Top 10 conservation stories
National parks protect some of Canada’s most diverse and spectacular natural environments. The breathtaking scenery and inspiring natural surroundings in national parks provide the perfect setting for tuning into nature, learning about it, appreciating it, respecting it and pledging to protect it.
In order to ensure Kootenay National Park remains healthy and unimpaired for future generations, Parks Canada is working to maintain or restore ecological health. Here are some of our success stories:
Modelling for bighorn sheep habitat and movement corridors
Conducting a cutthroat trout inventory
Restoring the Ecological Role of Fire
Reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions
Recovering a Species at Risk
Monitoring carnivores with cameras
Restoring aquatic connectivity
Interpreting restoration at Redstreak
Monitoring wildlife on Highway 93S
Bighorn sheep © Parks Canada
The Village of Radium Hot Springs and surrounding lands are critical winter range for bighorn sheep. This habitat, largely low-elevation open forests and grasslands, has suffered from forest in-growth and human activity. Consequently, restoration of critical sheep winter range and associated open forest and grassland ecosystems is a management priority in Kootenay National Park. To help determine the most strategic areas to conduct habitat restoration, Parks Canada has been testing and developing bighorn sheep habitat and movement corridor models. These models provide a valuable tool to help prioritize restoration areas within traditional winter, summer and lambing ranges, as well as the historic migration corridors between these seasonal ranges.
Cutthroat trout © Parks Canada
Westslope cutthroat trout are native to the mountain national parks and are declining significantly throughout their range in British Columbia and were recently listed as a species of Special Concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. A DNA inventory in Kootenay National Park showed that cutthroat trout are largely occupying traditional habitat, with the exception of lakes. Hybridization with rainbow trout is one of the most pressing threats facing the species. Hybridization has been found in all areas, with the exception of the north end of the park. Future restoration of cutthroat trout to Olive Lake is under consideration. Investing in science, including in the aquatic realm, helps park managers clearly identify priorities and better target conservation efforts.
Engaging youth in the Redstreak Restoration area © Parks Canada
An important part of Parks Canada's mandate is to encourage environmental stewardship. One flagship example is the work done by Kootenay National Park wildlife staff and co-op students responsible for delivering environmental education presentations to students in the Rocky Mountain School District since the late 1990s. Topics have included grassland ecosystems, the Redstreak restoration project, badgers, bighorn sheep, rubber boas, wolves, elk, wolverine and birds, to name a few. Audiences have ranged from Kindergarten to Grade 7 classes in Invermere, Edgewater, Canal Flats, Kimberley and Golden, and have extended beyond the school system to include groups such as the Head Banger Tours in Radium. In the last five years, well over a thousand wildlife “stewards” have taken part in sixty presentations.
Bighorn sheep in the Redstreak Restoration area © Parks Canada
Over the last 15 years, Parks Canada has been working with partners to restore increasingly rare open forest and grassland ecosystems in the Columbia Valley. The Redstreak Restoration Project has used forest thinning followed by frequent low-intensity prescribed fires to reverse the impact of decades of fire suppression and forest in-growth in Kootenay National Park. Bighorn sheep and other grassland-dependent species are benefitting from this work. Restored habitat is used by the entire Radium sheep herd which is estimated at 150-200 animals. Average use by individual sheep has gone from 3.5 days/year (pre-treatment, 2002) to 17.4 days/year (2009); although use has varied considerably from year-to-year, results show it has increased significantly since the initial treatment. The success of this project has been driven by the collaborative efforts of a wide range of stakeholders including the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Osprey Communications and the Village of Radium Hot Springs.
Highway 93 South © Parks Canada
Parks Canada is taking action to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions along Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park. A mitigation plan was prepared and is under implementation, thanks to Action on the Ground project funding. A reduction in wildlife mortality is anticipated through innovative measures such as roadway design, highway fencing, crossing structures and reduced speed zones. The first mitigation phase will see fencing and structures built along a short stretch of highway near Dolly Varden Day Use Area in 2012. Park managers are working with partners and stakeholders to develop and implement a long-term plan to increase visitor understanding, engage Canadians in stewardship activities, reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, improve habitat connectivity and enhance biodiversity.
