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Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada

Ecological Monitoring

Identifying plants in an alpine study plot.
© Parks Canada

Parks Canada has a legal mandate to maintain or improve the ecological integrity of each national park. For Kluane National Park and Reserve this means ensuring the continuing health of its ecosystems – glaciers, icefields and fresh water, alpine tundra, and forests. Ecological monitoring is tracking changes to ecosystem health over time. An ecosystem is made up of countless living and non-living parts, all interconnect-ed. Choosing the right parts to monitor is critical. If a problem is detected by monitoring, it may reflect an issue with overall ecosystem health, and park managers will consider actions to address it.


The Kluane Monitoring Framework

Park monitoring is not new: staff have counted Dall sheep since 1973. But in order to capture a fuller picture of ecological health, Kluane’s monitoring framework was created in 2008, following public meetings in Haines Junction and Burwash.

Within the framework, measures are the specific items being monitored to see if they change over time. Each measure belongs to one of the following categories:

  • Biodiversity describes the living parts of the ecosystem – animals and plants.
  • Processes are the ways the parts interact in a healthy ecosystem, e.g. climate, food webs, fire.
  • Stressors are issues impacting the ecosystem, e.g. invasive species, climate change.

Ecosystems

Tundra

Percentage of park area: 7% 

Dall sheep
© Parks Canada/Sarah Davidson
Measures for Biodiversity
  • Dall sheep
  • Mountain goat
  • Plants
Measures for Stressors
  • Shrub / tree encroachment
Forests

Percentage of park area: 10% 

spruce cones
© Parks Canada/Fritz Mueller
Measures for Biodiversity
  • Moose
  • Songbirds
  • Ground squirrels
Measures for Processes
  • Fire frequency
  • Spruce bark beetle
  • Forest structure
  • Forest composition
Freshwater, Glaciers & Icefields

Percentage of park area: 83%

Kokanee salmon
© Parks Canada/Sarah Davidson
Measures for Biodiversity
Measures for Processes
  • Water flow
  • Water quality
  • Temperature in spawning ground
  • Area of glaciers
  • Kaskawulsh glacier change
Measures for Stressors
  • Fish Harvest

Cultural Reintegration

obsidian
© Parks Canada/Fritz Mueller

Unique to Kluane among national parks is Cultural Reintegration as an aspect of ecological health. In the 1940s, people from the Champagne and Aishihik and Kluane First Nations were forced from their land after establishment of the Kluane Game Sanctuary. Humans, who were part of the ecosystem as it had existed for thousands of years, were suddenly no longer there – a loss of ecological integrity.

Measures are being developed. The Healing Broken Connections project, culture camps and use of Southern Tutchone in park signs and maps are examples of steps towards reintegration.

Thresholds and Ratings

Doctors will only prescribe drugs when a patient’s blood pressure is over a certain level – a threshold – and when they know the high reading is not just a “blip”. In the same way, monitoring ecologists need to draw the line between normal variability and a serious problem needing intervention. Yellow thresholds show the extent of the healthy range for a measure. A measure outside the red threshold indicates serious trouble – and a need for intervention.

Parks Canada has devised a rating system for the condition of each measure:

Green dot, Good
Good
Yellow triangle, Fair
Fair
Red square, Poor
Poor

Trends are shown with arrows:

up arrow
Improving
Stable arrow

Stable

Down arrow
Declining

Look for these symbols in the State of the Park Report (2008) and in future State of the Park assessments.

Duke River Moose
red square, down arrow

Moose in the Duke River area in the park have been counted every year since 1982. Until about 1990 the population showed normal variation, which allowed ecologists to define the yellow and red thresholds. But since then the population has trended downwards, well below the red threshold.

Graph showing moose population trend

Why? Maybe the moose moved elsewhere? Research was needed. A 2011 survey by Parks Canada, the Yukon Government and the Kluane First Nation confirmed that moose numbers were low both inside and outside the park. The partners, along with the local communities, are currently discussing strategies for increasing moose in the region. Working together is key to ensuring ecological health.

The Reality of Monitoring

Monitoring sounds simple – you count things. But to do it right, to capture variations over time and place, is labour intensive and costly.

Forests after spruce beetle

Measuring tree diameter in a forest plot
Measuring tree diameter in a forest plot
© Parks Canada

To monitor the recovery of the forest after the spruce bark beetle outbreak, 50 separate plots were set up across the Park. That took 1000 person hours; fortunately, 160 of those hours were worked by volunteers, including First Nations youth. The plots will be re-measured every 5 to 10 years.


Wood Frogs
Youth volunteers monitoring a frog pond
Recording water temperature at a frog pond
© Parks Canada

Wood frogs are very sensitive to pollution, disease and climate change so they are a very good indicator of wetland health. But not enough was known about the timing of reproduction. The eyes and ears of three local families helped park staff determine when frogs call for mates and lay eggs.



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