British Columbia’s American Badger (jeffersonii subspecies) is endangered in Canada. By studying the habits of this rather secretive animal, Parks Canada and its partners have helped in the development of a promising recovery strategy.
Badgers can use hundreds of burrows within their home range as they search for food and mates.
The American Badger is a nocturnal member of the weasel family. Low-slung, with short, powerful legs and impressive claws, this animal was "made to dig".
Its front claws are long and stout for ploughing through soil, while its hind claws are shorter and flattened for shovelling it away. A badger can dig itself a hole in minutes!
The badger has brownish or greyish fur, with a white stripe running from its shoulder to the tip of its nose, and dark markings on its face. Males, larger than females, weigh up to 14 kilograms.
One of four subspecies of American Badger, Taxidea taxus jeffersonii, occurs in Canada only in British Columbia's dry interior. Badgers are found in grasslands and ranches and yet are not strictly grassland animals as they have been found to use forested and alpine sites in British Columbia including Kootenay National Park of Canada.
Recent studies show that the British Columbia badger population has declined to an estimated 250 adults. COSEWIC responded by listing the jeffersonii subspecies of American badger as endangered in 2000.
Yet this important wildlife species is declining in British Columbia. The reasons include fragmentation and loss of habitat, a decrease in prey species, and death caused directly by human activities.
Badgers like to live in open valley bottoms - the same places humans like to establish cities, roads, farms and orchards. Suitable badger habitat is being lost as a result, along with prey species like ground squirrels. And the increasing human activity-from vehicle traffic to farming operations-means more badgers die from vehicle collisions and even deliberate persecution as "nuisance animals."
The badger is one of Canada's few grassland carnivores. In fact, it's the only carnivore, besides the black-footed ferret, that burrows after and eats other tunnelling animals. So badgers help control ground squirrel, mice and vole populations, playing an important role in grasslands ecosystems.
When badgers dig - in pursuit of prey
or to excavate a burrow - they also improve the soil conditions for various
plants. In addition to this, the large burrows they create provide shelter
to other wild animals like burrowing owls and snakes.
The key to helping any species survive is to maintain the ecosystem that provides it with food, shelter and other life necessities. Yet, before 1995, the badger had not been studied much in British Columbia, so questions remained regarding its needs and how best to restore populations.
The East Kootenay Badger Project, with Parks Canada as one of the partners, aims to find the answers. Initiated in 1995, this exciting long term study of badger ecology and distribution in the East Kootenays, including Kootenay National Park, is Canada's first intensive radio telemetry-based study of badgers.
The project involves following badgers fitted with radio transmitters and mapping their travels. So far (1996-2005), 31 badgers have been radio-tagged and their movements followed to determine:
- movement rates and home range size;
- patterns of habitat use and dispersal;
- birth rates and reproductive success; and
- causes of death.
In addition, between 2002 and 2004, 16 badgers from Montana were introduced in the Columbia River Valley to help restore the species in this region and better understand the role of habitat in the species’ survival.
The East Kootenay Badger Project also works with landowners in order to increase the number of badgers maintained on private property. These stewardship projects result in increased public awareness and appreciation of the badger, their prey and the ecosystems they call home.
Scientific research, population monitoring, reintroduction initiatives and stewardship are all important components of the strategy to restore British Columbia's American Badger populations.
Results of research carried out so far under the East Kootenay Badger Project indicate that:
- Within the East Kootenay Trench, the badger population in the south appears to be stable to possibly increasing slightly, but that of the north recently reached extirpation or nearly so.
- Fourteen of the study badgers have died, due mainly to highway kills and predation by cougars and bobcats. Annual survivorship of adult badgers is 82%.
The results of the introduction of the Montana badgers have been encouraging-the animals have adapted well to their new home and are producing young. Translocated animals could help in restoring the population in the northern part of the study area.
The knowledge obtained in this study and similar initiatives has helped in updating the recovery strategy for the American Badger, jeffersonii subspecies. The most recent version of the strategy was published in March 2005. The five-year goal is to increase the number of adult badgers in British Columbia to at least 400 individuals.
If you live in or visit an area where the American Badger lives:
- Learn more about the American Badger and how to identify it trough the Badger Stewardship program.
- Report badger sightings and burrow locations to the Badger Hotline 1.866.352.2343.