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Updates from the Team

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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On this Earth Day, you are likely to be reminded that wildlife globally is suffering. However, with work and dedication, it is possible to make a positive difference for even the most endangered species. If you follow us here, you are likely aware of the Vancouver Island marmot's story - from fewer than 30 wild marmots in 2003, to about 200 today.

Thank you to our donors and partners who are making the marmot's recovery possible. The marmots would not be here without you!

Enjoy this video, taken by the amazing Alena Ebeling-Schuld, of young Vancouver Island Marmots cautiously exploring the world outside their burrow.
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Possibly right now, the first marmots are beginning the long process of waking up in their hibernacula, becoming more and more restless as the snow above them begins to melt. Soon, they will begin to dig their way out through the dirt and snow, looking for food as their bodies recover from the rigors of hibernation.

For us, one of the great pleasures is seeing the first marmot of the year. Tracks, emergence holes, and telemetry provide us with much needed data, but there is still something special about the first time you lay eyes on a marmot. Will the first marmot we see in 2019 will the same marmot we spotted first last year?

Despite her name, Field Coordinator Mike Lester first spotted June late last April, on the Mount Washington Ski Hill. At 10 going on 11, June is one our older marmots. Born in the wild colony at Mount Washington, she has given birth to many pups over the years, though these days she is beginning to show her age. Her fur is a bit mangy, but we like to think it gives her extra character. June often hangs out by the “Hawk unload,” one of the ski lift drop off points on the hill. As such, while she may not realize it, June is among the most photographed and watched of all wild Vancouver Island marmots.

We are looking forward to seeing June and her extended family, but we hope we have to wait a few more weeks for the first marmots to appear above ground. The longer snow stays on the ground, the better. Melting snow provides water to the meadows throughout the summer and fall, and in turn that provides the marmots with green, nutritious vegetation to eat all season.

It is important to note that June, or whichever marmot we first observe, is probably not the first marmot out of hibernation. Most of the marmot colonies are not accessible in the early season due to avalanche hazard, and we are able access Mount Washington much earlier than nearly any other site. The first marmot observation of the season is special to us, but there are other early risers, bringing marmot whistles back to mountains for another summer. We can’t wait to see them too.
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