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British western region ( columbia )

volume 28, number 1, 2007

Wetland conservation councils flock to Cranbrook, B.C.


In the past 20 years conservationists working together in Joint Venture partnerships have successfully conserved 2.3 million hectares (5.8 million acres) of wildlife habitat in Canada. This summer some 65 such conservationists from all over North America met at the picturesque St. Eugene Mission Resort near Cranbrook, in B.C.’s spectacular Columbia Valley. They came as guests of the Canadian Intermountain Joint Venture (CIJV) which was hosting a joint meeting of the Canada/U.S. North American Wetlands Conservation Council and North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). Both councils implement the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) and provide leadership in wetlands conservation and awareness. It could not have been a more scenic setting for such a meeting. Nestled among the Rockies and Purcell mountains near the St. Mary’s River, the St. Eugene Mission Resort is housed in a former residential school whose stone buildings were constructed in 1910. Today the resort is run by the Ktunaxa tribal council. After the formal agenda of the Cranbrook meeting was covered off, participants got a close-up look at wetland conservation projects in the Kootenays by striking out on a one-day field tour guided by Larry Halverson (Parks Canada) and Dave Hillary (Nature Conservancy of Canada) and sponsored by Teck Cominco. The trip’s highlight was a paddle down the upper Columbia River in voyageur canoes that were up to 30 feet in length. The outing was a chance for Canadian conservationists in the group to illustrate some of the many projects that CIJV partners have carried out in the Kootenays. Highlights of the tour included the 1,800-hectare Bummer’s Flats Complex of wetlands, Wasa Slough, Kootenay River Ranch, Thunderhill Ranch, West Conservationists from Canada and the U.S. piled into canoes, and headed into the wild for a close-up look at conservation successes in B.C.

Columbia Lake, Hoffert Hoodoos, Dutch Creek Hoodoos, the Columbia National Wildlife Area, and the Columbia Wetlands – Canada’s newest Ramsar site. The 150-kilometre (93-mile) stretch between Golden and Canal Flats is the only natural large-scale wetland habitat area available to migratory birds in the entire Rocky Mountain Trench, which serves as an important migration corridor for birds in the Pacific flyway. For many species it is the only major stopover opportunity between wintering areas in the south and breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic. Trumpeter and tundra swans pass through here in large numbers. Common loons breed in the shallow lagoons. Most dabbling duck species travel through the valley but mallards, teal and American wigeon stay to breed there in significant numbers. Among diver ducks, common goldeneye are most common, as are redhead in the fall. “It’s important that we have opportunities like this to showcase our conservation success to our American partners,” says Brad Arner, DUC manager of conservation programs in B.C., “because it reinforces the work we do, and ensures ongoing support for our programs. The bonus for everyone was the beautiful location.” 

Broods, Bugs and Bovines:

Living in proximity, existing in harmony


Cattle first made an appearance in the Interior of British Columbia shortly after 1858. Taking advantage of inroads created by the short-lived Gold Rush, ranchers saw the nutrient-rich, productive soils and abundant forage of the lower elevation grasslands as ideal for grazing their cattle. But it was evident that the need for easy access to stock water in what was a dry grassland range would be especially critical. The grassland ecosystems of British Columbia’s southern Interior have many natural characteristics that contribute to its wealth of biological diversity, but an overabundance of water is not one of them. This is why water supplied by nearby wetlands, streams and rivers was just about as valuable to the ranchers as gold was to gold miners. Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) has been working with stakeholders in the ranching community for decades to explore how grazing cattle affect wetlands and waterfowl. To better understand this cause and effect, researchers must go beyond horn and hoof, further down into the microbiology of the ecosystem upon which waterfowl depend. By finding out how invertebrates and other small creatures respond to grazing cattle, DUC scientists will learn how ducks are also affected. In the summer of 2006 DUC and Thompson Rivers University ran a pilot study to discover how the presence of cattle in wetland ecosystems affects the health of aquatic invertebrate insect communities. They began at the base of the food web – the home of a complex group of microscopic organisms called zooplankton. These minuscule wetland inhabitants float along in the water column, feeding on algae and bits of detritus (very small pieces of vegetation). The larger zooplankton are prey for the larger macro-invertebrates such as water beetles, midges and backswimmers. Higher up the food web are vertebrate species including fish, amphibians and waterfowl that

