Badger Conservation in Kootenay National Park
What is the American Badger?
The American Badger is a nocturnal member of the weasel family. Low-slung, with short, powerful legs and impressive claws, this animal was "made to dig".
Its front claws are long and stout for ploughing through soil, while its hind claws are shorter and flattened for shovelling it away. A badger can dig itself a hole in minutes!
The badger has brownish or greyish fur, with a white stripe running from its shoulder to the tip of its nose, and dark markings on its face. Males, larger than females, weigh up to 14 kilograms.
One of four subpecies of American Badger, Taxidea taxus jeffersonii, occurs in Canada only in British Columbia's dry interior. Badgers are found in grasslands and farms and yet are not strictly grassland animals as they have been found to use forested and alpine sites in British Columbia including Kootenay National Park of Canada.
The badger is one of Canada's few grassland carnivores. In fact, it's the only carnivore that burrows after and eats other tunnelling animals. So badgers help control ground squirrel, mice and vole populations, playing an important role in grasslands ecosystems.
Badgers can use hundreds of burrows within their home range as they search for food and mates.
When badgers dig - in pursuit of prey or to excavate a burrow-they also improve the soil conditions for various plants. In addition to this, the large burrows they create provide shelter to other wild animals like burrowing owls and snakes.
Yet this important wildlife species is declining in British Columbia. The reasons include fragmentation and loss of habitat, a decrease in prey species, and death caused directly by human activities.
Badgers like to live in open valley bottoms - the same places humans like to establish cities, roads, farms and orchards. Suitable badger habitat is being lost as a result, along with prey species like ground squirrels. And the increasing human activity-from vehicle traffic to farming operations-means more badgers die from vehicle collisions and even deliberate persecution as "nuisance animals."
Recent studies show that the British Columbia badger population has dropped to fewer than 200 adults. COSEWIC responded by listing the jeffersonii subspecies of American badger as endangered in 2000.
The key to helping any species survive is to maintain the ecosystem that provides it with food, shelter and other life necessities. Yet the badger has not been studied much in British Columbia, so questions remain regarding its needs and how best to restore populations.
The East Kootenay Badger Project, with Parks Canada as one of the partners, aims to find the answers. Initiated in 1995, this exciting long term study of badger ecology and distribution in the East Kootenays, including Kootenay National Park, is Canada's first intensive radio telemetry-based study of badgers.
The project involves following badgers fitted with radio transmitters and mapping their travels. Thirty-two badgers have been radio-tagged so far, and their movements followed to determine:
- movement rates and home range size;
- patterns of habitat use and dispersal;
- birth rates and reproductive success; and
- causes of death.
The East Kootenay Badger Project also works with landowners in order to increase the number of badgers maintained on private property. These stewardship projects result in increased public awareness and appreciation of the badger, their prey and the ecosystems they call home.
The recovery actions are all important components of the strategy to restore British Columbia's American Badger populations.
Results of the East Kootenay Badger Project so far indicate that:
- Reproductive success is low, especially in the upper Columbia Valley,
- Only 50 percent of the study females have reproduced
- Twelve of the study badgers have died
- Causes of death include highway and train kills and predation by cougars and coyotes.