Taking action to address wildlife-vehicle collisions is an example of proactive conservation at work: In 2001 after the Mount Shanks wildfire, Parks Canada biologists predicted that post-fire terrain would create highly desirable and productive habitat for bears, elk and other wildlife in the park roughly 10 years after the fire. Implementing protective measures today will go a long way to reducing future highway mortality in Kootenay National Park.
Badger © R. Klafki
Badgers are an important part of the grassland ecosystem and are an endangered species in British Columbia, mainly due to highway mortality and habitat loss. Through predation, they keep rodent populations low and their burrows provide dens for several species of mammals and birds. In the 1990s and early 2000s, badger numbers in the East Kootenays declined. Beginning in 1996, Parks Canada partnered in a full scale radio-telemetry tracking study of badgers to assess population trends, habitat needs and the effects of human activities. Results indicated that badger numbers in the East Kootenays were very low, with about 60 breeding adults. Beginning in 2002, “problem” badgers from Montana were translocated to British Columbia to augment the northern badger population, extending into Kootenay National Park. Efforts were successful; three-and-a-half years after starting translocations, the badger population is on the rise. While the badger work extends beyond Kootenay National Park, Parks Canada recognizes the importance of badgers and their associations with the rare open forest/grassland ecosystems. Without a regional collaborative effort, maintaining even ephemeral use of the park by badgers and stabilizing badger populations in south-east British Columbia and restoring biodiversity would not be possible. As part of the National Badger Recovery Team, Parks Canada is working with researchers, private land owners, First Nations, industry and other government agencies to increase the likelihood that badgers will continue to call Kootenay National Park home.
Remote camera captures wolves feeding on a carcass © Parks Canada
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but capturing wary wildlife on film can be tricky. As part of a carnivore monitoring project, motion-activated cameras were installed in various locations throughout Kootenay National Park to provide park managers with a better understanding of its wild residents. Mounted on trees or encased in rock cairns in both frontcountry and backcountry locations, the “camera traps” are a non-invasive, relatively inexpensive research technique compared to traditional methods like radio-collaring.
Tracking carnivore populations over the long-term may provide insight into why carnivores are present in some particular areas of the park and absent in others. This type of information can alert us to potential ecological problems in the park that need to be addressed. In the near future, Canadians will have the opportunity to view and learn about the stories behind these “wild images” on the Kootenay National Park web site.
Culvert restoration at Nixon Creek © Parks Canada
Imagine—you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B and there’s something in your way. For humans, this could mean changing plans or taking another route. Fish don’t have this luxury. A recent inventory of culverts along park roadways in the mountain national parks found that the majority were blocking or partially blocking fish movement.
Parks Canada is using Action on the Ground funding to help give fish and other aquatic species a fin up in Kootenay National Park. Culvert restorations restore fish access to important habitats for spawning, rearing, feeding and overwintering. Restoration work is complete on several culverts in the park, including those at Nixon, Sinclair, Km 54, Bubbling Spring, Vermilion and Dolly Varden. While not as majestic as the large carnivores like cougars and wolves, fish play an important part in overall health in Kootenay National Park.
Interpreting fire in the Redstreak restoration area © Parks Canada
In 2003, Parks Canada initiated a multi-year ecosystem management project in the south end of Kootenay National Park to help restore fire-maintained grassland and open forest ecosystems in the Columbia Valley. The project is part of a cooperative, regional ecosystem restoration program to restore open forest and grasslands that will also benefit bighorn sheep winter range in the Radium Hot Springs area.
The Redstreak Restoration Trail is an important part of this project and features a new learning experience near the Redstreak Campground. An interpretive brochure and interpretive panels feature stories of the restoration and its benefits to plant and wildlife communities in the Columbia Valley in British Columbia, including bighorn sheep and the endangered American badger. We welcome you to immerse yourself in Mother Nature’s classroom.
Monitoring wildlife on Highway 93S
Conservation work isn’t only about getting things done—it’s also about following up on initiatives to ensure that the decisions made to restore or make improvements to the ecosystem are having their desired effect. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is through monitoring, even on a busy road like Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park.
Currently, Kootenay National Park staff are studying wildlife use along Highway 93 South. Information collected this year will be compared with data collected in 2012, after the installation of highway mitigations measures in the Dolly Varden area to see how patterns of roadside animal occurrences change.