rely heavily on macro-invertebrates for a large part of their diet, providing the necessary proteins and calcium they need for survival. In order for the food web to function properly, a certain balance must exist within these wetland ecosystems. For instance, many aquatic invertebrate species need wetland vegetation to complete crucial parts of their life cycle. Submergent vegetation species (at or below the water’s surface) such as the diverse family of pondweed existing in wetlands provide a substrate upon which many species lay their eggs. Also, emergent vegetation species (plants rooted in the water but emerging from it), such as cattail, bulrush and spikerush, provide species like dragonflies and damselflies a haven from which they can emerge from the water as nymphs, remove their exuviae (larval shell) and take flight as adults. Given the importance of wetland vegetation in the aquatic invertebrate life cycle, it was thought that if this vegetation was overgrazed by cattle, there would be a decrease in the overall number and diversity within invertebrate communities. This would then reduce food resource availability for duck broods, and perhaps deter hens from nesting on wetlands that were overgrazed. Two rounds of sampling were done on 40 individual wetlands. The first round coincided with duck broods emerging from their nests and the second with broods losing the last of their downy feathers that marks their transition from ducklings to juveniles. The study also examined how the structure of aquatic invertebrate communities changes over the summer season, in response to lower water levels typical of the southern Interior’s late summer months. Through this research DUC will have greater and more accurate information about how to maximize the productivity of wetlands throughout the southern Interior. Researchers are currently analyzing the bug samples; the results will be announced this year. 

DUC researcher collects invertebrate samples to find out how cattle grazing affects wetlands in the southern Interior.

western region (british columbia)

Summer students could be the conservationists of next generation


At 22 years old, Williams Lake native Lacey Loewen probably had a range of opportunities for jobs last summer. So why would such a bright, articulate university student opt to dig up dirt and erect barbed wire fences for a living? “I really enjoy it, and I’m open to learning different things,” explains Loewen. “It’s more fun than working inside.” The Thompson Rivers University science student says she had a good work experience with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), although she admits it might not be for everyone. “I’d say you have to be someone who doesn’t care about getting their hands dirty. You might end up with a few cuts and bruises. “We repaired a fence one day, and there were only two of us,” says Loewen. “There is plenty of lifting and dragging when you repair a log fence and I was usually pretty tired at the end of the day anyway, but that day I was really tired.” Loewen is one of 12 students hired last summer by DUC (in partnership with the Nature Trust of British Columbia and the B.C. Conservation Corps) to assist with maintenance of conservation lands. From May to August of 2006, the summer staff worked out of the Williams Lake, Tomslake and Surrey offices of DUC. The young crews worked on a variety of different projects including fencing, weed control, constructing trails, putting up signs, planting riparian trees and shrubs, monitoring and maintaining water control structures and removing beaver dams. “I think that was the most fun thing I did,” says Loewen. “You get to see how the beavers build dams. It’s amazing how they do it, and they do it so quickly.” The crews also worked on special projects where they learned new, specialized skills. For example, last year the Williams Lake crew surveyed and mapped a wetland basin; organized and hosted a Greenwing Day (an outdoor activity day for children); and, along with the Tomslake crew from the B.C. Peace, attended a duck banding workshop offered by André Breault of the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada. “We learned a lot about the different species of birds when we did duck banding,” says Loewen. “At first I was unsure because I didn’t know how gentle you have to be with the ducks when you band them. You have to be gentle but firm as well. “A couple of them got away but they didn’t get very far.” Science major and DUC summer staffer Lacey Loewen enjoyed working with 12 Greenwings at an all-day event at Scout Island Nature Centre at Williams Lake last year.

With DUC biologist Katherine VanSpall as her supervisor, Loewen had the opportunity to work with a role model should she one day decide to make conservation a career. “It’s great to work with what could be the future generation of biologists, resource managers, educators and conservationists,” says VanSpall about her summer crew. “It gives all of us the opportunity to instill a strong conservation ethic that will remain with those young adults the rest of their lives.” Now back in school, working part-time with VanSpall at the DUC office in Williams Lake and doing cleanup at the mill on weekends, Loewen is no stranger to hard work. Will she embark on a career working indoors in pharmacology as she has considered, or has she found her calling outside on the landscape? “I’m not sure yet what I will do,” says Loewen, thoughtfully. “Before this I didn’t know what all the options were [in conservation]. Now that I do, I’m thinking about it.” 

