Listed below are inventory, monitoring, research and resource management initiatives being carried out in the park this year. It is only a partial listing. The park collaborates on a number of multi-agency initiatives. For further information on any of these projects, please contact Ecosystem Scientist Barb Johnston 403-859-5182.
Bear Rub Tree Monitoring Project
Bear Research Study © Parks Canada
The bear rub tree monitoring project is a joint pilot project in southwest Alberta, between Parks Canada, the Government of Alberta and the University of Alberta, with assistance from USGS in Montana.
It is a three-year project to monitor grizzly bears both locally and at ecosystem scales.
The program goal is to develop a cost-effective, efficient way to monitor grizzy populations, densities and distributions using non-invasive methods that engage the public and utilize local knowledge.
This pilot project differs from past efforts in that it monitors bear populations, relative density and distribution over time. Rather than using attractants to lure grizzly bears into a hair snag, it takes advantage of a natural bear behaviour - rubbing - to collect hair samples.
One of the great aspects of the rub method is that hair can be collected from a variety of sources (trees, fence lines, signposts), allowing us to survey ranch lands more effectively than in the past.
There are 180 rub trees set up in Waterton Lakes National Park, predominantly along hiking trails. People may have seen barbed wire on these trees during hikes. The wire does not harm the bears.
The study area for the project is Bear Management Area 6 - bounded by Highway 3 to the north, British Columbia to the west, Montana to the south and the edge of grizzly bear range to the east.
*No food-based lure or attractants are used in this study. Please do not disturb the study sites or collect the hair for us, as it need to be done within designated time intervals and collection must follow strict protocols.
Southwest Alberta Grizzly Monitoring: 2012 Project Update
Teaching Deer to be Deer
Gem, Fly, owner Chris Jobe, Jill and Gwen shepherding deer in Waterton © Parks Canada
Parks Canada is taking an innovative approach to rebuild the natural wariness among habituated mule deer in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Deer living within the community of Waterton have been a feature of Waterton Lakes National Park for generations.
Unfortunately, these deer have lost their natural wariness of people and can be aggressive toward visitors and their pets, particularly in spring. The goal is to ensure public safety and more natural deer behaviours, while maintaining quality wildlife viewing opportunities for visitors.
Parks Canada is using specially-trained border collies to shepherd these deer out of the community and to re-establish the natural wariness that deer should have for people and dogs.
The intent is not to keep deer out of the community entirely - rather to separate them from high concentrations of people during their spring fawning period when they are most aggressive; and to re-establish a more natural and safe situation when they inevitably return.
Video: Extraordinary Dog, Extraordinary Job
A printable version of the following list is also available (PDF, 380KB).
Restoring Whitebark & 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. This year, park staff will protect potential blister rust resistant seed trees from mountain pine beetles, collect seeds from those trees, and use prescribed fire to prepare a site for restoration work. Park staff and volunteers will again plant seedlings in 2011.
Project leader: Cyndi Smith, Ecosystem Scientist.
Sponsor: Parks Canada.
Life-History Variation of Wood Ticks
The wood tick has a wide geographic distribution that includes genetically distinct prairie and montane forms. The adult stage of the wood tick is principally responsible for transmitting disease to animals and humans in western North America. This project involves collecting wild ticks during the spring by using noninvasive tick drag or flagging techniques, taking them back to a laboratory and rearing them to produce ticks of all life stages. These ticks will be used in experiments to determine the effects of photoperiod, temperature, and age on adult and immature tick feeding and development. Waterton Lakes National Park is a crucial field site for this research because wood ticks have genetically distinct prairie and montane forms which have important biological differences.
Project leader: Dr. Timothy Lysyk.
Sponsors: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge Research Centre.
Acoustic and Mist Netting Survey of Bats
Waterton-Glacier Bat Inventory Project© Parks Canada
The objective of this project is to conduct a baseline bat inventory in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Acoustic ultrasound detectors, mist net capture and roost surveys are used to determine the bat species in Waterton-Glacier. Results will form baseline knowledge of bats prior to the projected arrival of White Nose Syndrome, a deadly fungal disease moving westward across North America. In 2011, park staff recorded 7 species of bats in the park, including 2 new species - eastern red bat and hoary bat. This was the first evidence that eastern red bats are resident in southwest Alberta in the summer. Researchers also discovered that the park is a significant north-south migration route for tree-roosting bats. This research is continuing in 2012, and is the first step in long-term monitoring of bat populations in the Peace Park.
Project leader: Dr. Cori Lausen, Birchdale Ecological Limited; Lisa Bate, Glacier National Park; Barb Johnston, Parks Canada.
