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Year in Review: 2013 Volunteer Program

Thank You Volunteers!

A special thank you to all the wonderful people who volunteer to make Waterton Lakes National Park a better place. In 2013, there were a total of 308 volunteers donating 2990 hours of time to all the projects and events in the park.

Volunteer Stewardship and Outreach Education

“Restoring Terrestrial Ecosystems Together” or RTET for short – is a program that has been in place in WLNP for the last five years. The program seeks to restore, improve and monitor ecosystems within the park, with a particular emphasis on threatened species such as fescue grasslands and whitebark pine. Volunteer stewardship and outreach education are key components of RTET’s success.

Volunteer Leadership in Native Plant Gardens

In 2013 Waterton Lakes National Park (WLNP) was extremely lucky to have Lois Everett take on the role of "Lead Volunteer" for the Native Plant Gardens. Lois helped Park staff plan the revitalization of the gardens. As an avid gardener herself, Lois’ contributions, dedication and enthusiasm were invaluable as she logged an incredible 78.5 hours in the gardens this year! Our thanks to Lois for being such a wonderful park steward!

Lois Everett, lead volunteer
Lois Everett, lead volunteer © Parks Canada

A number of people volunteered their time in both Native Plant gardens to dig flowerbeds, weed and replant seedlings. The seedlings were grown by our International Peace Park (IPP) partners at the nursery in Glacier National Park, MT. from seeds collected in WLNP’s RTET seed collection program.

Non-Native Plant Programs

Restoring the ecosystem includes regular maintenance to mitigate spread of invasive weeds. Volunteer groups took the nasty non-native knapweed in hand and pulled and bagged knapweed for incineration. Over the summer, their efforts prevented tens of thousands of seeds from sprouting, and eventually displacing native plants through the knapweed plant’s root toxins. This volunteer stewardship work is vital in maintaining the crucial Blakiston Fan grasslands, an over-wintering forage area for hundreds of elk and other ungulates.

Adopt-A-Patch

The RTET restoration program encompasses the entire park, so with such a large area volunteers are integral to non-native plant control. Each volunteer was assigned a “patch” with a high priority weed infestation, such as areas alongside the parkways and on the Blakiston fan. Volunteers devoted as much time as they could manage over the course of the season to keep their “patch” clear of invasive weeds by pulling and bagging them before they could go to seed and spread further. Volunteers reported progress and data was added to the non-native plant database.

Outreach Knapweed Pulls and Knapweed Rodeo

Group Knapweed Pulls

This summer’s involvement of stewardship groups that volunteered to do one day Knapweed pulls was fantastic! The pulls took place mainly on the Blakiston Fan since it is designated as a high priority area for hard-to-control knapweed infestations. These energetic groups included the Pincher Creek Girl Scouts, Quest from Lethbridge, and Chevron from Calgary.

Bags of knapweed pulled on Blakiston Fan
Calgary Chevron: Bags of knapweed pulled on Blakiston Fan © Parks Canada

Knapweed Rodeo

In August each year, the RTET program’s one day knapweed pull blitz is held on the Blakiston Fan. This year there were 20 wonderful volunteers involved in the day’s wrangling of the ornery weed. Parks Canada showed its appreciation to the families and volunteers who helped out by providing lunch and refreshments. Nearby Alpine Stables graciously shared their picnic area so the volunteers could rest and enjoy the lunch which was catered by the Waterton Lakes Golf Course.

Restoration Planting

Wildflower and Grasses Seed Collection

As summer went on and the native plants matured, the volunteer program expanded to include wildflower and grasses seed collection for the RTET program. Volunteers met with restoration technicians to collect specific species of native plants needed for restoration work in different areas of the park. Each year the collected seeds are taken to the West Glacier nursery for seedling propagation. The cycle is completed when these seedlings are re-planted in WLNP. This year volunteers took part in seed collection hikes on Bellevue Prairie Trail, Lakeview Ridge, Snowshoe Trail, Blakiston Trail, and on the Blakiston Fan.

Pat Greenlee and grandkids Ruby and Oscar Larson at the Blakiston Fan seed collection
© Parks Canada

Both Limber Pine and Whitebark Pine are keystone species - a vital food source for bears, squirrels and birds. They are currently listed as “species of concern” since they have suffered up to 80% mortality in some sites due to a combination of mountain pine beetle and a non-native blister rust fungus. Though mountain pine beetle is a native insect, it is an added stressor to these trees which are already under attack from blister rust fungus.

In prior years of the RTET program, Park staff collected seeds from trees that survived blister rust infection to research whether these trees had genetic resistance to the disease. Limber Pine seedlings were propagated from collected seeds in partnership with the Alberta Tree Improvement and Seed Centre, part of the Alberta Government.

The Whitebark Pine trees seedlings were propagated from collected seeds in partnership with the Glacier National Park nursery in Montana, USA. Volunteers assisted in replanting the seedlings in the areas that they were harvested from. In future years the RTET program plans to continue the research and monitor the seedlings’ survival.

In September, when seedlings were available from the Alberta Government tree nursery, Limber Pine planting began above the Snowshoe trail at Red Rock. Panniers of seedlings were transported by pack horse to high elevation sites where the dying pine stands are being restored.

Groups of volunteers, grade nine students and boy scouts planted Limber Pine seedlings with the guidance of park staff. They learned about the RTET program and why Limber and Whitebark pine are important keystone species. A big part of their learning experience was developing the skills and ability to work together and locate proposed plot areas, measure and lay out plots, and plant seedlings.

Asa Verdon, Leavitt Boy Scouts, planting limber pine seedlings Asa Verdon, Leavitt Boy Scouts, planting limber pine seedlings
© Parks Canada

Later in October, Whitebark pine was planted in a remote backcountry area called Blue Grouse basin. Planting sites were specially prepared through prescribed burns by the park’s wild lands fire management team.

