Don’t tell the marmots, but IT. HAS. BEEN. A. YEAR. For us. For the marmots? Not so much.
The pandemic has played havoc with all our lives. We had to change the way the Field Crew operates, both to protect our staff and communities from COVID-19, but also to protect the marmots. As critically endangered species with a very small population, Vancouver Island marmots could be extraordinarily vulnerable to diseases. The Foundation has always had strong biosecurity protocols – daily disinfection of boots and any gear that comes into contact with marmots. The pandemic has been reminder to us of why we implement those measures.
The marmots probably didn’t notice the extra effort.
In keeping with the general choas of the year, for the first time since recovery efforts began, a wildfire threatened a marmot colony. At Green Mountain Wildlife Management Area – a protected area set aside specifically to protect marmot habitat – a lightning storm started a fire which started burning up the slopes of the mountain. Thanks to the efforts of wildfire crews, who worked in difficult terrain to contain the fire, it never made it to the colony.
When we checked on the marmots following the fire, there was no sign they had noticed the work that had gone into protecting their colony.
What did the marmots do this year? They ate a lot of grasses, flowers, and supplemental food. At the smaller colonies, they had more pups than we expected. The population is about the same as last year – maybe a little higher. Marmots popped up in some unexpected but welcome spots. Hikers spotted marmots at a new site in Strathcona Provincial Park. It is not far from a colony we have been re-establishing, and it’s a great sign that the marmots appear to be expanding into nearby habitat naturally. Another hiker found a marmot at Mt Lansdale. This is a historic colony that has not had marmots since the early 2000s. We are looking forward to following up on this sighting further in 2021.
The best gift we received this year? A bumper crop of 33 marmots in the captive breeding program. These marmots will be released in 2021, and will be a huge boon to the wild population. We are optimistic that this is just the first of several years of more released marmots.
In short, if you are a marmot, 2020 was fine. But 2021 has lot to look forward to.