Reflections on the Fourth North American Duck Symposium


Every three years since 1997 waterfowl biologists have met at locations across North America to share their science with each other. This summer hundreds of waterfowl experts flew in to Bismarck, North Dakota, location of the regional headquarters of Ducks Unlimited Inc., to share their work and ideas with an audience coming from as far south as Texas and as far east as Finland. But no matter where they came from, everyone soon realized Bismarck was truly a unique place. This year the festivities included a sampling of the way of life in the 19th century, with a tour of General George C. Custer’s house, and ending with a bang from a restored 1874 Gatling gun firing 600 rounds of ammunition at 40 rounds per second. And before the whole event wrapped up, biologists from all corners of the world were enjoying their very first “pitchfork fondue” at the famous Fort Lincoln National Historic Site, where General Custer himself was stationed before he met his demise at Little Big Horn. Bismarck is located on the edge of the Missouri Coteau region of central North America in an area formed thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers that created a hilly, glaciated landscape. The same Coteau region stretches into the Prairie provinces and provides an abundance of waterfowl habitat made of native grasslands used by breeding waterfowl. The symposium included an all-day tour of the region with stops at various native grasslands. This was followed by three days of presentations on scientific research being done all over North America and Europe that kept the 350 participants involved. Topics covered the whole gamut from wintering and breeding habitat to harvest management and spatial landscape sciences.

For the first time B.C. staff presented two science papers to the Duck Symposium. Bruce Harrison presented “Using landscape-scale waterfowl surveys to support habitat conservation in B.C.’s Interior” which explained how Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and Canadian Wildlife Service biologists are using aerial and ground surveys of waterfowl in the East Kootenay Trench to estimate population sizes in different years, and to develop models which can be used to identify the best places in the Trench for waterfowl habitat conservation. Dan Buffett presented a paper entitled “Pintail and wigeon use of estuary habitat on the Fraser River Delta and North Puget Sound” which explains why wintering waterfowl in the Georgia Basin are unique among North American waterfowl, in that they choose to eat potatoes to fatten up. It turns out that potatoes can provide more calories per square metre of land than many other crops in the region. An appreciation for the scale of work being done across North America and Europe, as well as the diversity in habitats and habitat conservation issues that biologists face, were key highlights of the symposium. This year’s symposium was dedicated to the memory of Frank C. Belrose (1916-2005), a renowned waterfowling expert who made his career in the waterfowl world for 67 years. 

British western region ( columbia )

The Flyway newsletter is published by Ducks Unlimited Canada Oak Hammock Marsh Conservation Centre P.O. Box 1160, Stonewall, Manitoba R0C 2Z0 tel (204)467-3000 fax (204)467-9028 toll-free 1(800)665-DUCK Please direct your inquiries to the following: Eastern Region Atlantic: Kelly MacDonald Quebec: Bernard Filion Ontario: Lynette Mader Western Region Prairie-Western Boreal: Marci Dube British Columbia: Ellen Baragon Flyway production staff Director of Communications and Marketing: Madeleine Arbez Editor: Duncan Morrison Assistant: June Finnson Art Director: Tye Gregg Graphic Designers: Lindsay Pikta-Marie, Aquila Samson, Jeope Wolfe © Ducks Unlimited Canada, 2007 Printed in Canada on 100% recycled paper including 100% post-consumer fibres

Area Contacts Director of Regional Operations Ian Barnett, Edmonton (250) 374-8307 Manager of Provincial Operations Les Bogdan, Surrey (604) 592-5000 Manager of Conservation Programs Brad Arner, Kamloops (250) 374-8307 Fundraising Rory Brown, Victoria

(250) 652-5090

Marketing/Communications Ellen Baragon, Surrey (604) 592-5004 Major Gifts and Feather Society Gordon Stewart, Surrey (604) 592-5008

Besides cutting edge waterfowl science, the North American Duck Symposium included a pitchfork fondue – beef roasts skewered on a pitchfork and cast into hot vats of oil. publication agreement #40064849


A Ducks Unlimited Canada newsletter featuring conservation stories from across the Pacific region