Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Species Profile: Clark's Nutcracker

Best tree planter

in the South Chilcotin Mountians

Clark's Nutcracker (Michael Sulis)
Clark's Nutcracker (Michael Sulis)
Scientific name: Nucifraga columbiana
Family: Crows (Corvidae)Description: The Nutcracker is almost crow-sized (30-33 cm or 12-13 inches) and has a crow-like flight. It is light gray with dark eye and long, sharply pointed bill. Its black wings have patches at the trailing edge and the tail is black with white outer tail feathers. The belly is white as well the face from the forehead to the chin.
Voice: A guttural kraaaa...
Habitat: Stand of juniper and ponderosa pine, or whitebark and larch, on high mountains ranges, near the treeline.  
Diet: Spiders insects, all kind of seeds, berries, eggs, and carrion. But 19 % of its annual diet are whitebark pine seeds.

Nesting: The bird nests very early in the year by laying 2-6 green eggs in a deep bowl nest of sticks in a coniferous tree.

Range: Clark's Nutcrackers are native all along the Rocky Mountains - from North Mexico to South British Columbia, Canada. Because of the extreme large range and of its increasing population the bird is not protected under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Special Note: Clark's Nutcracker are adept at prying seeds from the whitebark cones. It carries up to 150 of the nutritious nut in a throat pouch. The capacity is more likely  50-70 though. Then the bird spreads out to do the "planting".
A nutcracker usually flies a few hundred meters before caching seeds two inches into the soil. The record of distance is 22 kilometers. The birds often seek open, sunlit meadows like recently burned areas or places where strong winter winds will sweep away the snow. A single Clark's Nutcracker may deposit approximately 33,000 seeds per season - some may even store up to 98,000.  The birds are able to remember the site of the cache and the size of seed storage (clusters of 1-15) over 9 month. About half the seeds are then recovered as food in times of scarcity and to feed their young.
The rest have the opportunity to sprout as seedlings and contribute to forest generation. The whitebark pine tree is especially reliant on Nutcrackers. These days, the climate at high elevations has been warm enough for mountain pine beetles to reproduce within whitebark pine and to endanger this tree species. Thanks to the little tree planter by keeping mother nature a little more steady.  

Invasive plants hitchhike on horses

In order to restore and preserve the native ecology of the South Chilcotin Mountains it is absolutely necessary to prevent further spreading of invasive plants. These non-native plants grow aggressively because they have been introduced to British Columbia without the limitation role of their native insect predators and plant pathogens. Therefore noxious weed species, like Giant Burdock (Articum lappa), Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea biebersteinii) can be highly destructive by competing with indigenous species for space. The annual reproduction of these non-native plants is enormous.
Our Wilderness Stewardship Foundation team went out into the field for an inspection. The result is that there are less signs of intruders in the Provincial Park of the South Chilcotin Mountains/Big Creek. However the noxious weeds are rapidly growing around the park's boarder - especially the Giant Burdock. We could found it all around Tyauhton Lake. Now we have to be very careful because the seeds get introduced in areas where they presently do not occur by transportation. Earth, clothes, equipment and livestock can transport weed seeds and plant propgules. Everything needs to be inspected when moving or transporting it from weed-infested areas to non-infested areas. For example seeds get easily tangled in the horse mane and tails while grazing in the range. Traditionally the trails of the South Chilcotin Mountains are used for recreational horseback rides. The horses would spread the seeds all over the Provincial Park if they don't get pulled out before the trip. 

Everybody can help in minimizing the distribution and protect the local ecosystem. Take responsibility and action by being aware of the issue, collect the seeds and exterminate them.
For more information about invasive plants check out our WSF project Invasive Species Control, the Invasive Plant Council of BC and The BC Weed Control Act (RSBC 1996). 

The city hunters are coming


Popularity of hunting rises for ethical reasons

Hunting has become more popular. According to an article in the Vancouver Sun more and more people in the cities have started thinking about hunting or do it for a sustainable and ethical way to feed themselves.
The "new urban hunters" don't accept buying commercially produced meat anymore since animals has to suffer for this and the meat is full of antibiotics. They want to have their own hunted fresh, non-toxic and environmental friendly game meat.
Indeed the growth in the number of graduates from the Conservation Outdoor Recreation Education course (CORE) has been rising steadily from 791 in 2004 to 1,725 in 2012.
Nature is not a supermarket though. The wildlife resources are limited and some species are endangered.  Successful hunting takes a lot of knowledge and skill - even most experienced hunters come back without luck.
It is remarkable that more people critically reflect what they consume  but we better take care of our wildlife resources by a sustainable management and licences system.

Mercury found by Mowson Pond

The big forest fire in 2009 revealed an old mercury smelter next to Mowson Pond. The former smelter could be spotted easily from the road up to Tyaughton Lake. Curious passers-by have started to take a closer look. As soon the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource became aware of the situation they sealed off the area from the public and arranged a remediation plan for the site clean up. 
remediation crew

Specialists from four different companies were hired by the government to clean up the mercury.
(picture WSF)

Mercury is toxic. It can cause chronic and acute poising upon entering the body through the respiratory tract, the digestive tract or directly through the skin. It accumulates in the body eventually causing severe illness or even death. For these reasons the government had to come up with a solution. In the news we have been informed that it is one of the worst case of mercury contamination in BC. So we headed to Mowson Pond to investigate the scene by ourselves.   
It is not unusual to find contaminated sights in the Chilcotin area, for example traces of the toxic element can be still find in the mines of Cinnabar. Mercury was needed for gold mining production which was very popular in the 19th century. The element easily forms alloys with other metals, such as gold, silver, zinc and cadmium. These alloys are called amalgams. Amalgams are used to help extract gold from its ores. 
But as an exception Mowson Pond mine was actually used for commercial mercury production from 1963 until 1966. Mercury is usually produced from cinnabar rocks, also known as mercury ore. To make pure mercury,it has to be extract from these rocks. During this process the facility and the surrounded ground became contaminated.
One of the workmen informed us that they only found small traces of the pure mercury, informed us one of the workmen. A team of four specialist from four different companies within the environmental field were hired by the government for the clean-up. Next to a remediation and demolition supervisor for example there was also an archeologist to monitor that no artefacts got damaged during the process.
mercury spot 2013

