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Updates from the Team

Updated Recovery Plan now Available

The work of the Marmot Recovery Foundation is guided by the Recovery Plan for the Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) in British Columbia. The Plan is prepared by the Recovery Team, a group of government, academic, private sector, and independent biologists and scientists who provide strategic guidance to recovery efforts.

For us at the Foundation, this Plan guides our work and goals. We encourage you to read it to find out more about the Vancouver Island Marmot, its habitat, and our work to recover this unique animal. Click on the image below, or go the Provincial List of Recovery Planning Documents, and look for “Vancouver Island Marmot”.

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Alan is on the move again!

Our wandering Vancouver Island marmot is on the move again. Alan was found at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in 2015. For the record, Bamfield is a long way from our marmot’s typically mountain habitat. With the help of staff and students, we successfully relocated Alan to a nice colony on Green Mountain.


Alan, however, had other ideas. Over the past 2 summers, he has taken quite the tour of the Nanaimo Lakes marmot colonies, and led our staff on a merry chase. He fooled us again this summer. We were sure he had *finally* settled down. But no. He is on the move again! At least he is staying in typical marmot habitat, which is great.


Keep being you Alan, just stay safe out there. One day you’ll find that perfect marmot and settle down. Please?

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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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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 Forest Corp. for their help facilitating the work, and Environment and Natural Resources in Canada for funding this project!

This crew was working to restore open sight-lines 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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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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We often talk about marmots who get lost and need help, but many marmots travel through their mountainous landscape and somehow manage to find another marmot colony. Macallan is one such marmot.

Born at Mount Washington in 2014, Macallan was moved as a yearling to Mount Albert Edward in Strathcona Park. Our plan was that he would help this young colony re-establish, but Macallan had other ideas. Instead, over the next year, he made his way back to Mt Washington. At first glance it may not seem like a remarkable trip: Mt Albert Edward is only 12 km from the colony on Mt Washington as the crow flies. But it would be impossible for anyone, or any marmot, to make the trip in a straight line through a the mountains, valleys, and lakes that separate the two colonies.

It is fortuitous that he returned. The Mt Washington colony needed another breeding aged male, and Macallan fits the bill perfectly. We know better than to move him again!

Jordan Cormack, Field Crew member and Marmot Keeper at Mt Washington, shared this photo of Macallan preparing for winter at his new, old home.
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