Sponsors: Glacier National Park Fund, Birchdale Ecological Limited, Parks Canada.
Wolves, Elk, Grassland, Aspen and Fire
Wolves, Elk, Grassland, Aspen and Fire © Parks Canada
Native grasslands have been declining in Waterton since the 1880s with aspen trees replacing areas that grasslands used to occupy. Waterton Lakes National Park has been using the method of prescribed fire to help reduce aspen stands and restore grassland. This research will focus on the dynamics of fire, elk, and wolves in aspen and grassland communities in Waterton. Researchers will examine how prescribed fire influences regeneration of aspen trees, the degree that elk are able to control new aspen growth triggered by fire, and the role that wolves play in moderating this effect. The resulting data will improve our understanding of the relationships between fire, aspen, elk and wolves in the park, and how to effectively use fire to meet park management goals.
Project leader: Cristina Eisenberg, Department of Forest Resources, Oregan State University.
Sponsors: Parks Canada, Oregon State University.
Wood Tiger Moth Variation
The wood tiger moth occurs at mid to northerly latitudes throughout the globe and appears to be a common species here in Waterton. This research project is part of an international study comparing genetics and forewing coloration across this species’ range. Forewings are the only wings showing when the species is at rest. A predation experiment will use artificial paper moths with different colour wing morphologies to study if predation is acting as a selective force on forewing pattern. Waterton Lakes Natonal Park is important to this study as samples from the park have shown the greatest variability in forewing pattern. Project leaders:
Robert Hegna. Sponsor:
University of Jyvaskyla (Finland).
Fungi of Whitebark and Limber Pine
Like all trees, whitebark and limber pines require fungi associated with their root system for normal growth and survival. These fungi can enhance phosphorus and nitrogren uptake, increase drought tolerance, provide protection from pathogens and grazers, and are crucial to seedling establishment. Knowing what fungi are important will help us to improve our restoration efforts for these pines.
Project leader: Dr. Cathy Cripps, Montana State University.
Sponsor: Parks Canada.
Aquatic Community Surveys
This study will assess the impacts of introduced salmonids on native food webs in high elevation lakes so that restoration activities can be considered by Parks Canada. Research will involve sampling fish and plankton communities, and collecting sediment cores to perform lake sediment analyses. These analyses will inform the limnological history of high elevation lakes sampled and help infer changes in the native food web structure following the historical introduction of trout. By comparing fish and fishless lakes, the project will also infer impacts of introduced top predators. By integrating current and existing surveys, a framework will be built to prioritize lakes for restoration. This project will help guide management actions to restore aquatic ecosystems in the park. Project leader:
Queenie Gray. Sponsor:
Parks Canada, Concordia University.
Genetics of North American Birds
The objective of this study is to use DNA markers to study populations of chickadees, woodpeckers and gray jays and examine how historical movements of these birds led to the way they move around today. Comparing these different species will provide insight into how these birds select and use specialized habitat and of the genetics of high-latitude species. Field work is taking place over several years at various sites in Canada and the western United States. The birds are caught using mistnets and small blood samples are taken for DNA analysis.
Project leader: Dr. Theresa Burg, University of Lethbridge.
Sponsor: University of Lethbridge.
Examination of the Altyn Formation
The mountains that make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park are part of the Purcell Supergroup. Before mountains are built, the rock that makes up these mountains are first laid down as layers of sediments, creating rock formations. The aim of this research is to closely examine the sedimentology of the Altyn formation and overlying mudstone along the length of their exposure from Waterton Lakes to St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park, MT. Research will examine how the Altyn formation was created, determine the dominant controls of the sedimentary system and how impacts such as earthquakes, storms and tsunamis may have affected the setting.
Project Leaders: Dr. Brian Pratt and Roy Rule, University of Saskatchewan.
Sponsor: University of Saskatchewan.
Habitat Use, Movement, Vigilance and Survival of Elk in Southwest Alberta
The main goal of this study is to investigate how activities such as hunting, tourism, ATVs, and road traffic can modify elk behaviour. Waterton Lakes represents a control site for the study where hunting or ATVs are not allowed. This study is part of the on-going research related to montane elk in which Waterton Lakes National Park is a partner.
Project Lead: Simone Ciuti, University of Alberta.
Sponsors: Parks Canada, University of Alberta.
Mapping Five-needle Pines
Mapping Five-needle Pines © Parks Canada
Researchers will map the distribution of whitebark and limber pines across the entire provincial range. Field surveys will include collecting accurate location information and a measurement of the proportion of each species relative to other species at sample locations. Satellite imagery will be used to map the data collected. Mapping the distributions of these species will help prioritize conservation and restoration efforts in Waterton Lakes National Park and throughout the province.
