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Ecological Initiatives in 2014

Listed below are some of the inventory, monitoring, research and resource management initiatives being carried out in the park this year, including a number of multi-agency initiatives.

For more information, please email Barb Johnston (ecosystem scientist) or call 403-859-5182.

Long-toed Salamander Movements, Habitat Use

A long-toed salamander Long-toed Salamanders
© Parks Canada

In 2008, four amphibian crossing structures were installed under the park’s entrance road (near the Visitor Centre) to reduce deaths of long-toed salamanders when crossing the road to and from Linnet Lake.

Road mortality surveys, population estimates and tunnel use will be used to assess the effectiveness of Parks Canada’s efforts.

Individual salamanders will be monitored used PIT (Passive Inductor Transponder) tags to determine the habitat use of migrating, dispersing, and foraging salamanders and characterize hibernating sites.

Project lead: Matt Adams.
Sponsors: University of Alberta, Parks Canada.

Remote Cameras Monitor Wildlife 

Remote camera Remote Cameras
© Parks Canada

Many of the park’s wildlife are rarely seen, which makes monitoring for changes in numbers and distribution challenging.

A regional project is developing a sampling method using motion-triggered cameras and occupancy modelling for monitoring wildlife in protected areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

This project will estimate species-specific probabilities of detection and occupancy and determine statistical power for detecting trends with different sampling designs. They will then implement a standardized approach to monitoring wildlife and human-use trends with remote cameras.

Project lead: Robin Steenweg, University of Montana and Barb Johnston, Parks Canada.
Sponsors: Parks Canada, University of Montana, Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation.

Biocontrol of Non-Native Plants

Parks Canada has added a new tool in their integrated management of non-native plants. 

Spotted Knapweed Spotted Knapweed
© Parks Canada

In 2012, two species of weevils were introduced into Waterton to control spotted knapweed. One targets plant roots and the other attacks seed heads.

This year, we will introduce a biocontrol species that targets hounds tongue. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of this new approach.

Project leader: Robert Sissons.
Sponsor: Parks Canada.

Shepherding Deer

A dog handler and her dogs Shepherding Deer
© Parks Canada

2014 marks the fourth year of a project to determine if trained dogs can help create more natural behaviour in deer.

A dog handler uses shepherding dogs to gently move deer out of the community during fawning season and to rebuild the natural wariness that deer have for people and dogs.

The objective is to ensure public safety and protect wildlife, while maintaining quality wildlife viewing for visitors. So far the technique has proven to be very effective.

Project Leaders: Parks Canada, Waterton Community Deer Advisory Group and Chris Jobe (dog handler).

Video: Extraordinary Dog, Extraordinary Job

Monitoring Five-Needle Pine Populations 

This summer field crews will be covering the Alberta range of five-needle pines (whitebark and limber pine) to conduct a population health survey.

Restoring Whitebark and Limber Pines Restoring Whitebark and Limber Pines
© Parks Canada

Every five years we monitor recruitment, survivorship and infestation rate by blister rust. This non-native rust is one of the key reasons that five-needle pine populations are considered to be at risk of extinction in the Canadian Rockies.

Project leader: Brenda Dobson, Parks Canada.
Sponsors: Parks Canada, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

Video: Saving Waterton's Whitebark Pines

Tracking Ticks

The Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick are pest and disease vectors in western Canada. Ticks are collected from a number of locations and habitats, including Waterton Lakes National Park.

The project will determine numbers of these two species throughout their geographic distribution and relate this to environmental variables. This will allow future evaluation of continued range expansion and changes in population density. 

It will also be useful to produce risk maps for ticks and tick-borne disease transmission. Laboratory tests will determine the extent of genetic differences among tick populations, which may provide insights into differences in biological characteristics that influence transmission of the pathogens.

Project leader: Tim Lysyk.
Sponsor: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Monitoring Grizzy Populations

Grizzly bear Monitoring Grizzly Populations
© Parks Canada

This year is the final year of this pilot project in southwestern Alberta.

