between predators and prey intact. 

The crew removed “stalking cover” – shrubs and low branches that predators such as wolves and cougars use to sneak up on marmots. This should happen naturally as avalanches sweep this material out the marmot colony, but extremely low snowpacks for several years have resulted in a lot less avalanche energy. In turn, we have seen an increase in the stalking cover. When we mapped where marmots were predated at Mt Hooper, it almost always occurred where this stalking cover had grow up.

From left to right, Norberto Pancera and Mike Lester (Marmot Recovery Foundation), Trudy Chatwin (biologist), and Cam William-Johnston and Matt Kelly (Port Alberni Thunderbirds). Not shown is Trevor Dickinson of the Foundation.

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First hibernating marmots of 2017 confirmed

Another sure sign that autumn is upon us: we have confirmed our first hibernating pair of marmots. While most marmots are still active, we expect to see more and more of them headed underground in the next few weeks.

Our early birds are Clapton and Aberfeldy, who are now tucked into a new hibernaculum at Greig Ridge in Strathcona Park. Aberfeldy was released to Morrison Spire in 2015, but made the 4.5km trip to Greig Ridge the following year. In fact, she surprised us by showing up during our planning trip the day before we released Clapton!

Marmots of this age that hibernate together often have pups the following year, and we have our fingers crossed that these two raise a happy family!

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