The location of the smelter was next to a steep slope down Carpenter Lake.
(picture WSF)

Mercury is not usually found free in nature and is primarily obtained from the mineral cinnabar.  Since the liquid metal stays in the same spot the risk of distribution is very limited. By observing the site we found out the smelter was located next to a deep slope so a strong rain or melted snow in the spring could have wash the mercury down into Carpenter Lake. Beside this the contaminated bricks and surrounding ground needed to be taken away. The smelter had a 15 foot deep shaft and parts of walls were left. In the end it came up to a total amount of 3,300 kg (11 soil bags) of contaminated material which went to a disposal facility in Ontario.
It took several days to clean up the spot. Now when you drive by where the mercury smelter was you won't find any sign of it. The remediation program filled up the shaft and covered up the entire spot with soil. In the end a mixture of native shrubs and grass were seed on top of it. There is no trace left and no harm for people and the ecosystem.
11 bags of mercury

3,300 kg of contaminated material. (picture WSF)

Sustainable hunting of Mountain Goats

Hunting season  for Mountain Goat (Oreamnos amercanus) was open from September 1 until  October 31 in the South Chilcotin Mountain area. According to the implemented regulation in 2010/2011  "it is unlawful to hunt a female mountain goat accompanying a kid or a female mountain goat in a group that contains one or more kids" (Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource). This conservation action is necessary to protect the existence of the species.
But if there is no kid insight it is legal to harvest a nanny (female). "We only hunt the billies with our guests", says John a local hunting guide "and therefore we take our time to identify the sex". Both, billies and nannies, are very similar in appearance which can give hunters a rough time selecting a shoot. For example a billy has a larger horn base while the space between the nanny's horns are wider.
Our suggestion: Hunt smart & protect the unique native wildlife in BC.
For more information and to test yourself on mountain goat sex identification:

Park management planning still in progress

After BC Parks published on their website a summary of the received online comments on the park planning process  things went quiet. Based on the comments and various stakeholder meetings BC Parks started the work on developing the Draft Management Plan for nine parks in the Lillooet area.
One of them is the South Chilcotin Mountains Park (previously named Spruce Lake Protected Area), to which almost all comments of the survey applied to. When asked about the issues that needed to be addressed within the nine parks through the management plan, environmental protection was the most frequent, followed by access, trail maintenance, user conflicts and illegal motorized activity.
source: BC Parks - Public Input to Lillooet Area Park Planning Summary.
Acceptable activities in the provincial parks and how to keep the park open for all users were one main input for future management recommendations. Mountain bikers have claimed  their right of access since the sport became more popular in the South Chilcotin Mountains area the last few years. Hence the mountain biking community started a campaign to represent their interest. This is why biking is 55% of the total reported public users the most activity by respondents. Other respondent groups are Hiking (22%), Camping (12%), Horse Riding (4%), Fishing (3%), Photography (2%), Hunting (1%) and Wildlife Viewing (1%). Most users of the park are tolerant of other activities though. However the up-coming draft has to consider the multiple use of the natural resources and a way to define a balance between all users interest and preservation of the wilderness.
The draft management plan was reviewed within the Thompson Cariboo Region of BC Parks and has now been submitted to headquarters for review. Once that review has taken place and any changes made it will be available for public review and comments on the BC Park website. Hopefully it is within the month.
Be ready to give your input when it comes for a second round. We will keep you updated.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Developement of a new management plan for Big Creek/South Chilcotin Mountains

BC parks is preparing new management plans for a number of provincial parks in the South Chilcotin Mountains:
* South Chilcotin Mountains Park (previously named Spruce Lake Protected Area)
* Big Creek Park.
* Bridge River Delta Park.
* Yalakom Park.
* Fred Antoine Park.
* French Bar Park.
* Marble Canyon Park.
* Skihist Park.
* Gwyneth Lake Park.
The WSF has  provided input with a Big Creek/South Chilcotin Mountains management plan draft , to ensure the future management of the area is executed in a responsible and sustainable way, securing a balance between users interests and preservation of the wilderness. A summary of the public input to the management plan is now available on http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/mgmtplns/lillooet/background-documents/public-input-summary.pdf
The purpose of a  management plan is to set out objectives and strategies for conservation, development, interpretation and operation of a protected area. A management plan relies on current information relating to such subjects as natural values, cultural values, and recreation opportunities within a park and resource activities occurring on surrounding lands.
The process for preparing a management plan involves a careful analysis of the overall goals of the protected area, use patterns, management objectives, and possible sources of conflict among protected area policies. Through the planning process, various options for managing the protected area are developed and assessed.
BC Parks prepares management plans with a high degree of public involvement. The general public and public interest groups have opportunities to review management planning documents and provide comments to BC Parks through a variety of means.  Similarly, BC Parks consults with First Nations, other levels of government and other provincial government agencies in the development and review of management plans.
You can find information on how to provide input into the management plans, as well as available background information for the above parks, by clicking on the following link http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/mgmtplns/lillooet/lillooet_mp.html .
New information will be posted to this site as it becomes available, including new background information, meeting summaries and the draft plans as they are developed.  The planning process is expected to be finalized in 2012, and public input  is still open.