The overall program is to develop a cost-effective, efficient way to monitor grizzly bear populations, densities and distributions over time using non-invasive methods that engage the public and use local knowledge.

This project takes advantage of natural bear behaviour (rubbing) to collect grizzly bear hair samples. Barbed wire has been placed on over 800 natural rub objects throughout the study area. Hair is collected from the barbed wire and sent for genetic analysis to identify unique individual bears using the area.

Project lead: Andrea Morehouse, AESRD; Barb Johnston, Parks Canada.
Sponsors: Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Parks Canada, Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation, University of Alberta.

Monitoring Wolf Numbers in SW Alberta

Wolf Monitoring Wolf Numbers 
© Parks Canada

The goal of this study is to develop a long-term southern Alberta non-invasive monitoring program for wolves.

Rendezvous site surveys and subsequent DNA analyses will be coupled with hunter surveys to determine where wolves can be found in the region.

Modelling will be employed to estimate the number of packs, wolf abundance and number of breeding pairs, which could then be tracked through time.

Project leader: Dave Ausband.
Sponsors: Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

Assessing Carbon Storage Potential and Management in National Parks

This project will assess how the establishment and management of protected areas contribute to climate change mitigation.

Lake cores will be used to calculate total carbon storage and rates of change under different climate scenarios.

Researchers will evaluate strategies for enhancing carbon storage within protected areas. A survey will also assess the state of carbon mitigation knowledge among Parks Canada staff working in positions that are responsible for mitigation. A support system will be developed that can be used to rank alternatives.

Project leaders: Marlow Pellatt, Parks Canada, Tommy Rodengen, Simon Fraser University.
Sponsors: Simon Fraser University, Parks Canada.

Terrestrial Invertebrate Biodiversity Survey

Initiated in 2005, this survey has contributed immensely to the baseline knowledge of park terrestrial invertebrates. Focusing survey activities on selected habitats and engaging taxonomic experts to provide authoritative identifications of the collected material is the key to its success.

This work continually adds to a database of park species and their specific localities. This year we will continue to sample ground fauna using pitfall traps, as well as surveys trageting earthworms.

Project leader: Dr. David Langor, Canadian Forest Service.
Sponsor: Canadian Forest Service.

Using Fire to Restore Grasslands
Using fire to restore grassland Using fire to restore grasslands
© Parks Canada

Decades of fire suppression in the park has had many ecological consequences, including the loss of native grasslands through encroachment of aspen and shrubs. This has cascading effects through the ecosystem.

To meet our restoration goals, we continue to actively reintroduce carefully planned and controlled fires to the grasslands to restore grassland communities. We are also monitoring the severity of fires, response of grasslands to elk browsing, and the effectiveness of various prescribed fires.

Project Lead: Scott Murphy and Cristina Eisenberg.
Sponsors: Parks Canada and Oregon State University. 

Wolverines
Wolverine Wolverine
© Parks Canada

Because wolverines are rare and move widely within very large home ranges, there is little information about how abundant they are and where they occur across their range. Surveys have begun to fill this gap in the data.

In 2014-2015, non-invasive genetic sampling and camera 'trapping' will be used to develop models of the distribution of wolverines in the Alberta portion of the Crown of the Continent.

As well, researchers will identify critical corridors and key linkage zones for this species.

Project lead: Tony Clevenger.
Sponsors: Western Transportation Institute-Montana State University.

Tracing the Spread of European Earthworms

This project investigates the invasive potential of non-native earthworms in North America. There are no native earthworms in most of Canada due to their extirpation during Wisconsin glaciations. European earthworms were likely introduced by European settlers and are now found in many parts of the country.

Recent research indicates that exotic earthworms can negatively affect native plants, songbirds and invertebrates. Researchers are examining two key invasive earthworm species (Lumbricus terrestris and Lumbricus rubellus) which have different life histories, dispersal abilities and ecologies. Waterton is one of five sites being sampled along a 300 km north-south gradient from Calgary to Montana.

Project lead: Erin Cameron, University of Helsinki; Andreas Klein, University of Goettingen.