Project leader: Dr. Greg McDermid, University of Calgary.
Sponsor: Parks Canada.
Native Grassland Restoration
The park is faced with the challenge of restoring three priority human-disturbed sites to fescue grassland. To date, most efforts to restore this type of grassland have been unsuccessful. As the amount of disturbance to fescue grasslands from industry increases, researching and developing techniques to mitigate impacts is crucial. At these three sites, Waterton is working with Glacier National Park and the University of Alberta to develop a method to restore fescue grasslands. Planting and site monitoring will be ongoing for several years.
Project leaders: Cyndi Smith, Ecosystem Scientist, Parks Canada, Dr. Anne Naeth, University of Alberta.
Sponsor: Parks Canada.
Assessing the Role of Cattle-Elk Interactions Producing Infectious Diseases in Southwest Alberta
Cattle and elk have the ability to pass along diseases to one another such as Johne’s disease. This research will investigate the structure of cattle-elk interactions in the Waterton area to better understand the dynamics and impacts of disease on both the cattle industry and elk populations. Field work will involve observing elk and their interactions with cattle, and collecting fecal samples. Waterton Lakes National Park is directly adjacent to neighbouring ranch lands meaning the ungulates of this area, such as elk, travel through livestock operations. This makes Waterton Lakes National Park a great place to examine how, and how frequently livestock and elk exchange diseases.
Project leaders: Dr. Karin Orsel & Dr. Mathieu Pruvot, Vet. Med. University of Calgary.
Sponsor: University of Calgary.
Terrestrial Arthropod Biodiversity Survey
Arthropod Bio-Blitz© Parks Canada
Initiated in 2005, this Bio-Blitz has contributed immensely to the baseline knowledge of park arthropods by focusing survey activities on selected habitats and engaging experts in Canada to provide authoritative identifications of the collected material. This on-going work continually adds to a database of species collected in the park and their specific localities. Entomologists regularly return to Waterton to collect during different seasons and in different habitats.
Project leader: Dr. David Langor, Canadian Forest Service.
Sponsor: Canadian Forest Service.
Living With Wildlife
Summer staff monitor and help manage wildlife “jams” along the parkways. They also educate about wildlife viewing and wildlife-human interactions to reduce behaviours which can lead to wildlife problems. The idea is to proactively deal with wildlife conflict issues before they have a chance to develop. Staff will focus on educating visitors to not feed and approach deer within the townsite of Waterton. This is part of a larger strategy to deal with aggressive deer in Waterton.
Project leader: Jon Stuart-Smith, Human Wildlife Conflict Specialist, Waterton Lakes National Park.
Non-native Plant Management
The priority for this program is to eradicate, control and prevent seed production by non-native plants that threaten park vegetation communities or the economic interests of park neighbours. To reduce these invasive non-native plants, summer staff hand pull them or, in certain situations, spray them with approved herbicides. Where herbicides are used, the public is advised by means of small signs.
Project leader: Edwin Knox, Restoration Program Coordinator.
Northern Leopard Frog Monitoring
Once the most widespread frog in North America, northern leopard frogs began to decline in the mid 1960s. They have not been seen in the park since 1980. Since 2007 park staff have re-introduced over 75,000 northern leopard frog tadpoles to the park. This is a first step toward re-establishment of a self-sustaining population of this frog in Waterton. The project is part of wider inter-agency initiatives in Alberta relative to the northern leopard frog as a species at risk.
Project leader: Barb Johnston, Ecosystem Scientist, Waterton Lakes National Park.
Native Thistles in Western Canada
Cirsium scariosum is a native thistle which occurs in Canada in southwestern Alberta, southeastern British Columbia, and as a highly disjunct population in Mingan Archipelago National Park in Quebec. This project will provide information on location, population size, habitat and threats to this thistle. One interesting find is that a non-native biocontrol beetle is affecting seed production of this, and other native thistles, in the park.
Project leader: Dr. Peter Achuff, Parks Canada Scientist Emeritus.
Southwest Alberta Montane Research Project
This major multi-collaborator project will describe wildlife movements and habitat use in southwest Alberta. While the project focuses on elk, it also examines wolves, bears and cougars. Research will look at migratory patterns, seasonal ranges and habitat use, location of critical habitat, important seasons in life cycles, and predator-prey relationships. Researchers will also assess the effects of human activities on wildlife in the study area. The park will serve as a comparison area where no resource extraction occurs. Park Contact:
Barb Johnston, Ecosystem Scientist. Sponsors:
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Shell Canada, Alberta Tourism, Parks & Recreation, Parks Canada, University of Alberta, University of Calgary, and others.
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