Waterton Lakes National Park

Ecological Initiatives

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

For further information on any of these projects, please email Barb Johnston or call 403-859-5182.

Long-toed Salamander Movements, Habitat Use

Long-toed Salamander Movements, Habitat Use Long-toed Salamanders
© Parks Canada

In 2008 four amphibian crossing structures were installed under the park’s entrance road to mitigate road mortality on the Linnet Lake long-toed salamander population.

Road mortality surveys, population estimates and tunnel use will be used to assess the efficacy of Parks Canada’s mitigation 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 Cameras Monitor Wildlife Remote Cameras
© Parks Canada

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

A regionwide 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 speciesspecific detection probabilities and occupancy, determine statistical power for detecting trends with different sampling designs, and 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.

Spotted Knapweed Biocontrol Battles

Spotted Knapweed Spotted Knapweed
© Parks Canada

Spotted knapweed is probably the most worrisome introduced plant found in Waterton Lakes because of control challenges and its ability to out-compete native species.

In 2012, we added biocontrol to mechanical removal and chemical control. Two species of weevils were introduced in the park; one targets the plants’ roots and another attacks the seed heads.

We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of this new approach.

Project leader: Robert Sissons.
Sponsor: Parks Canada.

Shepherding Deer

Shepherding Deer Shepherding Deer
© Parks Canada

2013 marks the third year of a trial 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

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

Recent studies show a high loss of whitebark and limber pine in Waterton. Whitebark and limber pines in the Canadian Rockies are threatened by a variety of factors. These include an introduced blister rust, fire suppression, mountain pine beetle and associated replacement by more shade tolerant trees, and by rapid global climate change.

2013 saw the first spring planting of limber pine saplings, and fall plantings will continue of both species.

Project leader: Robert Sissons.
Sponsor: Parks Canada.

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 in western Canada, including Waterton Lakes National Park.

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

This will 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 potential differences in biological characteristics that influence pathogen transmission.

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

Monitoring Grizzy Populations

Monitoring Grizzly Populations Monitoring Grizzly Populations
© Parks Canada

A four-year pilot project is underway to monitor grizzly bears 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 noninvasive 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.

Elk Home Ranges

Researchers will investigate the reasons behind development of elk home ranges and how different human uses may affect elk distribution.

They will use radio-collared elk and forage quality at feeding sites to evaluate whether models can predict new home-range models based upon underlying rules of movement.

A valid model that can predict development of stable elk home ranges would give managers a useful tool to predict how future land-use changes may affect the movement and distribution of elk in the greater park ecosystem.

Project leaders: Dana Seidel and Dr. Mark Boyce, U of Alberta.
Sponsors: University of Alberta, Southwest Alberta Montane Research Project.

Emerging Pathogen in Tiger Salamanders

ATV (Ambystoma Tigrinum Virus) is a new pathogen of tiger salamanders that has the potential to cause devastating losses to this key component of aquatic biodiversity. The primary purpose of this project is to determine geographical variation in the presence of ATV in populations of tiger salamanders in Southern Alberta.

It will also assess seasonal transmission dynamics of the virus in tiger salamanders.

Project lead: Stephanie Crowshoe.
Sponsors: University of Lethbridge.

Monitoring Wolf Numbers in SW Alberta

Monitoring Wolf Numbers in SW Alberta Monitoring Wolf Numbers 
© Parks Canada

The goal of this study is to develop a long-term region-wide (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.

Patch occupancy modelling will then 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 may be responsible for adaptation and mitigation.

A decision 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 Arthropod Biodiversity Survey

Initiated in 2005, this Biodiversity Survey has contributed immensely to the baseline knowledge of park arthropods by focusing survey activities on selected habitats and engaging taxonomic experts to provide authoritative identifications of the collected material.

This work continually adds to a database of species present in the park and their specific localities. This year will sample ground fauna using pitfall traps.

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

Alpine Larch Genetic Variation and Structure

Alpine Larch Genetic Variation and Structure Alpine Larch 
© Parks Canada

Recent studies have shown that alpine larch is poorly equipped to adapt to changes in climate because of its limited genetic variation.

Collecting foliage from populations throughout the species’ range will ascertain levels of genetic variation and patterns of genetic diversity.

Researchers hope to identify genetically unique populations that may harbour different adaptive features. The results will assist forest managers manage and conserve the species.

Project leader: Marie Vance.
Sponsor: University of Victoria.

Yellow-bellied Marmot Population Survey

The main goal of this study is to provide a solid estimate of yellow-bellied marmot numbers that can be used to determine the status of the species in Alberta where it is listed as “data-deficient”. The study will use historic records and habitat selection evaluation to focus noninvasive surveys for individuals or sign (burrows).

Researchers will evaluate regional distribution and persistence of the species, determine if there is a decline or increase in the range, estimate current population size, and determine if habitat connectivity has been compromised by human developments.

Project lead: Peter Neuhaus.
Sponsors: University of Calgary.