It’s November (just in case you’re not near a calendar). That means all the marmots should be in bed, and we should be busy writing field season reports. Things aren’t going to plan.
Continuous, heavy rain delayed planned restoration work for over a month, but just as we were giving up hope, a brief break in the weather enabled us to get a crew into Mt Moriarty to restore a key feature of marmot habitat – sight lines.
When marmots see a predator near their meadow, they will sit up, often on a high rock near a quick escape into a safe burrow. If the predator gets too close, the marmots whistle to alert the rest of the colony, and if the predator continues to approach, the marmot will whistle again and then dive for its escape route. It is not a foolproof system, but it generally works reasonable well as long as conditions are right.
One of those conditions is maintaining sight lines. If the marmots cannot see the predators because of trees or branches, then the warning system falls apart. In the past, this cover was cleared from marmot meadows by avalanches, but a number of years of below average snow falls have allowed significant cover to grow in a number of meadows in the more southern marmot colonies.
Our first priority was Mt Moriarty in the Nanaimo Lakes region. Our restoration goal at Mt Moriarty was to remove this stalking cover by hand, restore the marmots’ sight lines, and minimize disruption to the marmots. In October, Crew Leader Mike Lester prepared the site with staff from BC Wildfire Service and Island Timberlands by flagging all marmot hibernacula – no work would be conducted too close to a burrow – and making safety plans for the site by marking and clearing debris from access trails, flagging hazards, and planning how to manage woody debris to eliminate any increased risk of wildfire with the BC Wildlife Service. After that, all we needed was a small patch of dryish weather and the work could get done.
We waited. And waited. And started making contingency plans. And finally, after a record-setting month of rain, we spotted a clearing in the weather. Mike and volunteers Sean, Jerry, and Alicia headed up to do the work. It can be hard to see in the photos, but they put in an incredible day and got about 95% of problematic cover removed! Hopefully, the marmots that hibernate in the meadow were blissfully unaware of anything unusual happening, and will awake in the spring to an improved view.
The Foundation is extremely grateful to Sean, Jerry, and Alicia, all whom work for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, for volunteering for a hard job and doing amazing work. Also to Island Timberlands and the BC Wildfire Service for coming out with Mike to prepare the site and assisting with safety and fire plans. Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program also matched donations and volunteer time for this work, which made this project possible. Thank you all!
We hope the marmots don’t notice a thing – except for predators of course!