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

For more information, send us an email at pc.infopnwaterton-watertonnpinfo.pc@canada.ca or call 403-859-2224.

Ecological initiatives

Bat inventory

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emerging disease that is devastating populations of bats while they hibernate. The disease has now been documented both to the east (Ontario) and west (Washington) of Waterton, creating an urgent need to get baseline information on the distribution and relative abundance of bat species within the park.

Before White-nose syndrome began to decimate bat populations, little was known about bats in the mountain national parks. As a world leader in conservation, Parks Canada developed its own national bat monitoring protocol consistent with the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat) and is working closely with Environment Canada and other partners to ensure that our information will help inform larger conservation initiatives and the recovery of endangered bat species.

Parks Canada staff are using acoustic recording devices to detect and identify bats in areas throughout Waterton Lakes National Park. We are also assessing their winter use of the park and are partnering with biologists in Glacier National Park in Montana to monitor spring and fall bat migrations along the Belly and Waterton river travel corridors.

Project leader: Jennifer Carpenter and Helena Mahoney
Sponsor: Parks Canada

Range assessment

During the summer of 2016, we began conducting a rangeland health assessment of the Foothills Parkland Ecoregion of the park. The project goal is to determine the state of the aspen forest and fescue grassland ecosystem.

The assessment will provide a measurement of the roles that ungulates, non-native plants, and forest encroachment play in the maintenance of Foothills Parkland ecoregion, with particular focus on the foothills rough fescue ecosystem. The results of this work will be used to identify any areas of concern and inform future restoration activities.

Project leader: Robert Sissons 
Sponsor: Parks Canada

Northern leopard frog reintroduction

Northern leopard frogs made Waterton Lakes National Park their home, before they vanished. This frog, once widespread, started to disappear across Alberta in the 1970s and until recent translocation (introducing a species from an already wild population) efforts, had not been seen in Waterton since 1980. Extensive surveys of historic breeding sites and suitable habitat throughout the park were conducted in 2003. No sightings were made. The cause of their disappearance is unknown.

Northern leopard frogs are listed as a species of special concern under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA) and are designated as threatened under the Alberta Wildlife Act regulations.

With the cooperation of Grasslands National Park, Parks Canada started translocating northern leopard frogs to Waterton in 2015. Over two years, scientists collected 12 frog egg masses (approximately 42,000 eggs) from sites in Grasslands where the frog is abundant, and translocated them to three carefully selected ponds in Waterton. The eggs matured into northern leopard frogs and successfully bred a new generation of juvenile frogs in Waterton Lakes National Park in 2017 and 2018. This is a significant step toward re-establishing a self-sustaining population in the park. These efforts will continue for several years in pursuit of that goal.

Immediately following the September 2017 Kenow Wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park, the translocated frogs’ status was uncertain. Northern leopard frogs forage for insects on land and it’s likely some were killed by the wildfire in upland areas. Due to the hot and dry summer season, most of the frogs were probably close to their aquatic habitats during the fire. We know northern leopard frogs survived readily enough to breed in at least two locations in 2018 despite the Kenow Wildfire. Parks Canada confirmed their presence through on the ground observations and remote acoustic monitoring (audio recordings).

Northern leopard frogs, an important native species, once played a vital role in the park’s complex ecosystem. These, and other amphibians, are good indicators of the health of freshwater ecosystems.

Parks Canada’s northern leopard from initiative is one of several efforts to improve the species’ status in Alberta over the years. Lessons learned from our own and others’ efforts are giving the current reintroduction efforts the best chance of success.

The northern leopard frog reintroduction project is part of a Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) project, Rescue the Fescue, in Waterton Lakes National Park. CoRe projects are taking place throughout Parks Canada places with the overall purpose to achieve measurable conservation gains in a manner that engages and benefits society.

Project leaders: Kim Pearson 
Sponsor: Parks Canada

Monitoring wildlife using remote cameras

Many of the park’s wildlife are rarely seen, which makes monitoring for changes in numbers and distribution challenging. We are using motion-triggered cameras and occupancy modelling to monitoring wildlife in Waterton.

The community of Waterton is located in a critical pinch point between Upper Waterton Lake and the adjacent steep mountains. Cameras are also being used to determine how wildlife are travelling through this critical travel corridor as they move up and down the Waterton Valley.

The goal of the project is to provide information to aid in making decisions regarding wildlife movement through this area.

Project leaders: Jennifer Carpenter and Kim Pearson
Sponsor: Parks Canada

Biocontrol of non-native plants

Parks Canada has added a new tool in their integrated management of non-native plants.

In 2012, two species of weevils were introduced into Waterton to control spotted knapweed. One targets plant roots and the other attacks seed heads. These biocontrol insects are one more tool, in addition to mechanical and chemical methods, that we are using to control spotted knapweed.

In 2015, we also introduced a biocontrol species that targets hounds tongue and also augmented our efforts targeting spotted knapweed. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of this new approach.

Project leader: Robert Sissons 
Sponsor: Parks Canada

Restoring five-needle pine populations

Research and monitoring efforts 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.

Parks Canada staff are actively working to protect and restore these species. We protect potential blister rust resistant seed trees from mountain pine beetles, and collect their seeds. Again this summer, park staff and volunteers will plant the seedlings that have been grown from these seeds.

We are also using carefully planned prescribed fires to open the canopy in targeted areas to prepare them for planting.

Project leader: Robert Sissons, Parks Canada
Sponsors: Parks Canada, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

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, including Waterton Lakes National Park.

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

It will also 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 differences in biological characteristics that influence transmission of the pathogens.

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

Terrestrial invertebrate biodiversity survey

Initiated in 2005, this survey has contributed immensely to the baseline knowledge of park terrestrial invertebrates. Focusing survey activities on selected habitats and engaging taxonomic experts to provide authoritative identifications of the collected material is the key to its success.

This work continually adds to a database of park species and their specific localities. This year we will continue to sample ground fauna using pitfall traps, as well as surveys targeting earthworms.

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

Using fire to restore grasslands

Decades of fire suppression in the park has had many ecological consequences, including the loss of native grasslands through encroachment of aspen and shrubs. This has cascading effects through the ecosystem.

To meet our restoration goals, we continue to actively reintroduce carefully planned and controlled fires to the grasslands to restore grassland communities. We are also monitoring the severity of fires, response of grasslands to elk browsing, and the effectiveness of the prescribed fires in meeting restoration goals.

Project Leads: Matt Rance and Cristina Eisenberg
Sponsors: Parks Canada and Earthwatch Institute