Whitebark Pine, which are slow-growing and require lots of sunlight, will thrive in burned areas where competitor species are slow to establish. These burned areas are also favoured habitat for the Clark’s Nutcracker, a bird that plays a role in Whitebark Pine reproduction by stashing seeds for food. At winter’s end, some of the seed stashes are left abandoned and these have a good chance of sprouting into seedlings.

Forbs Planting

In early October, Grade Four students from Cardston Elementary volunteered as park stewards. They learned about the restoration program, and how plant dormancy works through planting native forb’s seedlings - herbaceous flowering plants. The students’ hands-on experience planting forbs in the IPP Garden and the Falls Theater Garden was part of their science unit on “Plant Growth and Changes” and Social Studies unit concerning Alberta’s National Parks and the sustainability of Alberta’s natural environment. Students wrote letters of thanks expressing and illustrating their experiences.

Plant dormancy also worked in the favor of park staff and volunteers in the early October forbs planting to restore a trampled area that used to be the old Crypt Lake campground. In 2012 volunteers had collected seed from a nearby area on the Crypt Lake trail to ensure that seedlings planted this year would be well suited to the restoration site.

Species Counts

As part of the RTET program, volunteers take part in guided counts of different species in Waterton Lakes National Park. Data recorded contributes to information databases and helps to monitor the health of each species and the ecosystem that supports them. These are listed below:

Spring Plant Count

In late May, as part of the RTET program, volunteers helped take a one day snapshot of the flowering plant species in Waterton Lakes National Park. This annual early spring count contributes to the knowledge of Nature Alberta and is led by Scientist Emeritus, Peter Achuff, who gives volunteers an overview of WLNP plant species and plant identification tips. Volunteers receive identification sheets and may count plants anywhere in the park over a 7-day period, sending their counts to Peter at the end of the week.

Bird Counts

Twice a year, at specified times in June and in December, the Waterton Lakes Spring and Winter Christmas Bird Counts take place. These volunteer counts are programs held in partnership with the Lethbridge Naturalist Society. Each year, expert volunteers Doug and Teresa Dolman meet the volunteers after the day`s count to share bird sightings and verify and tally results.

MAPS – Monitoring Avian Productivity & Survivorship

Over the course of the year a number of specialized bird counts are coordinated and led by Scientist Emeritus, Cyndi Smith. Trained volunteers help count bird species that migrate through, and reside in, Waterton Lakes National Park. The captured birds are handled with the utmost care as they are extricated from mist nets, measured, weighed and tagged.

Butterfly Count

In July volunteers were involved in a one day count of the butterfly species in Waterton Lakes National Park with the guidance of our two volunteer experts, Kim Pearson and Mira Vanhala. Volunteers carefully captured butterflies with special nets and took them to Mira and Kim who removed them from the net, held them gingerly and showed volunteers how to use a key to identify them. Parks Canada coordinators extended the day to partner with the Nature Conservancy (NCC) in the afternoon. Volunteers from both groups continued the count in a conservancy area called the Waterton Park Front, adjoining the park.

Appreciation Tea for Volunteers

Lead volunteer Lois Everett at the appreciation tea
Lead volunteer Lois Everett at the appreciation tea © Parks Canada

WLNP thanked our volunteers with an afternoon tea at the Waterton Firehall in September, complete with flowers, photo displays, tea and treats.
Special thanks were extended by Parks Canada to Waterton`s first lead volunteer, Lois Everett. She helped plan the revitalization of the native plant gardens and logged 78.5 hours in their restoration and upkeep! She also fielded questions from the public about the link between the native plant gardens and the restoration programs.

Lois logged additional hours in the restoration program this year volunteering in the "Wildflower and Grasses Seed Collection" and "Adopt-A-Patch”. Her combined hours for all the volunteer programs totalled over 100 hours! Thank you Lois, you are an absolutely wonderful volunteer and steward of Waterton Lakes National Park!

Scientists Emeritus

Scientist emeritus Peter Achuff putting up bat house Scientist emeritus Peter Achuff putting up bat house
© Parks Canada

Parks Canada Waterton would like to recognize the incredible 1287 volunteer hours contributed this year by our two wonderful Scientists’ Emeritus, Peter Achuff and Cyndi Smith. These recently retired biologists previously worked for Parks Canada in WLNP.

Cyndi and Peter give generously of their time and expertise to volunteers and colleagues alike, as they continue their professional research studies, all for the love of Waterton Lakes National Park.

Special Events in WLNP

Volunteers helped to make the 2013 WLNP Special Events a success!

Special thanks to Chris Morrison, a well known local author and historian, who researched and put together an exhibit and walking tour about Walter Foster, a local builder who constructed many of Waterton’s historic cabins. The Foster Exhibit was on display this summer at the Waterton Natural History Association Bookstore.

The idea for an exhibit took shape when Chris was volunteering to digitalize local diaries and photographs for the Parks Canada Waterton’s Cultural Resource Management program. Between scanning documents, planning and putting together the exhibit and delivering a walking tour she logged an amazing 106.5 volunteer hours! Thank you Chris, for continuing to share your passion for the history and people of Waterton!

Volunteers and Special Events

These Volunteers turned our special events into “welcoming and happening” places to be.

Astronomy clubs in the Perseid’s Meteor Shower event; helpers from cycling clubs at the Red Rock Family Cycling day; the hospitality of our Campground Hosts; media assistants packing camera gear; Parade Marshalls, directors, and participants in Waterton’s Canada Day Parade and celebrations, as well as the Astronomers and night owls that helped with the Canada Day Astronomy event.

Thank you to all our dedicated volunteers – you really do make a difference!